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01_Adaptive Reuse

Sharon Risedorph Photography
 

1.

St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation
St. Kitts, West Indies
Sander Architects

Adaptive reuse doesn’t get much more drastic than Los Angeles–based Sander Architects’ transformation of a derelict, 18th-century cotton barn into a scientific research facility. Situated on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean, the existing building was little more than a ruin when work got started in 2004. Hurricanes had blown the roof off, termites had eaten through the timber framing, and jungle foliage had enshrouded the structure. But what remained of the two- to three-foot-thick stone walls, quarried from the island’s volcanic base, was as sturdy as ever and possessed enough charm to convince the facility’s manager, Gene Redmond, that it was worth preserving. “It’s a beautiful old structure,” said Redmond. “The first architect I talked to advised bulldozing it. I said, ‘No, thank you.’”


The 18th-century barn was built of sturdy stone walls, quarried from the island's volcanic base.
 
gene redmond

 
 

While the walls were in good shape, the design called for raising them four feet to maximize usable space on the upper floor of the 10,000-square-foot facility. Two feet of this height was added with stone cannibalized from other structures of the same vintage on the island. The remaining two feet was made up by a clerestory window along the base of the pitched roof, which lets ample daylight into the interior. Gaps in the envelope were filled with new concrete block walls, which were then plastered over, or glass brick, which offers the benefit of letting light in while remaining impervious to hurricanes. The roof—itself capable of withstanding 500-mile-per-hour winds—is made up of insulated corrugated iron panels on custom-designed, light-gauge steel framing. The framing was prefabricated in sections in Richmond, California, and shipped to the island, where local labor bolted them in place. The architects also designed a curve in the hip of the roof to avoid the typical pointy ridge, where wind can get in and tear things apart.

The architects completely reframed the building’s three floors with poured-in-place concrete, with the exception of one existing stone column that is off kilter by a foot from its base to its top. “Whoever built this must have drunk too much grog,” said principal Whitney Sander, “but it still functions. It’s load bearing. The foundation wanted to get rid of it, but I fought for it. This crazy element is part of the soul of the building.”
 





Bradley Images 
 

2.

Silo Point
Baltimore, Maryland
Parameter

When it was completed in 1923, the grain elevator in Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood was the largest and fastest in the world, every year conveying 3.8 million bushels of grain from railcars to transatlantic cargo ships. By 2003, however, the facility had become a dilapidated nuisance to owner Archer Daniels Midland. But developer Patrick Turner and architect Chris Pfaeffle of Baltimore firm Parameter saw potential in the structure. “Looking at it I thought, tall, long, thin—residential would be interesting,” said Pfaeffle. It was also a 300-foot-tall building on the water in an area zoned for low-rise residential and industrial uses. “The developer and myself, we love old buildings,” continued Pfaeffle. “We really wanted to keep it because it was a great building, but it would have been impossible to build anything new that tall in this neighborhood.”


The rugged structure required both wholesale and surgical interventions. 
 
jeanine turner

 
 

Repurposing the one-time grain plant for residential use while maintaining its industrial aesthetic required both surgical and wholesale interventions. Most of the 23-story tower, with its traditional loft-style layouts and 14-by-14-foot windows, was a cinch, but the top six stories—where the grain scales once lived—were enclosed in a corrugated iron box framed with steel dunnage designed to support cranes, not the load of floors. Parameter demolished and completely reframed this portion of the building with a new steel structure positioned on the existing concrete column grid. Since the existing structure wasn’t completely plumb, much of the new steel had to be fabricated on site, assembled in sections on the ground and then craned up to the top and bolted in place. For cladding, the architects replicated the existing facade, except at the top two stories, which comprise an all-glass penthouse.

Adjacent to the tower portion was a 130-foot-tall silo farm, each silo a hermetically sealed concrete bunker. Fitting residential spaces into this portion proved too difficult, so the architects demolished most of it. In the center of the space they erected a 540-car parking garage wrapped with new glass-clad residential spaces, all built upon the existing foundation. Silos were left in place at the corners, as well as in a row separating the garage from the tower, where Parameter inserted linking bridges. “You can walk through the silos,” said Pfaeffle, “and look 100 feet up and 30 feet down—a space that once would have killed you.”
 





Paul Rivera/Archphoto
 

3.

P.S. 59
New York
Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects

When New York City’s Educational Construction Fund struck a deal with a developer to build a new home for P.S. 59 that would be topped by revenue-producing property, part of the bargain was the provision of swing space so the elementary school students would have a place to attend class while construction was underway. Looking for a space sufficient to accommodate 500 children, the developer found a 90-year-old dormitory for nurses attached to the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. Though a little narrow in plan, the building fit the bill nicely, and the hospital was willing to let it go. Together with the School Construction Authority (SCA), the developer hired Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects (EE&K) to reconfigure the dorm’s musty halls into what should become the first completed school to meet the requirements of the city’s Green Schools Guide and Rating System.


A long-span structure was placed atop the existing dormitory building to accommodate a new gym.
 
COURTESY EE&K
 
 
 

To bring the building up to SCA standards, EE&K started with a complete gut of the interior and the rearrangement of the stair and elevator cores. “A residential property in New York City has generous allowances for dead-end corridors,” said James Greenberg of EE&K, “but a school or anything else has very restrictive regulations for safety reasons.” The next challenge was to integrate mechanical systems within the nine-foot-six-inch floor-to-ceiling heights. “It was really a Rubik’s Cube to make the mechanical systems work,” continued Greenberg. “We had to have everything in a single stratum. We ran split ducts with sprinklers between them. It was hairsplitting work.”

The most challenging aspect of the adaptation was finding room for a gym. As nothing obvious presented itself within the existing envelope, the architects removed the roof as well as the sixth floor’s columns and replaced them with a long-span structure that provides a 16-foot-high clear space from the floor to the bottoms of the beams. Raising the roof above the level of the existing parapet also gave EE&K room to insert clerestory windows. Though the building’s masonry walls are load bearing, they weren’t sufficient to support the new space. To remedy this, the architects ran transfer beams beneath the floor of the gym to carry the load to the steel column grid below. This also opened up space for a spring-loaded acoustic isolation barrier, to keep those studying unaware of those playing.
 





www.mcconnellphoto.net
 

4.

Seaholm
Austin, Texas
Ayers Saint Gross

On a prominent site separating a booming downtown residential district from Town Lake, the Seaholm Power Plant, built in the 1950s, is one of Austin’s most distinctive midcentury structures. Its red neon sign, towering stacks, and stark concrete mass are immediately recognizable landmarks. So when it was decommissioned in 1996, and following a nine-year remediation of hazardous materials, the city drafted a redevelopment masterplan and issued an RFQ to develop the site.

The winning team, including Southwest Strategies Group and Baltimore architects Ayers Saint Gross (ASG), programmed the site for new high- and low-rise construction to house a mix of office, residential, hospitality, and special-event space. The Seaholm building itself, with its cavernous turbine hall ringed by high clerestory windows, was envisioned as a retail center. “The model is the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco,” said Ann Powell of ASG.


The 8-acre development will reconnect the city to the colorado river.  
 
COURTESY tbg

 
 

While the interior of the turbine hall will be renovated to maintain its industrial, cast-in-place concrete aesthetic, the south portion of the building, one-time offices of Austin Energy, will be retained for commercial use. The boilers and stacks that abut the north edge of the building will be semi-deconstructed, leaving parts of these elements, as well as the massive steel armature that supports them, to be integrated into a landscaped plaza that anchors the development. “The landscape architects are excited about using the physical structure,” said Powell, “taking the narrative of what the power plant did and reinventing it.”

The project, which is seeking a LEED Silver rating, will also take the reinvention of Seaholm’s narrative below grade. In generating electricity, the plant drew water from the lake for cooling purposes. Once the water was used, it was returned to its source, but before that happened its temperature had to be brought back down. This was accomplished via a network of underground pipes, which the architects plan to incorporate into a stormwater retention and irrigation system. “We wanted to identify a way of tying old and new together,” said Powell, “to take the 1950s version of how things worked and make it part of today.”

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Max Neuhaus is Dead
Pioneering sound artist Max Neuhaus has died of cancer at his home in Marina di Maratea, Italy, according to a report in the Houston Cronicle. In a career that spanned 50 years, the Texas native brought people's attention to the aural experience of space through sound installations, a term he coined. After abandoning a career as a percussionist in the early 1960s, Neuhaus began to realize anonymous sound works in public spaces, such as his 1977 installation under a subway grating in Times Square.  In addition to Times Square, which was removed in 1992 when he moved to Europe, and then reinstalled in 2002 by the Dia Art Foundation and the Times Square Business Improvement District, Neuhaus has many other "permanent" installations, including one at Dia:Beacon, one at The Menil Collection in Houston, and several in Europe. He also completed numerous temporary works at such prestigious cultural institutions as MoMA and the Whitney. As well as conceptualizing each work for its specific space, Neuhaus built the sound generating machines himself.  Neuhaus also created a series of broadcast works, in which he collected and mixed live sounds from public callers to create improvised music ensembles on the radio. In 1966 he conducted Public Supply, in which people called in from all over New York City to say "Hi Mom," caw, scream, laugh, talk about bananas, and generally babble. In 1977, he conducted Radio Net, a two-hour sound work that gathered noises generated by callers in a nationwide network of 190 radio stations. With Radio Net, callers were invited to whistle, play kazoo, or generally make any noise they could think of. These sounds were then processed through synthesizers to create spooky electronic noises which Neuhaus mixed together from a control station in Washington, D.C. Neuhaus also took advantage of the internet with auracle, an online instrument that can be played by anyone with access to a computer. Check out audio from Public Supply and Radio Net as well as videos on these and Neuhaus' other works here.

Eavesdrop: Sara Hart

AN is thrilled to deliver the Eavesdrop baton—oh, dare say cudgel, do!—into the dextrous hands of Sara Hart who has long impressed many with her wickedly apropos sense of humor. We count on you all to slip her innuendo-loaded emails, secret handshakes, and any floating info aching to land in print.

PENGUINS IN THE POOL ROOM
The Penguin Club lives! Seen at the Four Seasons on inauguration night was a reconvening of the so-called Penguin Club, the group of once-young avant-garde architects whom Philip Johnson had regularly hosted for all-male, black-tie dinners at the Century Club from the mid-1970s onward. The lineup of aging superstars included, among others, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Harry Cobb, Jacquelin Robertson, Bob Stern, Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi, and Jorge Silvetti. Conspicuous by his absence was charter-member Penguin Peter Eisenman, but conspicuous by his presence was Graves, whose enormous motorized wheelchair necessitated the group’s dining at a long table in the northeast corner of the Pool Room, rather than in the private space they had requested. According to Four Seasons co-owner Alex von Bidder, these events are an ongoing series, though they are not bankrolled, as had been widely speculated, by a bequest from Philip Johnson, whose entire estate along with the art-auction proceeds of his late longtime partner, David Whitney, went to the endowment for the Glass House.

NEW BLOGS IN TOWN
A new architectural/design blog has arrived to entertain and inform you. Edited by design writers (and AN contributors) Eva Hagberg and Ian Volner, Edificial (edificial.com) is the latest addition to Breaking Media’s stable of sharply written industry-specific blogs, which includes Above the Law, Fashionista, and Dealbreaker. The content will be gossipy, but it will also include back stories about projects, people, deal-making, and all kinds of design extranea. According to Hagberg, the editors plan to critique the critics and introduce new voices. “We’ll present the up-close play-by-play and the long view,” she said. “There will be roundups, link dumps, and essays. Edificial will be personal, political, and polemical.” No doubt it will be all of those things and, if successful, make money for Breaking Media. Best of luck! Meanwhile, over in the serious and sober nonprofit world, the Architectural League of New York went live with its own blog on January 5. Underwritten by the NYC Cultural Innovation Fund of the Rockefeller Foundation, Urban Omnibus (urbanomnibus.net) will feature “multimedia content to showcase design innovation, critical analysis, and local expertise” with the aim of encouraging “a more inclusive, more sustainable, more beautiful city that could be.” Bring on the multimedia. We’re parched!

Send tips and page views galore to eavesdrop@archpaper.com

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AIA Honors 3 More
The Faneuil Hall Marketplace was awarded the AIA's 25-Year Award, honoring a building that has stood the test of time and taste.
Jonathan J. Klein/via flickr

After announcing three awards last week—the Gold Medal, Firm of the Year, and Topaz Medallion—the AIA is back today with three more.

The 25-Year Award, which honors a building that has stood the test of time, will be given to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Ben Thompson's conversion of an 1825 market hall in downtown Boston into a modern shopping destination. The project is generally credited with kick-starting the festival marketplace movement for which Thompson was renowned. (His later New York project, Pier 17, has recently been at the center of a skirmish over plans to redevelop the South Street Seaport.)

Henry Siegel, chair of the AIA Committee on the Environment, said that the building is also a hallmark of sustainable practices well ahead of its time. "These include adaptive reuse, thereby saving tremendous amounts of energy and other resources in demolition, transportation, and construction and creating a high-density urban environment where people can work, shop, play, and enjoy life as pedestrians,” Siegel said in a release.

The 25-Year prize was established in 1969 and first awarded to Rockefeller Center. Other well known winners include the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Dulles International Airport, and the Kimball Art Center. Last year's winner was Richard Meier's Atheneum in New Harmony, Indiana.

Meanwhile, Clyde Porter has been named the recipient of this year's Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, which recognizes an architect or organization that furthers the social goals espoused by the eponymous Urban League leader for which the award is named.

Porter, who has worked in facilities management at the Dallas County Community College District for 21 years, is being honored for his efforts in encouraging minority education and practice in architecture, including the foundation of the Texas chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

And Barbara Nadel, a New York–based architect and building security expert, will receive the Edward C. Kemper Award for Service to the Profession, which recognizes those architects who have made lasting contributions to the AIA.  “Barbara is a proven leader, a dedicated mentor to emerging professionals, and an advocate for the AIA and the issues that are critical to the future of our profession,” George Miller, the AIA president-elect, said in a release.

Nadel has held a number of influential positions at the AIA over the years, including AIA national vice president, AIA New York regional director, and chair of the AIA Academy on Architecture for Justice. She also writes a monthly column on building security for Buildings.com.

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All Rudolph
Married Student Housing, Yale University (1960-61)
Courtesy Yale School of Architecture

Model City: Buildings and Projects by Paul Rudolph for Yale and New Haven
Paul Rudolph Hall
180 York Street, New Haven
Through February 6, 2009 

“A ‘vision’ of the future,” said The New York Times, “now an eyesore.” That was the headline of a 1979 article about a decrepit and soon-to-be-demolished 1967 New Haven public housing project, “that seemed to have everything: daring design [an avant-garde prefab-unit stacking system], a prestigious architect [former Yale Architecture Department Chair Paul Rudolph], and the backing of HUD,” the federal housing agency whose resources were expertly channeled to epochal urban renewal projects by then-mayor Richard C. Lee.

This particular convergence of late-high-modernist formalism and a public policy that conflated urbanism with mere architectural patronage at a vast scale is the subject of Model City: Buildings and Projects by Paul Rudolph for Yale and New Haven, now at Yale’s Architecture Gallery. The show documents 13 projects, including iconic work like the 1962 Temple Street parking garage and unpublished projects like a surprisingly Niemeyer-esque 1958 Church Street shopping center that Rudolph developed for Lee and Yale president A. Whitney Griswold. Curator Timothy M. Rowan, a University of Massachusetts architectural historian, has effectively organized the show around four successive themes: Critiquing Modernism, Monumental Urbanism, Prefabrication, and Denoument, that trace a story of rise and fall. Rudolph’s original drawings—some familiar, some strange—are complemented by a lively archive of documents and ephemera, and crisp new models of lost or unbuilt works.

But the show’s larger topic is how to connect both halves of that Times headline: the vision and the eyesore. How to come to terms with Rudolph in all of his complexity and contradiction: ubiquitous and elusive, brutal and plush, infinitely universalizing and intricately idiosyncratic? How does today’s architectural discourse assimilate Rudolph: once glorious, then deeply unfashionable, now ripe for his own renewal?

The housing project featured in the Times and reconstructed in the show bore the irresistible name of Oriental Masonic Gardens. Those adjectives precisely evoke the exotic, hermetic, fantastic, and cryptic affect of Rudolph’s work when viewed through present-day eyes. Like his 1960s contemporaries Eero Saarinen, John Lautner, Minoru Yamasaki, and others, Rudolph translated the modernist orthodoxies of the International Style into a personal vision at once rigorous and mannered, relying on the impact of deeply modeled ferroconcrete juxtaposed with sleek glass and steel filigree (and the occasional dash of orange leather). Unlike those men, he was in close contact with the architects who would dethrone him and establish the pop-historicist style that came to be known as Postmodernism in architecture: his successor as Yale architecture chair Charles Moore, and his one-time assistant for a master class on precast concrete, Robert Venturi. Once installed in the 1958–63 Arts and Architecture (A+A) Building that Rudolph had designed for Yale, they nibbled away at its conceptual foundations. Moore told the Yale Daily News on his arrival in 1965: “I disapprove of the A+A Building whole-heartedly because it is such a personal manifestation for non-personal use.” All architects develop personal formal languages in service or search of universal applications or ideals, but Rudolph’s Brutalist counter-vernacular (and Borrominian eagerness to use, say, 37 different levels when two would do) seemed to expose him especially to this critique.


Temple Street Parking Garage, New Haven (1958-63)
Courtesy Yale School of Architecture

 

Greeley Memorial Laboratory, Yale University (1957-59)
Ezra Stoller/Esto
 

Then, of course, there was the fire. The 1969 blaze that destroyed three floors of the A+A Building (and inaugurated three decades of benign neglect and unsympathetic renovations) might be seen as a miniature of the 1967 riots and fires in New Haven and elsewhere that revealed the fissures of race and class and culture that the “Model City” urban renewal projects of the time had elided. The notion that the fire might have had something to do with students disgruntled as much by the building as by the institution it embodied—enhanced by foreshadowing in a student broadsheet that read, “See the A+A Building. See every building. See them soon...”—gave a ghoulishly populist tinge to the spectacle of a difficult-to-use building being slowly undone. Along with it went the reputation of its creator.

Today’s A+A Building has been lovingly restored and refined, with post-fire accretions erased, as part of a reconstruction with a new adjacent building that houses the History of Art department, just completed by Gwathmey Siegel. The building is freshly legible, and to examine Rudolph’s languid graphite studies and ruthless ink perspectives while standing within the very atrium they depict is a particular pleasure. And yet is it possible that all those erased accretions, while undeniably resisting and obscuring the original structure, were in their rough, fussy, melancholy way actually sympathetic to its sublime spirit? The new building—and the small interventions inserted into the old—uses a familiar contemporary vocabulary of terrazzo and pale wood, stainless and powder-coated steel, drywall, baseboards, and aluminum storefront extrusions. The ceilings are never too low or too high. Everything is efficient, economical, tasteful, cheerful, clean, comfortable, and ultimately—in contrast to the willful complexity, spirited melancholy, and inventive audacity to be found next door—just a little heartbreaking. It may be that after today’s era of caution and credit-freeze, yesterday’s eyesore will be tomorrow’s sight for sore eyes.

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Fuller Ascendent
Fuller with models of Standard of Living Package and Skybreak Dome, 1949.
Courtesy the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
Through September 21

This summer, Gotham feels like all Bucky, all the time, with exhibitions at Max Protetch, Carl Solway, and Sebastion + Barquet Galleries, while the Center for Architecture has sponsored a slew of events that include round-table discussions, lectures, a film series, and the opening of the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Study Center. (A 26-foot Fly’s Eye Dome was also erected recently in LaGuardia Park across the street from the center.) But the main event is Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe at the Whitney Museum. This critically astute retrospective has been elegantly curated by K. Michael Hays and Dana Miller, who tell the story through an assortment of drawings, photographs, scale models, and full-scale prototypes, like the three-wheeled showstopper Dymaxion Car (1934) parked in a first-floor gallery. There’s also a selection of archival film footage to bring the man to life, as well as several recent interpretations of the Fuller canon to demonstrate his ongoing legacy.

The timing for a full-on retrospective couldn’t be more auspicious, as people are at last daring to discuss alternate, non-petroleum futures and new paradigms for planetary survival. So yes, it’s a good thing to bring back Bucky and reabsorb his no-nonsense theories of ephemeralization (doing more with less) before it’s too late. Even though there have been hundreds of books by and about Fuller (over 400 are on view at the Center for Architecture), he has always been difficult, if not impossible, to pin down or capture within a single thought or category.

There are many Buckys to choose from: hippie Fuller, but also Cold Warrior Fuller who developed ideas for the U.S. Marine Corps and early defense warning systems. For him, there were never any boundaries, and his career was as multi-faceted as one of his geo-domes: philosopher, lecturer, engineer, absentminded professor, architect, mapmaker, poet, and mathematician. He was a prophetic papa of Big Ideas, peering at the future through thick spectacles, and had no problem shifting from mini to mega in his rambling lectures that went on for hours and became the stuff of legend.


courtesy the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller
 


courtesy Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Comparison of Lightful Houses and Traditional Homes, 1928 (top); 4D Tower: Time Interval 1 Meter, 1928 (above)
 
 

Considering the epic scope of Fuller’s thinking, it’s surprising to see how ephemeral some of the actual artifacts are: scratchy little renderings that he did in the late 1920s in an amateurish, even childish, style with pencil on three-ring notebook paper; sketches of bombs dropping from Zeppelins, making craters for 4D Towers that are sometimes drawn as enlarged objects rising from planet earth, early proof of Fuller’s global perspective. There’s also a clunky but compelling attempt to synthesize the Brooklyn Bridge and a Ferris wheel into a single hybrid structure (c. 1928), or the “4D Tower Garage” that Fuller proposed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933, resembling something like a spiraling Christmas tree.

Fuller’s fervid investigations find their first true form with the Dymaxion renderings and models of the 1930s, with endless variations on this hexagonal structure suspended from a central mast that would later morph into the Dymaxion Deployment Unit (1941) made from corrugated grain silos and the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine (or “Wichita House,” 1945) that was fabricated from aluminum like an airplane. Fuller’s projects from this period still seem cornball and quirky, verging on a loony kind of Popular Mechanics kitsch. In one gallery, there’s a model of the Dymaxion Dwelling Machines Community (c. 1946) that looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie, as if alien flying saucers, all silver and glowing, had disguised themselves in a conventional suburban subdivision with front lawns and sidewalks. Another gallery features a collection of yellowing models made from cardboard and toothpicks—tetrahedrons and rhombic dodecahedrons—the kind that used to be found gathering dust in high school geometry classes. It’s easy to see how the Eurocentric Philip Johnson would dismiss Fuller, as Hays points out in his catalogue essay. “Bucky Fuller was no architect, and he kept pretending he was,” said Johnson. “It was very annoying.” On the other hand, who cares what Johnson thought about Fuller? They occupy such radically opposing orbits: one a reformed Nazi, the other a free-thinking descendant of Yankee transcendentalists.

Maybe the ideas were loftier than the material output, or maybe Fuller’s brightest legacy comes through other people’s interpretations of his seed ideas. Such was the case with Kenneth Snelson, Konrad Wachsmann, Tony Smith, and Robert Smithson. Fuller is sometimes mistakenly credited with other people’s work, as he is with the invention of the geodesic dome, actually developed by Walter Bauersfeld in 1922 for a planetarium at the Zeiss optical works in Jena, Germany, a fact that doesn’t appear to be cited anywhere in the Whitney exhibition or catalogue.

There is something odd about seeing Fuller get the full treatment by a major institution. Bucky was never much of an insider, and thrived as the inveterate outsider, one who shunned and was often shunned by institutions. (He was expelled from Harvard in 1915 and never really dropped back into the mainstream.) The institutional Fuller is never as appealing as the “outlaw” Fuller. (Calvin Tompkins’ seminal New Yorker profile “In the Outlaw Area” of January 8, 1966, has been thoughtfully republished in the exhibition catalogue.) And this raises an interesting point. If there’s anything missing in this otherwise comprehensive survey, it’s the legacy of Bucky as prime guru of 1960s counterculture, when rebel builder/designers like Steve Baer, Lloyd Kahn, Jay Baldwin, Steve Durkee, and others took Fuller’s lessons and in some cases out-Buckyed Bucky on the frontiers of planetary consciousness. Their funky, handbuilt domes and “zomes” (an elongated version of Fuller’s geodesic patent) became symbolic of both resistance and solidarity within communes like Drop City and other anarchic outposts of the tie-died diaspora. Fabricated with recycled and discarded materials, these were the true successors of ephemeralization, rather than those late urban projects on which Fuller collaborated with Shoji Sadao—Triton City (1967) or Harlem Redesign (1965)—that seem more like dystopian megastructures and receive an inordinate amount of attention in the Whitney show.


U.S. Pavilion for Montreal Expo, 1967. 
courtesy the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

One of the essential lessons that hippie builders learned from the master and incorporated into their daily building practice was the importance of failure as a learning tool and model for growth. Bucky’s career was filled with radical failures that he turned, somehow, into successes, exploiting the poetic potential of the flop, the glorified mistake. In July 1948, after countless drawings and models, he attempted to erect a large-scale prototype of his geodesic theories while teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was to have been a 48-foot-diameter dome made from Venetian blind metal, but it drooped to the ground like a flaccid balloon and was dubbed the “flopahedron.” Fuller refused to see it as a failure, but rather as a pathway to new discoveries, new ways of thinking.

In a sense his entire career was predicated on tragic failure. Alexandra, his three-year-old daughter, died in 1922 and Fuller briefly considered suicide, but rejected it in favor of what he called a “blind date with principle.” Starting from there, he set out to relearn and rethink the whole ball of wax, writing, “I committed myself to as much of a fresh start as a human being can have—to try to go back to the fundamentals and see what nature was really up to.” We are still figuring out what this otherworldly visionary was really up to, and the Whitney exhibition makes a perfect point of departure.

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Whitney Unveils New Satellite at the High Line
COURTESY WHITNEY MUSEUM

The April 30 debut of Renzo Piano’s shimmery design for a Whitney Museum branch at the High Line featured none of the hallmarks that usually greet international architects in moneyed Manhattan. Nobody protested the plan, called it “out of scale” or demanded the architect plead his case. Such are the advantages of building on a vacant city-owned site that abuts a meatpackers’ processing facility. 

But, Whitney director Adam Weinberg told a public forum as he unveiled the plans, Piano’s design uses the friendly context to deliver a crowd-pleaser. “The simplicity and character of the neighborhood are things Renzo really wants to pick up in his design,” Weinberg told a placid crowd in the half-full auditorium. “And this is the most outdoor neighborhood in the city of New York.” 

The project made its debut at this forum, which Manhattan Community Board 2 hosted, because it needs a variance from manufacturing zoning and approval of city conveyance of air rights to go forward. (The Parks Department will use part of the ground floor for High Line maintenance and operations.) That approval seems likely. 

Piano’s plan pushes the museum outdoors. The generous 43,000-square-foot site, Weinberg said, would allow an outdoor restaurant, an outdoor performance space, and a lobby big enough for concerts. And in order to free 25,000 square feet for displays from the permanent collection, Piano proposes 15,000 square feet of showcase on the roof. 

At the same time, the plan intensifies the quiet of its indoor zones. At ground level, Weinberg promised a series of free programs for visitors who enter from the High Line or the nearby boutique-y blocks. Glass walls, like a glass elevator and oversize window at the second floor landing, mean that visitors will look over the river and into the West Village while passersby see works from the street. “Before an installation, you’ll see art going up and down the elevator,” enthused Weinberg. 

Then a red-tinted escalator, echoing the High Line’s anticipated “slow stair,” delivers visitors to the western edge of the site and a 250-foot-long special exhibition space. The permanent collection, Weinberg said, will live on the top three floors in setback galleries. But outdoor spaces extend to the lot’s edge on each upper floor, mirroring the setbacks. “You could go from staircase to staircase and just do the museum via the exterior in good weather,” promised Weinberg. “Artists could do projects that could be seen from the High Line itself.”

Not that Piano’s logic matches the Miami-manqué of nearby hotels. It’s local. The upper floors would be clad in a stone layer that, judging from early sketches, suggests a more curvaceous quote of Marcel Breuer’s flagship Whitney uptown. The white facade on the upper stories is a visual link to the meatpackers’ site and nearby High Line, while the glass lobby and elevator emphasize views across the city and the river. “The Whitney forms an outdoor bridge between the High Line and Hudson River Park,” said Weinberg.

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Whitney Unveils New Satellite at the High Line
Courtesy Whitney Museum

The April 30 debut of Renzo Piano’s shimmery design for a Whitney Museum branch at the High Line featured none of the hallmarks that usually greet international architects in moneyed Manhattan. Nobody protested the plan, called it “out of scale” or demanded the architect plead his case. Such are the advantages of building on a vacant city-owned site that abuts a meatpackers’ processing facility. 

But, Whitney director Adam Weinberg told a public forum as he unveiled the plans, Piano’s design uses the friendly context to deliver a crowd-pleaser. “The simplicity and character of the neighborhood are things Renzo really wants to pick up in his design,” Weinberg told a placid crowd in the half-full auditorium. “And this is the most outdoor neighborhood in the city of New York.” 

The project made its debut at this forum, which Manhattan Community Board 2 hosted, because it needs a variance from manufacturing zoning and approval of city conveyance of air rights to go forward. (The Parks Department will use part of the ground floor for High Line maintenance and operations.) That approval seems likely. 

Piano’s plan pushes the museum outdoors. The generous 43,000-square-foot site, Weinberg said, would allow an outdoor restaurant, an outdoor performance space, and a lobby big enough for concerts. And in order to free 25,000 square feet for displays from the permanent collection, Piano proposes 15,000 square feet of showcase on the roof. 

At the same time, the plan intensifies the quiet of its indoor zones. At ground level, Weinberg promised a series of free programs for visitors who enter from the High Line or the nearby boutique-y blocks. Glass walls, like a glass elevator and oversize window at the second floor landing, mean that visitors will look over the river and into the West Village while passersby see works from the street. “Before an installation, you’ll see art going up and down the elevator,” enthused Weinberg. 

Then a red-tinted escalator, echoing the High Line’s anticipated “slow stair,” delivers visitors to the western edge of the site and a 250-foot-long special exhibition space. The permanent collection, Weinberg said, will live on the top three floors in setback galleries. But outdoor spaces extend to the lot’s edge on each upper floor, mirroring the setbacks. “You could go from staircase to staircase and just do the museum via the exterior in good weather,” promised Weinberg. “Artists could do projects that could be seen from the High Line itself.”

Not that Piano’s logic matches the Miami-manqué of nearby hotels. It’s local. The upper floors would be clad in a stone layer that, judging from early sketches, suggests a more curvaceous quote of Marcel Breuer’s flagship Whitney uptown. The white façade on the upper stories is a visual link to the meatpackers’ site and nearby High Line, while the glass lobby and elevator emphasize views across the city and the river. “The Whitney forms an outdoor bridge between the High Line and Hudson River Park,” said Weinberg.

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You're the Tops

 General Contractor


Michaels Residence, Tolkin Architecture, Winters-Schram Associates 
PETER MAUSS/ESTO


One Window House, Touraine Richmond Architects, Brown Osvaldsson Builders
BENNY CHAN / FOTOWORKS 


Brown Osvaldsson Builders really listen to what we are trying to do. They understand it, and come in with solutions and original ways to deal with problems.They are really respectful of the design and try to match the architectural expectations.”
Olivier Tourraine 
Touraine Richmond ARchitects


“Robert Vairo of Vairo Construction is like a saint. On Skid Row, he’s seen like an angel.”
Michael Lehrer
Lehrer Architects
 



JFR House, Fougeron Architecture, Thomas George Construction 

BBI Construction
1155 Third St., Oakland, CA; 
510-286-8200
www.bbiconstruction.com

Bernard Brothers
1402 W. Fern Dr.,
Fullerton, CA; 
714-671-0465

Brown Osvaldsson Builders
1333 Pine St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-392-8899
www.bob-inc.com

Bonomo Development
1523 Linda Ct., 
Simi Valley, CA;
805-407-0578

CW Driver
468 North Rosemead Blvd., 
Pasadena, CA;
626-351-8800
www.cwdriver.com

Hawkins Construction
4177 Yale Ave., 
La Mesa, CA ; 
619-463-1222

Matarozzi/Pelsinger
1060 Capp St., 
San Francisco; 
415-285-6930
www.matpelbuilders.com

Matt Construction
9814 Norwalk Blvd.,
Santa Fe Springs, CA; 
562-903-2277
www.mattconstruction.com

McCarthy
20401 S. W. Birch St.,
Newport Beach, CA; 
949-851-8383 
www.mccarthy.com

Roman Janczak Construction
942 South Harlan Ave., 
Compton, CA;
310-637-8765

Shaw & Sons Construction
829 W. 17th St.,
Costa Mesa, CA; 
949-642-0660

Thomas George Construction
8716 Carmel Valley Rd., 
Carmel, CA;
831-624-7315

Thompson Suskind
415-699-5274
www.thompsonsuskind.com

Vairo Construction
1913 Balboa Blvd., 
Newport Beach, CA; 
949-673-2010

Winters-Schram Associates
11777 Miss Ave., 
Los Angeles; 
310-473-8490

Young & Burton
345 Hartz Ave., 
Danville, CA; 
925-820-4953
www.youngandburton.com 

Engineers


Cancer Center at UMC North, CO ARchitects, John A. Martin


Lou Ruvo Alzheimer’s Institute, Gehry Partners, WSP Cantor Seinuk


Gilsanz Murray Steficek are really flexible, and react quickly. We called them the day before yesterday about a project detail and they were able to turn it around in a day. It’s a small detail, but with other firms it could take much longer.”
Paul Zajfen 
CO Architects


IBE are mechanical engineers who have the same sort of sensibilities as architects. They’re very concerned about sustainability and look at engineering from a global perspective; problem-solving at a large-scale level. And they’re very interested in exploring new ideas.”
Paul Zajfen 
CO Architects


“With principal Mike Ishler, you can really have a collaborative design experience. If you want to push your design technologically and structurally, he’s your guy.”
Barbara Bestor
Barbara Bestor Architecture

Arup
12777 West Jefferson Blvd., 
Los Angeles;
310-578-4182
www.arup.com

Buro Happold
9601 Jefferson Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
310-945-4800

WSP Cantor Seinuk
5301 Beethoven St.,
Los Angeles;
310-578-0500
www.cantorseinuk.com

Davidovich & Associates
6059 Bristol Pkwy.,
Culver City, CA;
310-348-5101
www.davidovich.com

DeSimone Consulting Engineers
160 Sansome St., 
San Francisco; 
415-398-5740
www.de-simone.com

Dewhurst MacFarlane
2404 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles;
323-788-7038
www.dewmac.com

Flack+Kurtz
405 Howard St.,
San Francisco;
415-398-3833
www.flackandkurtz.com

GMS 
(Gilsanz Murray Steficek)

29 West 27th St.,
New York, NY; 
212-254-0030
www.gmsllp.com

IBE
14130 Riverside Dr., 
Sherman Oaks, CA; 
818-377-8220
www.ibece.com

John Labib & Associates
900 Wilshire Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-239-9600
www.labibse.com

John A. Martin
950 South Grand Ave., 
Los Angeles; 
213-483-6490
www.johnmartin.com

Gordon L. Polon 
Consulting Engineers 
310-998-5611

Thornton Tomassetti
6151 W. Century Blvd.,
Los Angeles; 
310-665-0010
www.thorntontomasetti.com

Christian T. Williamson Engineers
3400 Airport Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-482-3909

Yu Strandberg Engineering
155 Filbert St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-763-0475
www.yusengineering.com

Civil/Environmental Consultants
Atelier Ten
19 Perseverance Works, 
38 Kingsland Rd., 
London; 
+44 (0) 20 7749 5950
www.atelierten.com

Cosentini Associates
Two Penn Plaza, New York;
212-615-3600
www.consentini.com

Converse Consultants
222 E. Huntington Dr., 
Monrovia, CA;
626-930-1200
www.converseconsultants.com

Transolar
145 Hudson St., New York; 
212-219-2255
www.transsolar.com

Zinner Consultants
528 21st Pl., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-319-1131
www.zinnerconsultants.com 

Lighting 


BENNY CHAN / FOTOWORKS

"Plug Lighting has a great selection, a high level of professionalism, and they have lights that work with our work. That’s important to me because it’s very difficult to find good lighting.”
Lorcan O’Herlihy
LOHA

 

Designers
Dodt-plc
2027 Oakdale Ave., 
San Francisco;
415-821-6307

Fox and Fox
134 Main St., 
Seal Beach, CA;
562-799-8488

Horton Lees Brogden
8580 Washington Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
310-837-0929
www.hlblighting.com

KGM Lighting
10351 Santa Monica Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
310-552-2191
www.kgmlighting.com

Lightvision
1213 South Ogden Dr.,
Los Angeles;
323-932-0700
www.lightvision.net

Lam Partners 
84 Sherman St., 
Cambridge, MA; 
617-354-4502
www.lampartners.com

Lighting Design Alliance
1234 East Burnett St., 
Signal Hill, CA; 
562-989-3843 

Vortex Lighting
1510 N. Las Palmas Ave.,
Hollywood; 
323-962-6031
www.vortexlighting.com

Fixtures
Artemide
www.artemide.us

Bega
www.bega-us.com

Flos
www.flos.com

Gardco
www.sitelighting.com

Hess
www.hessamerica.com

Hubbell Lighting
www.hubbelllighting.com

Ivalo
www.ivalolighting.com

Lutron
www.lutron.com

Louis Poulsen
www.louispoulsen.com

Showrooms
City Lights Showroom
1585 Folsom St.,
San Francisco; 
415-863-2020

Plug Lighting
8017 Melrose Ave.,
Los Angeles;
323-653-5635
www.pluglighting.com

Revolver Design
1177 San Pablo Ave., 
Berkeley, CA; 
510-558-4080
www.revolverdesign.com
 

Materials


Felkner Residence, Jennifer Luce, Bendheim Glass


“JU Construction did fantastically good work. They’ll try anything.” “The intimate success of our projects is this idea that there’s a balance between material and texture. The fact that we can have that conversation with Basil Studio and play with that balance together makes the collaboration really strong.” 
Jennifer Luce
Luce et Studio

Deglas’s Heatstop is amazing. It’s twice the R value of insulated glass at half the cost. And it comes in 24-foot-long sheets that you can cut on site.”
Whitney Sander Sander Architects

Benchmark Scenery have a lot of expertise in making very complicated things very quickly.” 
Peter Zellner 
Zellner + Architects





Hyde Park Library Hodgetts + Fung JU Construction


JU Construction did fantastically good work. They’ll try anything.” 
Craig Hodgetts 
Hodgetts & Fung

Glass
Bendheim Glass
3675 Alameda Ave.,
Oakland, CA;
800-900-3499
www.bendheim.com

Giroux Glass
850 West Washington Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-747-7406
www.girouxglass.com

JS Glass
12211 Garvey Ave.,
El Monte, CA;
626-443-2688
www.jsglass.com

Pilkington
500 East Louise Ave.,
Lathrop, CA; 
209-858-5151
www.pilkington.com

Schott
www.schott.com

Supreme Glass
1661 20th St.,
Oakland, CA;
510-625-8995
www.supremeglass.net

Viracon
800 Park Dr.,
Owatonna, MN;
800-533-2080
www.viracon.com

Metal Fabricators
Scott Ange
310-562-3573

Basil Studio
1805 Newton Ave., 
San Diego, CA; 
619-234-2400
www.basilstudio.com

Dennis Leuedman
3420 Helen St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-658-9435

Plastics
3Form
2300 South West, 
Salt Lake City, Utah; 
801-649-2500
www.3-form.com

Gavrieli Plastics 
11733 Sherman Way,
North Hollywood;
818-982-0000 
www.gavrieli.com

Deglas
888-2 DEGLAS

Extech
200 Bridge St., 
Pittsburgh, PA;
800-500-8083
www.extech-voegele.com

Panelite
5835 Adams Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
www.e-panelite.com

Polygal
265 Meridian Ave.,
San Jose, CA; 
408-287-6006
www.polygal.com

Tiles
Daltile Ceramic Tile
www.daltileproducts.com

Flor Carpet and Tile
1343 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
310-451-4191
www.flor.com

SpecCeramics
1021 E. Lacy Ave.,
Anaheim, CA; 
714-808-0139

Stone Source
9500 A Jefferson Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
213-880-1155
www.stonesource.com

Vetter Stone
23894 3rd Ave., 
Mankato, MN;
507-345-4568
www.vetterstone.com

Woodworkers
Benchmark Scenery
1757 Standard Ave.,
Glendale, CA; 
818-507-1351
info@benchmarkscenery.com

Dewey Ambrosino
www.deweya.com

Michael Yglesias
323-712-0645
www.yglesiaswoodwork.com

Jacobs Woodworks
3403 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA; 
619-293-3702

JU Construction
1442 Chico Ave., 
South El Monte, CA; 
626-579-5996

 

Kitchen and Bath 


K2, Norbert Wangen for Boffi
 

Boffi
1344 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-458-9300
www.boffi-la.com

Brizo Faucets
www.brizo.com

Bulthaup
153 South Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles; 
310-288-3875
www.bulthaup.com

California Kitchens Showroom
2305 W. Alameda Ave., 
Burbank, CA; 
818-841-7222
www.californiakitchens.com

Jack London Kitchen 
and Bath Gallery

2500 Embarcadero St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-832-2284
www.jlkbg.com 

Dornbracht
16760 Stagg St., 
Van Nuys, CA; 
818-304-7300
www.dornbracht.com

Duravit bathroom furniture and accessories
www.duravit.com

Gaggeneau kitchen appliances
www.gaggenau.com

Grohe bathroom and kitchen fittings
www.grohe.com

Kohler bathroom furniture
www.kohler.com

Miele appliances
www.mieleusa.com

Thermador appliances
www.thermador.com

Vola fixtures
www.vola.dk

Waterworks
www.waterworks.com

Wet Style
16760 Stagg St.,
Van Nuys, CA; 
818-304-7300
www.wetstyle.ca 

Landscape Design 


Lengau Lodge, Dry Design UNDINE PROHL


Bestor House, Barbar Bestor Architects, SB Garden Design 
ANDREW TAKEUCHI 


Stephanie Bartron’s background is sculpture, and I think she brings a more artistic perspective and architectural edge to landscapes.” 
Barbar Bestor 
Barbara Bestor Architecture

Burton Studio
307 South Cedros Ave., 
Solana Beach, CA; 
858-794-7204
www.burton-studio.com

Dirt Studio 
700 Harris St.,
Charlottesville, VA; 
434-295-1336
www.dirtstudio.com

Dry Design
5727 Venice Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
323-954-9084
www.drydesign.com

Elysian Landscapes
2340 W. Third St., 
Los Angeles; 
213-380-3185
www.elysianlandscapes.com

EPT Design
844 East Green St.,
Pasadena, CA; 
626-795-2008
www.eptdesign.com

Mia Lehrer + Associates
3780 Wilshire Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-384-3844
www.mlagreen.com

Nancy Goslee 
Power & Associates
1660 Stanford St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-264-0266
www.nancypower.com

Pamela Burton & Company
1430 Olympic Blvd., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-828-6373
www.pamelaburtonco.com

Spurlock Poirier
2122 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA; 
619-681-0090
www.sp-land.com

SB Garden Design
2801 Clearwater St., 
Los Angeles; 
323-660-1034
www.sbgardendesign.com 

 

Consultants, Services & Suppliers


Mills Center for the Arts, Competition Entry, Pugh + Scarpa, Mike Amaya


Mike Amaya listens to you. He’s not fixated on a certain way of doing things. Hisrenderings have life, but they don’t try to duplicate what reality would be. We’re more interested in capturing the spirit of the place.”
Larry Scarpa
Pugh + Scarpa Architects
 
 

Audio/Visual
A’kustiks
11 North Main St., 
South Norwalk, CT;
203-299-1904
www.akustiks.net

Cost Estimating
Davis Langdon
301 Arizona Ave., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-393-9411
www.davislangdon.com/USA

Expediter
McCarty Company
725 S. Figueroa St.,
Los Angeles; 
213-614-0960

Renderers
Mike Amaya
310-592-6693
www.mikeamaya.com

Robert DeRosa
1549 Columbia Dr., 
Glendale, CA; 
818-243-1357

Tech Support
Ideate
44 Montgomery St., 
San Francisco; 
888-662-7238
www.ideate.com

Microdesk
633 West Fifth St.,
Los Angeles, CA;

Waterproofing
SC Consulting Group 
6 Morgan St., Irvine, CA; 
949-206-9624

Window & Door 
Manufacturer 

Fleetwood Windows & Doors 
395 Smitty Way, 
Corona, CA; 
800-736-7363 
www.fleetwoodusa.com

Goldbrecht Windows
1434 Sixth St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-393-5540
www.goldbrechtusa.com

Metal Window Corporation
501 South Isis Ave., 
Inglewood, CA;
310-665-0490
www.metalwindowcorp.com

Construction Suppliers
Anderson Plywood
4020 Sepulveda Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
310-397-8229
www.andersonplywood.com

Beronio Lumber
2525 Marin St., 
San Francisco; 
415-824-4300
www.beronio.com

Cut and Dried Hardwood
241 S. Cedros Ave., 
Solana Beach, CA; 
858-481-0442
www.cutanddriedhardwood.com

Taylor Brothers 
2934 Riverside Dr.,
Los Angeles; 
323-805-0200
www.taybros.com 
 

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Piano to Build at Ronchamp
Plans for nuns' quarters and a new visitor center at Ronchamp, one of Le Corbusier's most celebrated works, have drawn the ire of the Swiss master's followers.
Ezra Stoller/ESTO

With a plan afoot for Renzo Piano to add buildings to the site of Le Corbusier’s famed Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, a perfect storm of good intentions in conflict is brewing. At issue are ultimately two types of pilgrimage: the original religious one of contemplation and prayer, and the latter-day architectural version. 

The Association Œuvre Notre-Dame du Haut that owns Ronchamp is within weeks of seeking a permit to build a new visitor center, a cluster of 12 habitats for nuns, and meditation space down the slope from Le Corbusier’s 1955 masterwork. And when a building permit is granted, the Fondation Le Corbusier, the Paris-based keeper of the master’s flame, has said that it will sue, reluctantly. “We are trying to make sure the site is preserved for eternity,” said Michel Richard, the foundation’s director. “We are afraid that in 10 years, the sisters will go away and they will be replaced by a B&B.”

“It is the most poetic building by Corbusier,” said Piano in an interview in his Manhattan office. “But he made it to be a place of worship, not just a sculpture. It proves that a secular person could create a place of religious feeling.”

According to association director Jean-Francois Mathey, son of Francois Mathey, who was involved in hiring Corbusier in 1950 to build the chapel (on the site of a 1799 church destroyed by World War II bombs), the idea to invite a group of nuns to live on the site came about a few years ago as a bulwark against creeping tourism. The site attracts some 100,000 people a year. 

“We feared that with so much traffic, the spiritual quality of the chapel—not the architecture itself—would little by little disappear,” Mathey said. “It should be a place of silence and prayer, not a fun fair.” The association decided to invite a “praying presence” of nuns from the Clarissine order (more commonly known as the Poor Clares) who would be tucked into Piano-designed cells on the far side of the hill. Corbusier himself had consulted with the association about adding a monastery, but concrete plans were never developed. 

Since Ronchamp is a cultural landmark, the French Ministry of Culture is required to approve plans for change and they did, unanimously, six months ago. The association, however, did not seek the benediction of the foundation. “That was probably a mistake,” said Piano. There have been three or four meetings between the architect and foundation that Piano described as very helpful, especially about measurements and materials. For its part, the foundation said that it was not flatly opposed to a new program for the site, nor against Piano. “We are well aware that Renzo Piano will take all precautions called for,” said Richard. “They should just build farther away.” 

The association considered several architects besides Piano, including Tadao Ando, Glenn Murcutt, and Jean Nouvel. In the end, the first two were deemed too far away, while the idea of Nouvel was rejected because “he would only design something Jean Nouvel,” said Mathey. “We loved Piano’s museums in Basel and Berne. He is a poet and a philosopher, too.” 

Piano himself was somewhat hesitant, and not because of the complexities of building respectfully next to an icon. After all, he has designed additions to several icons, including Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum (in a preliminary design stage) and Richard Meier’s Atlanta High Museum (2005). But the Ronchamp project is by far the smallest in his office, very sensitive, and with a relatively miniscule budget of $13 million. “There would be no reason to put myself in this funny situation were not a work of passion,” he said. 

Piano did not even start to design until he had walked the site last winter, driving stakes into the ground where it would be possible to build without being seen from the top of the hill where the chapel sits. According to French law, any changes within 500 meters of a designated landmark are open to the scrutiny of the Ministry of Culture, but the grounds around the chapel building are not subject to this landmark protection. Thus, although the new structures will be invisible, they do come to within 60 meters of the chapel. Piano plans to reforest the flanks of the hill with some 800 evergreens and native deciduous trees, spending one-third the entire budget on landscaping. 

Jean Louis Cohen, the preeminent Corbusier scholar who is on the board of the foundation, also walked around the site last summer. “Maybe you wouldn’t see it, but you would feel it,” said Cohen in an interview in which he showed slides documenting the chapel from every possible angle from below the hilltop. “The harmony of the place would be disturbed; it would lose the sense of being a pilgrimage and impoverish the chapel itself.” 

The plan includes a new visitor center to replace the current one—a makeshift pink box at the base of the hill. Renderings show a simple split shed with a dynamic bifurcated roof jutting in directions that echo the swoops of the chapel’s roof. The tilting roof planes would be made of both zinc and green-roof materials, making it appear as if it were rising from the forest floor. It has been positioned to allow people parking their cars to get a glimpse of the chapel up the steep hill. The nun’s cells are even simpler at 120 square feet, bermed into the hillside in the woods just below the knoll’s clearing and invisible from the top. Piano is thinking of giving each cell a high-tech light scoop, similar to those at the High Museum, but here atop 20-foot columns that would draw light through the trees into each cell. 

Mathey explained the opposition is the only barrier to going ahead. “They thought someday of recovering the chapel. Now, since Renzo Piano is going to put his mark on the hill, they don’t like it,” he said. (The foundation was alerted to the association’s plans to move forward by an article [.pdf] that appeard in August in the Catholic newspaper Le Croix.)

Getting a permit to build will not be difficult, as the Ministry of Culture has already approved the plans. Once a building permit is issued, there is a two-month period, something like a marital banns, when the opposed can step forward. “The foundation is well aware that we’ll have to do something,” said Richard. 

While presenting the plans for Ronchamp in his Meatpacking District office overlooking the site of the new Whitney museum he is designing, Piano took a break from simultaneously meeting with representatives of The New York Times about the trees on the roof of their new building and taking an interview with Newsweek about the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. At lunchtime, his old colleague and friend Richard Rogers and his wife Ruth arrived. Asked if this were a project he would take on, Rogers looked incredulous. 

“I am mad, aren’t I?” Piano said, with a laugh. “But I like risk.” 

JULIE V. IOVINE 



Piano insists the new buildings will be all but invisible to chapel visitors.
RENDERINGS AND MODELS COURTESY RPBW



The nuns' residences are hidden amid the trees, but a variation on Piano's High Museum light wells will provide ample natural light.



A site plan gives a sense of the location of the nuns' quarters, at left, and the new visitor's center, located near the road at the bottom of the drawing.



A model of the nuns' residences. The orange chimneys are the light wells.



In addition to housing for the nuns, a small sanctuary will also be built amid the trees.
 


A model of the new visitor's center. As the topography shows, it will be built into the surrounding landscape, like all the new buildings.


One of Piano's signature drawings illustrates the relationship between the residences, their light wells, and the trees.
 

LPC Delays Vote on Tower

At a January 16 public hearing, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) urged Foster + Partners to modify the designs for the proposed addition to 980 Madison Avenue in order to win approval for the project. The firm presented a scheme for a 30-story glass tower to stand atop a five-floor mixed-use building, originally known as the Parke-Bernet Galleries, a gallery and art auction building completed in 1950. The idea of planting a modern tower on top of a historic building echoes Foster’s recently completed Hearst headquarters.

The project’s developer, Aby Rosen’s RFR Holdings, and Foster plan to modify the design and present to the LPC yet again. Cheri Fein, spokesperson for Rosen and Foster, stated that the twomenwere“pleased that a vote was not taken and that there is now the opportunity to redesign.” A followup presentation to the LPC has not yet been scheduled.

The January hearing was a continuation of the public hearing held on October 24, 2006, where a large public contingency voiced both opposition and support for the design. Among the opponents was the Municipal Arts Society, which testified that the design of the addition was inappropriate in terms of “height, massing, design, and materials in relationship to the Parke-Bernet Building and the historic district.”

LPC chair Robert Tierney called the January 16 hearing “a good exchange of views and ideas.” Many comments centered on the height of the tower, which LPC vice chairperson Pablo E. Vengoechea deemed overwhelming. Others took issue with the materials and the way the glass tower would contrast with nearby buildings. One member of the commission, architect Jan Hird Pokorny, supported the project.

The second hearing again drew many Upper East Side residents who have been vocal about their opposition to the proposal, including writer Tom Wolfe. No limit was set for what height the committee would deem appropriate, although it is clear that the majority of the LPC board and neighbors think that 30 stories is too tall. Rosen said in a statement,” We appreciate the thoughtfully considered comments at the LPC meeting, and have returned to the drawing board to come up with a design that responds to these comments yet remains viable.” For approval, the design must win six of the 11 LPC member votes.

A. Stewart Walker and Alfred Easton Poor designed the 980 Madison building with a simple limestone facade. Foster’s proposal includes restoration, which Tierney praised as “an impressive return to the building’s historical origins.” The plan would have refurbished the building, including removing more than 50 windows cut into the building over time, removing the fifth floor added in 1957, reintroducing the original roof garden, and adding 25,000 square feet of public gallery space.

When asked if he felt thatmodernconstruction could fit in with the historic character of the Upper East Side, Tierney pointed out, “Renzo Piano’s expansion of the Whitney was quite striking, modern, and contemporary, and was approved.” Despite winning the LPC’s approval, however, the Piano project was ultimately scrapped, after the Whitney decided to build an expansion in the Meatpacking District rather than engage in a prolonged battle with neighbors.

Eavesdrop: Alexander Gorlin

Robert A.M. Stern’s 800-pound gorilla (actually, 11 pounds) of a book, New York 2000, was the topic of a discussion at Columbia that turned out to be a cross between a roast and a fest. Tom Wolfe shocked everyone in the audience (including Suzanne Stephens, Mike Wallace, and Kenneth Jackson) by proclaiming that the Whitney should move “out of the Breuer Bunker and into the Huntington Hartford Building. Then you could demolish the Brutalist, WWI machine–gun turret and sell the land to a developer!” This, from the man who wrote despairingly of the alleged death of the Landmarks Commission in a recentNew York Times Op-ed, lamented ripping the face off Edward Durell Stone’s 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts & Design (MAD). Little did Wolfe know that one of the “walking dead,” landmarks commissioner Margery Perlmutter, was very much alive a few rows away, listening with rapt attention and taking careful notes.

Speaking of the devil, MAD architect Brad Cloepfil, who was allowed to brazenly demolish Ed Stone’s facade without so much as a hearing at the LPC, was seen at the Pentagram party for new partner Luke Hayman, with friend, Pentagramist Lisa Strausfeld…or was that her twin sister Laura?

Talk is going around that Columbia dean Mark Wigley is being considered as chairman of Harvard’s GSD. Leave New York for Boston? He must be mad too!

Up the Hudson, at down-in-the-dumps Newburgh, a week-long charrette to resurrect the city, led by DPZ’s Andres Duany and developer Steve Maun of Leyland, uncovered that the culprit behind the razing of a major part of the city’s historic waterfront was none other than our very own Frank O. Gehry! The architect signed the order in 1966 as part of what was then known as “urban renewal.” Can we chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, or is his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn just another case of, as the French say, plus ça change?

Rumor has it that Architectural Record still has NO plan to redesign its magazine, despite universal agreement that it needs a major facelift. I mean, it doesn’t even have any competition. You would think editor-in-chief Robert Ivy

would take a chance! Finally, a mysterious gift arrived without a note from Tsao & McKown: a flimsy cotton tote bag. When questioned, their office said it was a very, very late Christmas gift, now coming for the Year of the Pig. ThanksCalvin, Zak, and...!

At press time, yours truly was in a stylish car crash, right in front of Mies’ Seagrams Building! I knew it was a mistake to meet a client on Presidents Day, and all of a sudden there was a car making an unexpected left hand turn directly onto our path on Park Avenue. Luckily, we all walked away unharmed (if dazed), save for broken front lights and bumper. Just then, I noticed that we were exactly at the southwest corner of the plaza, where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard had a tete-a-tete in Breakfast at Tiffany’s! C’est la vie!

ALEXANDER GORLIN IS THE PRINCIPAL OF ALEXANDER GORLIN ARCHITECTS, A PROLIFIC AUTHOR, AND MAN ABOUT TOWN.

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