Search results for "Atlanta"

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Preservationists Mob Austin for Density, Community, and Tacos
The National Preservation Conference landed in Austin, Texas, last week under the banner "Next American City, Next American Landscape." Exploring preservation's role in the future of the country's urban, suburban, and rural landscapes, the 2010 conference showed that preservationists aren't all stuck in the past. (In fact, they're pretty savvy when it comes to new media. Check out the NTHP's Austin Unscripted on their website, Twitter, and YouTube to see how preservation can appeal to a new generation.) The opening plenary was held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which is sited to take advantage of the unobstructed views of downtown Austin. After a warm welcome from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a performance by local musicians Phoebe Hunt, Seth Walker, Susan Torres, and Ryan Harkrider (check out the rehearsal video here - skip to 7:25 for a sample of some of Austin's famous live music), the packed house of preservationists heard remarks from the new NTHP President Stephanie Meeks, former First Lady Laura Bush, and New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Some attendees seemed surprised by the choice of Mrs. Bush, but she's been involved in preservation for some time. On Tuesday evening, she spoke about her passion for the preservation of the historic courthouses of Texas, including the one where she and former President Bush got their marriage license many years ago in Midland.

In her speech, Meeks mentioned that since taking over leadership of the NTHP and meeting with preservationists and architects all over the country, three themes kept coming up: 1) The need to make preservation more accessible, 2) The need to make preservation more visible, and 3) The need to ensure that preservation is fully funded. By addressing those three things, she said, historic preservation can be a "visible, dynamic, broadly inclusive movement." However, I thought the most salient point she made was that places are powerful: Whether a landscape like the Hudson Valley or a historic site like the Alamo, every place has a story to tell and, as Meeks said, "they help us tell our stories, as individuals and as Americans."

For his part, the New Yorker's Goldberger spoke about how Austin embodied the Next American City, making it a fitting location for the conference. Unlike Detroit and St. Louis, which represent the Old American City, Austin is both connected to history and “energetically forward-thinking” thanks to the presence of the University of Texas as well as the corporate headquarters of Dell and Whole Foods. He pointed out that it’s not a city dependent on the so-called "meds and eds" solutions -- healthcare and education -- that many cities rely on in postindustrial America, and that Austin does not have the “new pseudo-urban landscape" of Tyson’s Corner or the Buckhead section of Atlanta, or the Galleria area of Houston, which he cited as "new places that aspire to urbanity but don’t really possess much of it and which show us that a certain amount of density and tall buildings alone do not a city make.” Goldberger also pointed out that “poverty is a great friend” of historic preservation, simply because there’s less money and therefore less of an impetus for building big and tossing aside historic buildings because they aren’t shiny and new. In light of that, he felt that Austin was yet again a good role model for the Next American City, since it has prosperity but also pays heed to its architectural past: Its “solid economy has not led to a complete indifference to preservation.” Hopefully, as the city goes forward with developing a denser downtown, especially in the residential sector, the powers that be will remember that historic buildings or streetscapes are of significant value to the community.
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Biennale 2010
The latest arrival was the Croatia Pavilion - a floating cloud of rusty rebar - that tried to dock at the Giardini but without the proper paperwork was forced to sail up the Canal, and never landed.
Zelimir Grzancic

 Special Report from the Venice Biennale: This year's 12th International Architecture Exhibition featured a wide array of national pavillions ranging from a forest of pristine machine-cut lace to crashing wave of metal strips to a now-collapsed ethereal cage of rebar.  Here is a collection of representative examples.


The Egypt Pavilion appears to be machine made but was fabricated by hand.The goldeb-hued installation at the Egypt Pavilion appeared to be a CNC-milled sculpture made of brass, but was actually cut entirely by hand with a large pair of scissors.
Courtesy MA Studio
German architects create an outdoor installation for the Giardini.
Above: The architects from Raumlabor Berlin were commissioned by Sejima to create an outdoor installation for the Giardini. They responded by making wooden chairs that could be stacked in any configuration, including a wall. People were allowed to take the chairs home.
Courtesy Raumlabor Berlin.


Right: The forest of laser-cut plastic lace at the Canada Pavilion created by architect Philip Beesley wavered and moved in response to body heat.


Below, Right: Atlanta architect John Portman's Peachtree Plaza was featured along with 16 other installations about collaborative public-private projects at the U.S. Pavilion.
Courtesy John Portman Associates
  Canada Pavilion by architect Philip Beesley.
Model of architect John Portman's Peachtree Plaza.

Andrea Branzi's Object City discusses commodification and the city.Theoretician and architect Andrea Branzi put an updated spin on his ideas about commodification and the city in Object City.
Courtesy Andrea Branzi
The Bahrain exhibition won the Golden Lion for Best National Pavilion.The Bahrain exhibition, which won the Golden Lion for Best National Pavilion, featured a room full of reconstructed shacks made out of scavenged wood that are typically found on waterfrontsand used as social gathering spaces.
Christian Richters
Polish Pavilion called Emergency Exit.The Polish Pavilion installation, called Emergency Exit, was built out of a mountain of wire chicken coops from which visitors were encouraged to jump into a cloud of fog. Many lined up to do so.
Maciew Landsberg 
The Israel Pavilion featured a collection of vintage photos.The Israel Pavilion curators showed a collection of vintage 1940s photographs of kibbutzim revealing the modern style being cultivated by the young socialist state.
Courtesy Israel Pavilion

Interior view of the Croatia Pavilion.Another view of the rusted-rebar Croatia Pavilion from the interior.  This floating pavilion was never able to dock and has since collapsed.
Zelimir Grzancic

Read the companion feature, How Real is Real?, about the 12th International Architecture Exhibition by The Architect's Newspaper Editor-in-Chief William Menking.

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All Aboard for the Venice Biennale
The Biennale Architettura 2010 in Venice will open a month earlier than usual this year, with the media vernissage set for August 26–28. The Architect’s Newspaper will be there blogging daily on Kazuyo Sejima’s curated exhibition People Meet in Architecture, bringing you reports from all the national pavilions, collateral exhibits, and of course the parties. Invitations to events have been coming in to our office every day this month, and on August 20 we’ll publish a complete itinerary for those of you attending the biennale. This year, the United States pavilion is being organized by Atlanta’s High Museum and the publication 306090, under the direction of curators Michael Rooks of the High Museum and 306090’s Jonathan D. Solomon. The pavilion theme is Workshopping, and it presents projects that “involve the architect as the initiator of a transdisciplinary cooperative team focused on research, social engagement, and private initiative for public benefit.” Featured practices include Hood Design, MOS, John Portman & Associates, Guy Nordenson, Catherine Seavitt, ARO, the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, Anthony Fontenot, Chicago’s Archeworks, Michael Sorkin’s Terreform, and UCLA’s cityLAB. If you want to know more about the exhibition, check out its new website!
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Hasty Habits of Mind
Desert rider Reyner Banham, one of a bygone generation of candid critical thinkers.
Tim Street-Porter

Intellectuals in architecture form a tiny subculture in which most know most others and thus want to offend none. Architects’ careers are precarious and need protecting. We are trying to earn respect for good architecture in a culture that is not all that interested. So we believe that we should stay positive. All this produces a reluctance to be bold and candid when we come across sham and junk.

Negative criticism can seem mean-spirited. It’s more pleasant to be post-critical. But the prices we pay are to have too many delusions—especially delusions of grandeur—and to waste too much time foraging dead ends. It took a ferociously demanding critic, F. R. Leavis, to save my generation of English majors from having to spend much time reading mush like Tennyson’s poems or bloviation like much of Milton. To whom have we been able to turn for high standards and fearless iconoclasm? Sorkin sometimes. Huxtable back in the day. And within the academy? Sylvia Lavin and Jeff Kipnis are not timid. Some scholars like Barry Bergdoll are not afraid of wielding sharp edges.

We are often intellectually malnourished because we clutch a narrow set of ideas that we perceive, mainly through talk at juries and conferences, to be the only currently legitimate ones. If we look back 30 years, we see a parade of short-lived must-follows: Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze. The fold. Datascapes. The surface. Patterns and tessellation. Words ending in -ity. And a coming-to-acclaim of designers and design modes that are marginalized within two or three years.

With this comes a scorn for passé ideas. OK, Ptolemy was wrong. But was Chaucer “wrong”? Was Paul Rudolph “wrong”? Beyond science, the category doesn’t apply. Why are we feeding ourselves tiny bites when history offers us a huge banquet? In Harvard Design Magazine, someone said, about Sorkin’s position, “It’s so ’60s.” Of course times change, and we must change with them, but when something was created doesn’t determine its value.

In fetishizing newness, we ensure obsolescence: Issues of ANY were exciting in the ’90s, but do we turn to them now? And how carefully were they read back then? Robert Somol wrote in the final Assemblage: “Out of the 240-odd items published, I read about 12 all the way through. No shit. Five percent. Three of those were mine.” Many au courant ideas we don’t really think through, but merely think about, or, worse, think that we should think about.

Our subculture has a hard time keeping off the smudges of the adjoining larger cultures of fashion and status-seeking consumerism. Architects reach many more people through the pages of Elle Decor, Icon, Architectural Digest, and Wallpaper than they do through Log, Volume, Grey Room, and Praxis. The style sections of newspapers breathe down our backs and tempt us to bend our values. Is serious culture always the domain of a tiny elite? Should it bother us that there are over half a million purchasers of Elle Decor but only one or two thousand for periodicals like Grey Room, Log, and Praxis? Does intelligence in the latter publications eventually trickle down to the former?

Columbia’s Buell Center and its director Reinhold Martin recently posed this question to guide explorations in a 2009 conference: “How is contemporary architecture discussed and evaluated in public?” Here are some possible answers.

For every 200 of “us” there are two million like the person who wrote on Morphosis’ new Cooper Union building: “Aliens, please park spacecraft elsewhere.” Indeed, within our subculture, there are common modes of “serious” discourse that we should find troubling, and all have to do with a compulsion to move fast while frantically scooping up or tossing out tiny morsels along our paths. Let me offer a few examples:

Tossed-off tweets are fast food for the mind, no chewing required. We see this in blogs, but increasingly also in academic discourse. Tweets must be short. This doesn’t force them to be shallow, but it sure nudges them in that direction.

Increasingly content is composed of sound bites. Conferences are overloaded with speakers who are underloaded with time to develop thoughts and present information. So books become clip binders for conference papers and talk transcripts—loose compendia of qualitatively uneven short essays, prose quips, flashy graphics, and glamorous data presentations. Creating book content becomes merely accumulating.

Information overload induces ignorance. This lazy tossing in of everything that can be grabbed partly explains the publication of a few doorstop architectural books of a thousand pages or more. Can and does anyone read such books? Are they not made just to be flipped through like magazines, with at most five minutes of reading now and then? Putatively serious essays are of bite-sized briefness.

Then there are “boogazines,” which occasionally present scads of information through complex but cartoon-like charts—the overall look of the page is dazzling and this very dazzle discourages the patient taking-in of details. Sometimes this can be seen in exhibitions of countless words and images graphically arranged on walls. It would take a viewer many minutes to absorb just what is before the eyes, much less a whole gallery’s worth. Overall, there is a reluctance to be discriminating, to decide what is not worth thinking about. Data, data, more data! Magazines mount in piles to be zipped through once a month.

Lastly, we partake in a culture of glib, gnomic generalizing. Easy yet world-encompassing assertions of meaning reflect the vast influence of Rem Koolhaas, with his profound originality and revelatory perceptions, presented with shards of evidence but still striking one as diagnostically dead on. (See his essays on Atlanta and Singapore in S,M,L,XL.) But from Delirious New York on, he has also produced plenty of bloated, ungrounded utterance. His followers, lacking his astounding acuity, imitate just his mode of offering huge generalities about “contemporary conditions.”

The name of the game seems to be: Assert whatever you can about some special newness in our social/cultural moment. So when you cryptically write, for instance, about “the current crisis,” we join you in pretending to know precisely what you are talking about. We nod our heads in jittery conspiratorial intimacy. We suppress acknowledging that we don’t really know or understand.

This mental smoke screen has recently been most obfuscating among Dutch and American elites; in France it is long familiar. Intellectualism becomes a mental manner. Research—laborious, lengthy, uncompromisingly careful and responsible investigation—slackens into barstool musings. The compulsion to say something new leads to things like this real example from Volume: “Treating the [retail] big box as a potential form of high art could lead to an aesthetic breakthrough.” Or not.

Carefully cooked slow food for thought is still available for those willing to pull off the main drag. The New York Review of Books, for instance, offers lots of solid fare. There is even some on the main drag. Just take the pedal off the metal.

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Workshopping Venice
The U.S. Department of State has announced that Workshopping: An American Model of Architectural Practice will represent the United States at the 2010 Venice Architecture biennale, opening on August 29. The State Department selected the exhibit, organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and co-curated by the museum’s principal curator Michael Rooks with Jonathan D. Solomon, founding editor of the series 306090 Books, in an open competition following the recommendation of the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, convened by the National Endowment for the Arts. Exploring the evolving role of designers in relationship to other disciplines, the exhibition will focus not on projects by individual architectural practices, but on collaborative projects like On the Water: Palisade Bay by Guy Nordenson, Adam Yarinsky, and Catherine Seavitt; the urban design plan New York City (Steady) State by New York–based Michael Sorkin Studio; and The Rosa Parks Project by the Los Angeles–based think tank cityLAB. These projects, according to the curators, represent “an evolving constellation of specifically American conditions—the hierarchical model of architectural practice, the mostly regulatory function of government, and the critical role of private corporations and non-profit foundations in driving public projects”—creating a unique new model of design practice. The Biennale, overseen by SANAA's Kazuyo Sejima, runs through November 21.
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Portable Parish
The entire St. Gerard's Church in Buffalo is being moved south to Atlanta.
Courtesy St. Gerard's

When a shrinking congregation forced the century-old St. Gerard’s Church to shut its doors in 2008, its fate was uncertain. The 800-seat church had been a pride of its neighborhood in East Buffalo, NY, boasting stained-glass windows, marble columns, and a basilica modeled after St. Paul’s in Rome. But its roof was collapsing and the parish could no longer justify maintaining it for a congregation that had dwindled from several thousand families in the 1970s to a mere hundred.

The church is modeled on the basilica of St. Paul's In Rome.
The church will be shipped piece-by-piece, with those unable to make it being replicated in Norcross.

Meanwhile, in Norcross, a burgeoning suburb of Atlanta, the Mary Our Queen parish was looking to build a new home for its 3,000-and-counting members. Although parish leaders had drafted a preliminary design with an architect, they went to visit St. Gerard’s after hearing of its closing. “They were awestruck at how much it looked like their design,” said Pat Chivers, spokesperson for the Atlanta diocese.

The two groups negotiated an agreement: The church would be moved 900 miles from Buffalo to Norcross, in what Mary Our Queen touts as “preservation by relocation.” As the church is dismantled, every brick will be numbered and catalogued, and the dismantling process will be filmed to aid in its reconstruction. Contractors will take moldings of any pieces that cannot be easily removed, such as the plaster on the walls and ceiling, and re-cast them in Norcross. 

So far, Mary Our Queen has raised $3 million toward the total $15 million required for the move. “But it’s building momentum,” Chivers said. Support is strong in the Atlanta area, as well as in Buffalo, especially among former parishioners who like the idea of the building continuing to operate as a Catholic church.

Local preservation groups would prefer to see the church stay in Buffalo, but have officially stated their intent not to oppose the move. The Buffalo City Council, however, has been explicit in its disapproval of the plan. “[Norcross] should develop their own vernacular architecture there, they shouldn’t be poaching ours,” said Buffalo City Council President David A. Franczyk.

Even if the move occurs as planned, the council need not worry about St. Gerard’s sparking a trend, according to Kevin Keenan, spokesperson for the Buffalo diocese. The church was constructed from large pieces of Indiana limestone, which are easier to take apart and reassemble, making it uniquely suited to a relocation. “This isn’t something we anticipate we will ever do again,” Keenan said.

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Dodging a Bullet
Billings (blue) and Inquiries (red) for the past 12 months. Despite a shock in January, the index remains relatively stable.
Matt Chaban

What looked like a potential tidal wave for the architecture industry—one that would wipe out the relative economic gains of the past year—has turned out to be just another ripple in a still uncertain marketplace. In January, the Architecture Billings Index saw one of its steepest declines in months, but those losses were all but erased in February, according to numbers released by the AIA today.

That February has somewhat reversed such a precipitous drop—when inquiries fell the furthest they have since October 2008, when the market collapsed—is a promising sign, though it also means the slight gains seen in the index last fall were not yet signs of a permanent recovery.

“It’s not positive yet,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said of the billings index, “but I anticipate that in the coming months. It may not actually be supported by the numbers directly, but there are signs in the wider economy that we should be headed in the right direction.”

Billings for February rose 2.3 points to 44.8, nearly besting a 2.9-point loss the month before. A reading above 50 means billings are rising while one below means they are falling; the greater the spread, the greater the gains or losses. So while billings did increase in February, they are still in declining territory—things have gotten better instead of worse, but they are by no means good.

Billings by region: Northeast (blue) Midwest (red) South (green) and West (purple).

There are some surprising exceptions, however. The Midwest region has been on a tear the past few quarters, rising to 49.4 in February, the highest reading for any region since the recession began. Baker attributes this to strong manufacturing performance in the region. “People are increasingly looking domestic for such work,” Baker said.

The West has also made a comeback—of which Baker is more skeptical because of the continued troubles of California’s state budget, even as housing has stabilized somewhat. From a low of 36.4 in July, the West has risen to a comparably robust 43.6.

It is not all good news for the regions, though, as the Northeast has slipped slightly to 44.1 since its most recent high of 46.6 last November. And the South, which had been on the rise throughout much of last year, has fallen to 40.7 in February from a recession-best of 45.6 in October. “Regionally, I would have guessed the south would have carried us out of the recession, with its oil and agricultural commodities,” Baker said. “But the region is so diverse, and it has Florida in there and Atlanta hasn’t been doing so well, so that’s been a factor.”

Billings by sector: Residential (blue) Commercial-Industrial (red) Institutional (green) Mixed-use (purple)

Billings by sector have seen a similar rollercoaster. Multifamily housing has been especially strong, driven by gains across the housing market, and it was the first of any indicator to break the 50 threshold, reaching 50.7 in November. That said, it has sunk to 47.3 in February, from 50.1 the month before, with Baker waiting on a two-to-three month gain to declare anything decisive. While still low, mixed-use development has posted a slight comeback, rising to 43.3 from 40.3 in January, breaking a trend going back to August when the sector hovered in the high 30s.

Institutional work gained in February to 44.2 from 43.1 the month before, though that was following a fall from 47.3 October. And despite the success of manufacturing in driving the Midwestern economy, it has yet to have an impact on actual manufacturing facilities, as the commercial-industrial sector—which has also been hampered by problems in the office market—still struggles. The sector fell to 43.2 in February from 44.9 in January, though it has also seen some gains since a low of 39.6 last May.

“If people are not thinking about hiring back their workers yet, they’re certainly not going to be sitting down with their architects to work on capital projects or expansion plans,” Baker said. He does expect job growth by the second quarter, however, based on historical analysis looking at the past four recessions—much as the AIA predicted earlier this year. “If this recession is like past ones, I fully expect us to be back to work by the summer,” he said.

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Santa Monica Cornered
Field Operations will soon develop new plans for the Palisades, seen here at sunset, and Town Square in Santa Monica.
Courtesy City of Santa Monica

James Corner and Field Operations have beaten out formidable competitors including Gehry Partners and Peter Walker to design Santa Monica’s new Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square. The high profile project will include 7 acres of park space between Santa Monica City Hall and the Santa Monica Pier that will connect the area’s Civic Center to the rest of the city. Land for the project was made available when the RAND Corporation relocated its headquarters to the southernmost location of its 15-acre site back in 2004.

Out of the 24 teams that submitted for the RFQ, the six shortlisted teams included Field Operations, Peter Walker and Partners, Gehry Partners, Studio Works, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, and SWA Group. The selection panel for the project included Qingyun Ma, Dean of the USC School of Architecture; landscape architect Ken Smith, and Marc Fisher, Campus Architect at UCSB. They panel coordinated with staff from the city’s Community and Cultural Services, Planning, and Public Works/Architecture Services departments.

In the end Field Operations, best know for their work on New York’s High Line, won out because of their creative thinking about the site, their landscape expertise, their strong work in the public process, and their “commitment to making places for people,” said Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s Director of Community and Cultural Services. Teams did not present concept designs in their interviews.

An aerial photograph shows the new areas to be developed by Field Operations in downtown Santa Monica as well as nearby landmarks.

Stinchfield stressed that the team was selected for more than just their impressive resume. “It wasn’t just this one really high profile project,” she said, referring to the High Line. “It’s their dedication to sustainability and public art and engaging the community.”

Lisa Switkin, an associate principal at Field Operations, believes it is her firm’s commitment to community involvement that helped it win the day. “We are good listeners,” she said. “We try to understand the site, not come in with a design and retrofit it to what people like.” Switkin added that while a design is far from being developed, the firm is interested in exploring the site’s historic significance, its local plant life, its bluffs and dunes, its significant grade changes, and even its nearby freeway interchange. “We like to amplify the site’s existing characteristics,” she said.

On the heels of the High Line, Field Operations is also working on major park spaces throughout the country. These include the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile loop of former rail tracks and embankments around the city; the huge Shelby Farms Park in Memphis; the Race Street Pier in Philadelphia; and the massive Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island, which is transforming the former landfill of the same name.

Passing over Gehry Partners was not easy, said Miriam Mulder, from Santa Monica’s Architectural Services Department. But the selection committee decided it was best to choose a team that focused on landscape architecture. “This particular piece doesn’t really have much architecture associated with it,” she said. “It’s nice to imagine there might be more architectural pieces that come up.”

Stinchfield said the project is being funded through $25 million in redevelopment agency funds, while the city hopes to tap into additional design department money. They hope to finalize the team’s contract and make a recommendation to the City Council at its last meeting in March. But Mulder thinks that the recommendation might not be made until the council’s April 13 meeting. From there, she said, the city hopes to have the design finalized by late 2011 or early 2012 and have construction begin in 2012.

The Town Square portion of the project, adjacent to Santa Monica’s City Hall, is set to be a space for cultural and civic events, while the Palisades Garden Walk, to its south, will focus on the city’s unique “cultural” and “horticultural” offerings, including a botanical element and water features. Adjacent streetscape improvements, as well as pedestrian and bicycle paths, will connect the parks to the city, while Moore Ruble Yudell’s Santa Monica Village will sit just adjacent.

We’re pretty built up at this point, so it’s definitely one of the last open spaces that we may have to develop for a long time,” said Mulder.

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John Portman
Portman, outside one of the many properties he designed and developed.
Courtesy John Portman & Associates
Always famous yet never in the limelight, John Portman, 86, is an architect who made his stamp on the world through hotel atriums and Atlanta’s Peachtree Center. While other careers were launched with flamboyant cultural icons, Portman took a more entrepreneurial approach, becoming one of the first of a new breed, the architect-developer. With offices in India, Korea, and China—and still living and working within five miles of wherehe was born in Atlanta, Georgia—Portman talks with AN about his own strategies for riding out good times and bad. The Architect's Newspaper: You attended Georgia Institute of Technology in the 1950s. How prepared were you to become an architect? John Portman: I opened my own office in November 1953. Luckily, I had good experience working with Ketchum, Gina & Sharp and H.M. Heatley Associates, and they were, along with Victor Gruen, the leaders in retail design at the time. But I got tired of losing commissions to established firms because I didn’t have a track record. In order tomove faster, I formeda partnership with one of my ex-professors, H. Griffith Edwards, who taught office practice and specifications. We had a great partnership, Portman & Edwards, for 15 years until he retired. When did you decide to get into development, too? In 1956, I happened to make friends with the local dean of real estate, and I was fortunate enough that he let me go on some calls. I realized that if I found the site, came up with the idea, and figured out the financing, then there would be no question about who was going to be the architect. I don’t think anyone else was doing that at the time, so I guess you might say that I pioneered the architect-developer, and I have been doing that ever since. My first development was the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta, which I started in an old garage that we remodeled.It opened in 1961, and has grown into the AmericasMart with eight million square feet today. Do you own it? Yep, and that helps me get through the rough times. Has it always been smooth sailing, then? The 1960s were strong. We had nothing but great activity right up until ‘73, when the oil embargo caused a major slowdown into the ‘80s. During those times it was pretty rough, but we’ve always done architecture work for clients while we have our arm that brings together investors so we can develop for ourselves. Would you recommend the architect-developer model for young practitioners today? Development is a really risky game, and nothing good is ever accomplished without enthusiasm and an understanding that you might be wrong. But if you approach it correctly, the odds are in your favor as long as you protect against the downside as much as possible and don’t get so romantically carried away with the upside that you get killed. How do the two parts of your practice compare? The architectural side is always larger, because it takes more people to do the projects than it does to manage and develop. So it’s a different set of skills and a different kind of cycle. The largest we’ve been is 120 architects and about 49 developers. You were one of the first Western archiects working in China. How did that happen? When Deng Xiaoping came to Atlanta while Carter was president, we put him up on the top floor of our hotel [the Hyatt Regency Atlanta]. He then invited a delegation of eight people in 1979 to come to China, and I was in the group. So that opened the door for us, and we started an office there and built the first mixed-use project in mainland China, the Shanghai Center that opened in 1989. We’ve had a very good success run in China for some 20 years. In fact, most of our work now is outside the U.S., and we are very busy in India and Korea. Did you see the latest downturn coming? I had a pretty good hunch about a year before, based on the capital markets being the most extraordinary I had ever seen—and that couldn’t last. We started to look at it very seriously as something going to wind down, and we made some very conservative plans and avoided anything risky. What’s the major risk in being an architect-developer? My tactic is to never give up, or to quote what’s-her-name about another day… Scarlett O’Hara? Yes, Scarlett! Well, tomorrow is another day. The trick is to stay on the hills and get out of the valleys. I don’t try to proselytize; I don’t sell to others. I try to never get away from the fact that I am first an architect and everything else is to support that.
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BIM’s in the Money
A BIM rendering from an ONUMA white paper. The firm is one of ten BIM specialists on contract with the GSA.
Courtesy ONUMA

The General Services Administration awarded ten hefty contracts for Building Information Modeling (BIM) services in Septmber, each worth $30 million, with a retainer of up to five years. While work under the contracts has not yet been assigned, the GSA has clearly indicated that BIM services are an important factor for the federal government’s new construction projects, as well as for renovating and modernizing existing structures.

The Indefinite Delivery–Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts were awarded across the GSA’s regions, and six went to architecture firms: Ghafari Associates of Dearborn, Michigan; KlingStubbins in partnership with Tocci Building Corporation of Philadelphia; HNTB of Kansas City, Missouri; ONUMA of Pasadena, California; View By View of San Francisco; and Kristine Fallon Associates of Chicago. The four remaining contracts were awarded to construction management firm DPR Construction of Falls Church, Virgina; engineering and systems-based Hallam Associates of South Burlington, Vermont; and software development firms Beck Technology of Dallas and Applied Software Technology of Atlanta.

The ten offices will primarily act as project consultants, and depending on the services required for each assignment, a team may find itself modeling information as varied as energy analyses, operations and facility management, planning and programmatic organization, or cost estimating schedules.

The GSA awarded six contracts for the laser scanning of its current holdings, an effort that won an AIA BIM award last year.
Courtesy AIA

“The IDIQ for BIM services will provide consulting services available to GSA to verify, model check, train, and prepare independent models on any American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects or future projects,” said GSA spokeswoman Mary Anne Beatty. The contracts promote the GSA’s commitment to “strategic and incremental implementation of BIM technologies and reflect the technological advances in the marketplace,” Beatty added.

Chris Leary, a project director at KlingStubbins, said that the firm had essentially been prequalified for a very broad assignment. “It’s up to the local GSA, or perhaps the national GSA office, to come up with specific assignments that meet these categories,” he said. “It’s a pretty clever way for an owner like the GSA to accelerate the adoption of this technology.”

Six additional IDIQ contracts were awarded for 3-D laser scanning services to provide accurate 3-D models of existing GSA facilities in advance of architecture or engineering work. In partnership with BIM services, scanning should help streamline the GSA’s vast portfolio of construction and renovation projects, which include federal office buildings, border stations, courthouses, and childcare centers.

Two of the winning 3-D scanning firms, Stantec Consulting Services of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and Architectural Resource Consultants of Irvine, California, provide architectural and design services. Coign Asset Metrics & Technologies of New Brighton, Pennsylvania offers a broad range of capabilities, including facility and asset management, engineering, surveying, planning, information technology, and business process improvement. The remaining three offices—Quantapoint of Pittsburgh, Pharos Consulting of Orlando, Florida, and Beck Technology of Dallas—specialize in software development and laser scanning.

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Downtown Brooklyn
A map of many major development projects in Downtown Brooklyn. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

When Harry Rosen opened Junior’s in 1950, the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field and Brooklyn was in its heyday. The restaurant’s Flatbush Avenue neighbors included the Paramount and Fox theaters, where Brooklynites could hear Duke Ellington or, a few years later, Chuck Berry. Downtown was a real neighborhood, said Joe Chan, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), and the recent wave of development—no matter how chaotic in appearance—aims to make it one again.

7: Toren (Numbers refer to the development map above)

The intervening decades saw the area along Flatbush decline into automotive uses and an uninviting barrier condition. In 2004, the nonprofit DBP and the commercial and academic stakeholders it represents, along with relevant city agencies, saw the area’s rezoning as a chance to recapture that history with residents, jobs, entertainment, diverse retail, and 24/7 street life. “It should have all the elements of economic sustainability,” said Chan, who spent five years as City Hall’s point person for the rezoning. The plan also incorporated PlaNYC’s principles for greening public space and guiding density toward transit nodes.

Before the bubble burst in 2008, the on-the-ground reality along Flatbush, however, was hyper-development, particularly in the condominium sector, and a jarring degree of gentrification. Major projects include the 42-story Avalon Fort Greene at Myrtle and Flatbush, a rental building by Perkins Eastman Architects now under construction; BFC Partners’ 37-story Toren by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy at the same intersection; Ismael Leyva’s 40-story Gold Street tower, Oro; and 80 DeKalb, a 34-story 80/20 by Costas Kondylis for Forest City Ratner. Downtown residential construction includes some 20 fully funded projects in all.

17/13: The future site of City Point, with 80 DeKalb Avenue under construction in the background

But sales have lagged behind expectations, and some new construction is now “trending toward rental,” said Chan, “for those that were still in the planning phases before the credit markets really took a turn.” Toren, as of this writing, is 50 percent sold; Oro, 40 percent. Developers who “in the past were negotiating with big boxes,” said councilperson Letitia James, an advocate of affordable housing and local employment, are instead considering day-care centers and schools, perhaps even quartering students from downtown’s seven higher-educational institutions. In fact, last year’s economic reality check may end up steering development patterns away from drastic gentrification and closer to a more inclusive community vision.

1/6: The Oro and Avalon Fort Greene

The DBP’s Downtown Brooklyn Plan allows FARs of 10 or 12 south of MetroTech (increased from 6) along Flatbush to a jigsaw border including Boerum Place and Adams, Jay, and Smith streets. The ensuing densification counterbalances the 2007 downzoning in the brownstone districts of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The City Point mixed-use complex would replace Albee Square Mall with residences, retail, offices, and possibly a hotel, although construction is stalled, and reports of a 65-story skyscraper by Atlanta-based architect GreenbergFarrow appear premature. “The only part of City Point that will go forward is the affordable housing at this point,” James reports, “and that’s still in discussion.”

20: Ingersol Houses

On Duffield Street, all but one of several buildings thought to have served as abolitionist safe houses have fallen under eminent domain. Depending on fundraising, the remaining house at 227 Duffield will become an Underground Railroad museum surrounded by new development, including four hotels ranging from a 130-room V3 boutique to a 320-room Sheraton.

Much of the area’s physical and social healing depends on whether Flatbush continues to resemble a highway or evolves toward a boulevard with development that “knits neighborhoods together,” according to SOM’s Duffy. Flatbush needs to be “less of an edge, more of a permeable condition between pre- existing neighborhoods.”

Noting how vehicles and the “defensive” MetroTech buildings combine to separate Fort Greene from downtown, Duffy looks to design as well as programming for reintegration. Toren, with its dimpled facade of Argentine aluminum panels painted powder-coat silver, stands out from the area’s dominant masonry styles; at ground level, its facade “was meant to foster transparent activity at the street edge,” he said.

18: Future home of Willoughby Square Park

Schermerhorn House, designed by Susan Rodriguez and Polshek Partnership for a publicly-owned site near Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, is an intriguing exception to the highrise activity, performing a comparably mediating function on a 12-story structure. With a glass-tower design that Rodriguez describes as having two distinct faces—one reflecting Downtown Brooklyn’s larger scale, and the other stepping down to the brownstones of Boerum Hill—this multipurpose project spearheaded by Common Ground Community and Actors Fund of America includes studio units for special-needs populations like the formerly homeless, artists, and other low-income residents.

Downtown’s near future may look less glittering than developers had hoped, but for some that’s a relief. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not trying to create a new city,” said James. “What we’re trying to do is improve on that which we have and create opportunities for residents who have lived through the bad times and want to benefit from the good times."

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Mall City
East River Plaza in East Harlem subsumes its big box stores below grade with airy walkways and smaller shops above.
Courtesy GreenbergFarrow

The vacant storefronts in commercial districts throughout New York City are among the most striking signs of the economic downturn. However, on old industrial sites and in neighborhoods where national retail has never ventured before, developers are betting that a new generation of malls will bring in hordes of shoppers. One such mall is the $500 million Gateway Center at the Bronx Terminal Market, which in May held a ribbon cutting for its first tenant, Home Depot.

Situated on a 16.5-acre site along the Harlem River near the new Yankee Stadium, this 950,000-square-foot project for the Related Companies represents a major departure from the traditional suburban mall. Instead of being enveloped in parking lots, this mall is pedestrian friendly. It has wide sidewalks, a small outdoor plaza with seating, and several street-level spaces for restaurants and retail. Sloped roofs and interior streets break up the massing of the enormous development.

Instead of big-box stores spread out laterally, here they are stacked on top of one another in two three-story retail blocks that flank a six-story garage for 2,341 cars. The two retail blocks are staggered by about 15 feet, allowing each big-box store to connect to its own dedicated parking deck by walkways that pass over interior streets. If a mall of this size were built in the suburbs, it would typically take up 100 acres.

The vertical design, with its relatively modest footprint, resolves many concerns that critics have about malls, said John Clifford, principal at GreenbergFarrow, which did the project’s master plan and retail design. A large share of shoppers, about 37 percent, are supposed to arrive by public transit and on foot. “There are a lot of urbanists who hate the suburbanization that these uses bring,” Clifford said, “but when you think about it, there couldn’t be a better use of land resources.”

Gateway is one of several vertical-style malls under construction in the city that GreenbergFarrow has helped design. East River Plaza, planned by the Blumenfeld Development Group on a three-block site between East 116th and 119th streets adjacent to the FDR Drive, is due to open this fall. Vornado Realty Trust’s Rego Park II in Queens will also open this year. And a GreenbergFarrow design for another Related project, the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, is in the midst of a contentious public review process.

The Gateway Center at the Bronx Terminal Market incorporates a defunct La Guardia-era market into a larger modern mall complex.
Courtesy BBG-BBGM

These massive developments will undoubtedly change the way that many New Yorkers shop. Gateway, which is 90 percent leased, will provide the Bronx with its first Bed Bath & Beyond and its first wholesale club, BJ’s. East River Plaza will house the first Costco in Manhattan. The new malls also promise thousands of jobs for low-income neighborhoods that suffer from high unemployment.

Yet many community groups and local business advocates are not thrilled by the new designs or the shopping opportunities these developments promise. While some opponents are willing to accept new malls if they commit to paying a living wage, others ask whether the new malls, which receive generous tax abatements and subsidies, are coming at the expense of more sustainable and less inherently auto-dependent forms of development.

Irwin Cohen, a developer who specializes in adaptive reuse, had plans to redevelop old industrial buildings at the Bronx Terminal Market into a multipurpose facility that would rent to independent food vendors, much as he did when he turned a former Nabisco factory into the highly successful Chelsea Market. Local operations would have been better anchors for the Bronx site than big-box national retailers, he argued. “Why should we have what is being done in the rest of the United States foisted on us—shopping malls and cars?”

For his part, Clifford has long pondered such questions. He began designing malls out of GreenbergFarrow’s Atlanta office for Home Depot, and helped introduce the big-box concept in New York in 1993, designing the city’s first Home Depot in Ozone Park, Queens. Since then, Greenberg Farrow has designed more than 6.5 million square feet of big-box stores and malls in New York City alone. In recent years, as developers have looked to more urban neighborhoods, new design strategies were required: hence the vertical mall.

Take East River Plaza. Instead of existing as a monolith that eats up three city blocks, the 650,000-square-foot project is broken up by an open-air galleria, similar to the one at Gateway, that lines up with 117th Street, providing orientation to the neighborhood and to stores on four above-grade retail levels. Here, every other level of retail is accessible from the adjacent, eight-story parking garage by pedestrian bridges that connect over the galleria.

related companies plans to insert new retail uses into the Kingsbridge Armory's historic facade. the plans have run into opposition from local groups fighting for Fair wages.
Carlos E. Restrepo

The project also seeks to harmonize with its surroundings through a facade of masonry and brick, chosen to echo the texture of the neighborhood and to reference the 19th-century Washburn Wire factory, which occupied the site. While these are worthwhile tactics, one wonders if the factory might have been salvaged for reuse in the project, making a more than symbolic nod to neighborhood history.

A similar strategy has been used at Gateway Center, where remnants were incorporated from the art deco Bronx House of Detention, demolished to make way for the new mall. Eagles from the structure’s frieze, for instance, are perched on steel columns around the mall’s street-side plaza. The building also references heroic 1930s warehouse architecture through four 30-foot-tall glass towers, which conceal exit stairways and serve as beacons above the Deegan Expressway.

“We wanted to take a little bit of the history of the site and impart it onto the design of the building,” said Gregory Cranford, partner at BBG-BBGM, which served as design architects for the massing and exteriors of the buildings, and as overall architects for the project. “So we have done that with the massing and with the big forms. We wanted to have a little bit of the same scale, but in a modern vocabulary.”

Among the new malls, Rego Park II may best address its surroundings. First, the superblock is not out of place here—neighbors include tower-in-the-park residential developments, along with the original Rego Park mall. And instead of being primarily a retail zone dominated by big-box stores, the 1.675 million-square-foot development called for a more diverse mix of uses to animate the public spaces, including a 25-story residential tower atop a seven-story parking garage with ground-level retail. Currently, however, the tower is on hold.

Other elements of the project go well beyond window-dressing. A tensile fabric canopy covers a 50-foot-wide galleria along the central axis of the development. In contrast to the gallerias at Gateway Center and East River Plaza, which accommodate cars and pedestrians, the one at Rego Park is strictly a pedestrian mall that attempts to bring an urbanistic feel to the neighborhood. “We are trying to integrate open space into the community,” said Giovanni Valle, project architect for Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, which designed the facade for Rego Park II. (SLCE is the architect of record.)

The mixed-use Rego Park II in Queens includes connections on several levels: A pedestrian galleria links the retail building with surrounding streets, while a bridge connects pedestrians and vehicles to a neighbroring mall.
Courtesy EE&K Architects

Kingsbridge Armory, meanwhile, represents another approach. This project involves building a vertical mall inside the landmarked Kingsbridge Armory. Under the plan developed by GreenbergFarrow, the inside of the armory would be ripped out and a steel-truss-framed structure would be inserted inside the shell of the building.

The project, though, has been opposed by groups like the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), which demands that Related commit to have tenants pay a living wage, as well as add recreation space for children. There is also outrage about plans for a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, which residents say could drive out local grocery stores that pay union wages.

“We are not looking to create a poverty wage center in the middle of Kingsbridge,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a KARA spokesperson. (Glenn Goldstein, senior vice-president of the Related Companies, said that it was too early in the approval process to discuss plans for the armory.)

There is much to praise about New York’s newest vertical malls. They’ll revitalize old industrial areas, and relate more sanely to the city than earlier megaprojects did. But worries remain that these projects are still suburban—reliant on car and truck traffic, and a threat to local businesses.

That is a particular concern given the subsidies and tax abatements involved. Related, for example, received a $7.1 million city subsidy toward the expense of razing the original Bronx Terminal Market, as well as about $133 million in city tax abatements for Gateway. The company also received preliminary approval for subsidies and tax abatements on the mall it plans for Kingsbridge.

“These urban mall projects fit into a pattern of public dollars being used to fund the expansion of national chain retailers,” said Stacy Mitchell, the author of Big-Box Swindle, “while independent businesses never see a dime.” There is no reason why forward-thinking design couldn’t also serve a more balanced vision of community investment—and a still more sustainable wave of shopping in the city.