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Majoring in Green
SOM and Fernau & Hartman's wedge-shaped library and information technology building serves as the center of student life on the UC Merced campus.
Tim Griffith

In 1898 architect Bernard Maybeck—in his role as manager of the design competition for the University of California Berkeley masterplan—called for a college campus design for the 20th century. Above all, Maybeck felt the new campus should be beautiful and evoke a strong sense of institutional permanence. “There will be no more necessity of remodeling its broad outlines a thousand years hence,” he continued, “than there would be of remodeling the Parthenon, had it come down to us complete and uninjured.” It had to be beautiful, forever. That was all.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when, for the eleventh time in its 117-year history, the Regents of the University of California made a priority of designing a college campus from scratch. This new campus, the first since the Regents opened UC campuses in Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s, would be built on a greenfield site near the Central Valley town of Merced. The first phase, a core of four academic buildings, would replace a golf course. The full campus, which will include clusters of student housing, academic buildings, and open space organized around a central main street, is expected to take 20 to 25 years. Constructed in four phases, it will cover 910 acres and accommodate 25,000 students by the year 2030. The stakes are high: UC Merced is the first entirely new research university to open its doors in the U.S. in the 21st century.

UC Merced fills a major gap in the distribution of UC campuses across the state. According to UC Merced’s long-range development plan, the San Joaquin Valley—a region marked by a booming agricultural industry and predominantly immigrant workforce—had the state’s highest concentration of residents living more than 50 miles from a UC campus. Locating the new campus in Merced extended the geographic reach of one of the state’s two higher education systems to meet the needs of a generally underserved population.

Christopher Grubbs

Tim Griffith 

The complete masterplan (top) includes clusters of student housing, academic buildings, and open spaces organized around a central main street. The new library (above) is v-shaped in plan and has three- and four-story wings connected by a taller glassy core at its center.  

Yet building on a rural site—situated 130 miles from the nearest metropolis—meant upping the ante when it came to minimizing its carbon footprint. With the first phase of build-out now complete, it’s clear that the architectural vision for UC Merced is not very concerned with Maybeck’s notions of “architectural art” or striving toward a lofty ideal of everlasting beauty. Instead, it has everything to do with sustainability.

The campus architecture and planning reflects an engagement in that tricky balancing act known as “smart growth.” Could the UC Merced campus accommodate new development while also mitigating its impact on the environment? Could it be the first LEED-certified, even carbon neutral, college campus in the U.S.? In light of these performative 21st-century goals, the campus—which opened in August for its third academic year—operates with machine-like efficiency.

“There was a real mandate from the university that this campus would be 20 percent more energy efficient than the rest of the UC campuses,” said Michael Duncan, associate partner in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—and the architect of the campus’ masterplan and two other buildings in the campus core. All of the buildings are required to meet a minimum of LEED Silver, or 20 percent below California’s Title 24 requirements and at or below 80 percent of the energy-demand benchmarks for existing UC buildings.

The greenest aspect of the campus might very well be its plan. SOM oriented the underlying grid about 30 degrees off the true north-south axis, which greatly simplifies the task of siting individual buildings in the most energy-efficient way possible—or with respect to the rising and setting sun. It also takes wind into account: The grid runs parallel to the path of cooling breezes coming off the surface of Lake Yosemite.

The grid orientation also outlines perimeter blocks, where buildings are arranged along the edges of streets or major walking paths (like most college campuses, the plan for UC Merced maintains a car-free academic core). In this context, where you can actually see the horizon, it seems barely relevant to call this a good urban design strategy. Yet it’s an important move that anticipates a time, 30 years from now, when 30,000 students will buzz from quadrangle to quadrangle, back and forth along the campus’ main drag. Here, SOM has imported a bit of big-city thinking into a small Central Valley town: a grid of efficient, tightly-knit development to serve as a counterpoint to the more usual pattern of suburban and exurban sprawl.

Yet Duncan is quick to point out the plan’s more innate qualities. “It’s a scheme based on Central Valley towns built around a Main Street—rather than something like a University of Virginia or Stanford that makes a first grand gesture and has to design all the buildings to support it, which can’t really result in a pattern of natural growth.”

And already some buildings within this still-developing scheme have earned kudos. Wedged between two irrigation canals, the school’s 120,000-square-foot, $36 million library and information technology center—the largest building on campus—achieved a LEED Gold rating soon after it welcomed UC Merced’s first crop of 970 students in September 2005. Designed by SOM, in collaboration with Berkeley-based Fernau & Hartman, the UC Merced Library serves as the main hub and all-in-one center for student life. “It’s the campus living room,” said Duncan, where students study, register for classes, buy books, join clubs, and hang out.

The library is V-shaped in plan with three- and four-story wings connected by a taller glassy core at its center. The core contains two double-height spaces—an atrium and a reading room—stacked on top of one another. The reading room connects to the periodicals lounge, another double-height space that cantilevers over the outdoor courtyard and creates a pleasantly shady space that draws students in toward the main entrance. Orienting the building north-south allowed the architects to take a straightforward approach to shading the interiors. Rows of horizontal glass louvers stripe the south-facing facades while strategically placed oak panels let in generous amounts of diffused northern daylight.

If the library makes the campus work on a social level, the central plant complex simply makes the campus work. The superefficient, 41,000-square-foot power plant designed by SOM, in collaboration with Arup and the California Institute for Energy Efficiency, is a three-building, $26 million complex that includes a main mechanical building and a separate telecommunications hub wrapped in a unified system of horizontal stainless steel panels. The main mechanical workhorse, however, is the two-million-gallon thermal energy storage tank—a tall cylinder clad in a vertical pattern of corrugated steel “shingles.” The materials and form are loose references to semi-trucks and grain silos, both common sights in the Central Valley’s agricultural-industrial landscape. “When we first started this job, there was just the clarity of these objects in this vast landscape,” said Duncan, who designed the building’s skin and interiors. “We wanted to make them iconically simple.”

The tank is described as “thermal,” in the sense that it acts like a giant thermos: It stores and chills all of the campus’ water. The water is cooled overnight, when lower temperatures allow the electric chillers to run more efficiently. This also saves money, since using electricity during off-peak hours costs about one-third of what it does during the day. Cold water is then pumped from the bottom of the tank, through 12-foot-high tunnels to each of the campus’ four buildings—while graywater and stormwater are pumped back and stored at the top of the tank. The central plant also earned LEED Gold certification, largely because of its recycled metal shell.

The 93,000-square-foot classroom building and 100,000-square-foot science and engineering building, designed respectively by Portland-based Thomas Hacker Architects and San Francisco–based EHDD Architecture, are also on target to meet LEED Silver standards.

How will it all come together? Ironically, for this hyper-sustainable campus, it may boil down to aesthetics. “The glass sunscreens became more thematic as a unifier than we’d initially intended,” Duncan commented. Glass fins as the next red tile roofs? With all due respect to Maybeck and the principles of his time, we will cross our fingers and see.

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No Building Left Behind
Michael Maltzan Architecture's Inner-City Arts.
Iwan Baan

Inner-City Arts
Los Angeles, California
Michael Maltzan Architecture

Inner-City Arts was founded in 1994 to supplement arts and cultural education for downtown Los Angeles students at schools where such programming had been cut. The final phase of its new campus opened on October 2 with a parade of pinwheel-waving kids led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Located on a one-acre site in the heart of Skid Row, one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, Inner-City Arts represents a 15-year collaboration between Michael Maltzan Architecture, landscape designers at Nancy Goslee Power and Associates, and environmental designers at Ph.D, who each donated their time over 15 years to the continuously-evolving project.

Iwan Baan

The first phase, completed in conjunction with Marmol Radziner + Associates in 1994, included an adaptive reuse of a 10,000-square-foot abandoned auto body shop. The most recent additions—which include the Rosenthal Theater, a state-of-the-art black-box performance space, a ceramics studio, and a DreamWorks-sponsored animation studio—are raw spaces that employ inexpensive materials like stucco, wood, and concrete, and are painted defiantly and completely white with abstract orange lettering by Ph.D. The angular, low-lying buildings are arranged into a unique indoor-outdoor layout that “cracks open,” according to Michael Maltzan, along the perimeter. Students catch glimpses into the outlying neighborhood, and locals can see in, said Maltzan, so “it doesn’t feel like an isolated incident in the middle of Skid Row.”

The indigenous gardens within the courtyard include elements like a tiled fountain, a dry creek bed planted like a local arroyo, a teaching garden, and a labyrinth, all inspired by drawings the students made when asked to sketch their visions of the new school. The completed design of Inner-City Arts creates a place for serious art making, said Maltzan, but is also an example of how an optimistic environment can impact a depressed area. “We’ve tried to make an entire campus which can be seen as a microcosm for a transformative experience,” he said.

Alissa Walker


AF Payne Photographic 

Bioscience School
Phoenix, Arizona
Orcutt/Winslow Partnership 

Under the design leadership of local firm Orcutt/Winslow Partnership, with input from science specialists and the local community, the Phoenix Union High School District recently opened their new comprehensive Bioscience High School in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Orcutt/Winslow’s design is strategically located within the Biomedical Research Campus, including the Translational Genomic Institute, where students participate in internships. The school’s pedagogical and physical organization models itself after these research laboratories, encouraging collaboration, team teaching, independent learning, and a “rigorous and relevant” science and math focused curriculum. It also integrates a historic one-room school house that now serves as the school’s administration center.

AF Payne Photographic

Seven laboratories (six indoors and one on the roof deck) are the focal point of the campus, and around these are clustered the student “studios” (not unlike architecture studios), teacher work areas, and, at the extremities on two levels, naturally illuminated, flexible-dimension classrooms. A multi-level space called Town Hall is the heart of the school—serving as the locus for presentations, the cafeteria, and a link to the desert courtyard.

In support of scientific understanding, the open-web structure and mechanical systems are laid bare to the eye. Desert-specific environmental strategies include solar heated water, east and west facing tilt-up concrete “fossil” walls, and provisions for a photovoltaic array.

Beth Weinstein


Gary Wilson Photo/Graphic 

Rosa Parks Elementary School
Portland, Oregon
Dull Olson Weekes Architects 

Since it opened in 2006, Rosa Parks Elementary in Portland has been a community magnet. Part of the broader New Columbia neighborhood, a large and formerly run-down affordable housing enclave that has become the largest redevelopment project in Oregon history, the 66,863-square-foot, LEED Gold–rated K–6 school is also host to a Boys & Girls Club that opens when classes end and is available to other organizations in the evenings.

The school, designed by Portland’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA), is oriented around a series of existing legacy trees. As a result, said DOWA’s lead designer Karina Ruiz, “It doesn’t take the shape of a traditional double loaded corridor building.”

The classroom wing is divided into what are called “neighborhoods,” two per floor, with five classrooms, a resource room, and a shared common area. The glass-enclosed west side of the building also opens out onto the trees with a small park-like green space and a bioswale. The configuration allows classrooms to receive natural light on both sides.

The school’s sustainable features include a stormwater management system that keeps all water on site, an array of photovoltaic solar panels, displacement ventilation, and extensive daylighting. Designed to be 25 percent more energy efficient than code and in actuality performing 30 to 35 percent better, Rosa Parks is the most efficient building in the Portland Public Schools system. “It’s not just to save energy, but to connect students to their world,” Ruiz said.

Brian Libby

Tim Griffith

Trinity School
Menlo Park, California
Mark Cavagnero Associates 

Mark Cavagnero Associates designed a 1,200-square-foot expansion for one of the K–5 school’s existing 1960s Bay style buildings, as well as a new 4,800-square-foot Enrichment Center containing classrooms for music, science, and the arts.

The project, pointed out Cavagnero, creates a much-needed connection between the school and its lush new yard and play areas, which are separated by a steep slope. A dramatic, canopied stair between the existing and new buildings has become the center of campus life. Large landings on either side of the stair as well as weaving terraces serve as perfect places to rest or eat lunch, and also function as places to sit for assemblies.

Tim Griffith

The glazed, rectilinear addition to the existing building—which provides a much-needed extra classroom—edges into the hill and abuts the left side of the stair. Meanwhile the new building, clad in stained cedar with copious glazing, welcomes plenty of light and cross breezes thanks to its narrow floorplate and its orientation perpendicular to prevailing ocean breezes. Building this structure against the hill, said Cavagnero, was meant to make it feel as if it were “floating out from the hill and reaching out to trees.” None of the new construction uses air conditioning, and heating is by means of an underfloor system.

Sam Lubell

David Wakely 

The Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex
Hillsborough, California
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

With this 27,000-square-foot addition to an independent pre-K–8 school, Leddy Maytum Stacy has created a multifaceted environment that encourages learning and curiosity. Guided by the school’s mission to instill “a passion for lifelong learning” and a commitment to the environment, the design takes every opportunity to engage students with the world around them.

“Our goal was to create a great educational environment,” said William Leddy, design principal. “Sustainability was a crucial element, but to succeed, we needed a more layered design response that considered the role that day-to-day experience plays in education.”

David Wakely

The new complex expresses a strong connection to the 33-acre campus landscape and community. The three program elements—classrooms, library, and student center—occupy separate buildings, arranged around a plaza to form a hub of student life that stitches the 40-year-old campus together. The open, single-loaded buildings benefit from natural light, and living roofs totaling 10,000 square feet provide new habitats for native species, including an endangered butterfly. “X-ray” windows expose the building systems within, and a man-made “arroyo” activates the plaza during rainstorms. Finally, the LEED Gold complex teaches by example, using 65 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than a typical new school in the U.S., and generating 21 percent of its electricity needs through a 30kw photovoltaic array. Resource-efficient materials, 36 percent sourced locally, include non-native cypress trees removed from the site and milled for the building’s benches, screens, and decks.

Yosh Asato

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Megastructures Reload
A derelict old German mint in Berlin has been taken over until November 2 by Megastructure Reloaded an exhibit of  1960's visionary architecture drawings, models, and films. Descending into the mint’s basement/bunker Archigrammer Dennis Crompton has created an installation that includes Yona Friedman’s la Ville Spatiale, a film of the Archigram guys walking around The Centre Pompidou with Cedric Price, and a toy-like model of a Constant Nieuwenhuijs skyscraper. The dilapidated ground floor has series of interpretations of the themes by young megatsructuralists like New Yorkers Tobias Putrih and Katrin Sigurdardottir. A weekend symposium with young architects and activist planners took place in an inflatable bubble by raumlabor_berlin who provided wonderful waffles with fresh figs and pomegranates.  Planners serving waffles in their own inflatable, transportable bubble. Something funny is happening in Berlin.
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Stephen A. Kliment, 1930-2008

kristen richards

Stephen Kliment, a true gentleman in the best sense of the word, was a deliberate and forceful champion for architecture. His work as an architect, writer, critic, journalist, editor, and teacher had a profound and positive impact on the growth of the profession in the last half of the 20th century and into the tumultuous beginnings of the 21st. In addition to his sublime wit and great intellect, Stephen showed in the issues he addressed a sense of youth that belied his age in years. Many, including myself, were astonished to learn that Stephen was approaching the age of 80 at the time of his passing. He was challenged, thankfully without pain, by pancreatic cancer, and, accompanied by his wife Felicia, died in Germany while undergoing an experimental treatment.

Stephen Kliment was born in 1930 in Prague and grew up in Czechoslovakia and England. In 1948 he fled his native country, by then under Communist rule, and went to the United States. Following his early architectural studies at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and at the University of Havana in Cuba, he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953 and received a masters degree in architecture from the Jean Labatut-led School of Architecture at Princeton in 1957.

After graduation, Stephen followed a traditional professional path and started work with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; in 1969, he returned to practice as partner in the firm of Caudill Rowlett Scott. Stephen, who was ultimately best known for his leadership in architectural journalism, was the editor of Architectural and Engineering News from 1961 to 1969 (then at John Wiley & Sons, where he worked from 1987 to 1990), and was the founding editor of the highly successful Building Type Basics series. In 1990, Stephen became editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, where he remained until 1996. A profoundly ethical man, Stephen left Record following a policy dispute with the publisher. Since 2002 he had been the editorial director of Oculus, the journal of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and eOculus, the chapter’s newsletter. His incisive opinions were published in The New York Times and he was the current editor of The Principal’s Report.

He was a man committed to a socially responsible profession. His extensive work on issues of diversity was recognized with an honorary membership in the National Organization of Minority Architects. In an email, Ted Landsmark, president of the Boston Architectural College, wrote, “Steve was the architecture profession’s conscience on increasing diversity. His understanding of the challenges faced by people of color seeking to contribute to the design fields enabled him to make specific, pragmatic recommendations that are finally being implemented.”

Early in 1997, Stephen accepted my invitation to teach at the School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture at the City College of New York. He became an indispensable member of the faculty, teaching writing on architecture to students, mentoring younger faculty, and quietly helping guide curriculum policy while finishing his 1998 book Writing for Design Professionals. Judy Connorton, director of CCNY’s Rudeman Architecture Library, wrote: “Steve cut through jargon-laden prose, which he saw too much of in current architectural writing, teaching his students clear, direct communication.” Dean George Ranalli added, “Stephen Kliment was an invaluable resource to the School. He worked tirelessly with our students, imparting his knowledge, his consummate writing skills, and his passion for architecture. He will be missed both personally and professionally.”

Stephen was in all ways a teacher. In 2003, when we worked together on the post-9/11 AIA publication Learning From Lower Manhattan, the emphasis on learning was maintained by his writing for and editing of this important report-card document. Kristen Richards, current Oculus editor, said, “Steve’s active involvement in Oculus and eOculus was a major reason I accepted the position as editor. His sharp, red-pencil editing—no archi-babble allowed—made all of us better writers and the publications both informative and enjoyable reads.”

Stephen Kliment is survived by his wife, author Felicia Drury Kliment, their two daughters, Pamela Drury Kliment and Jennifer Kliment Wellander of Seattle, two grandchildren, and his brother Robert, a partner in Kliment-Halsband Architects.

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Five for the Boulevard
Hargreaves Associates with TEN Arquitectos
Courtesy HYDC

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has framed Manhattan’s Far West Side as a business district on the verge, just waiting for the right infrastructure. But given New York’s ever-gloomier financial outlook, five proposals for a new avenue connecting that district with Times Square look like infrastructure waiting for a population.

On September 25, the Hudson Yards Development Corporation (HYDC) showed Community Board 4 presentations from five finalists for the design of a park around Hudson Boulevard. This newly mapped street, running west of 10th Avenue from 33rd to 42nd streets, sits directly north of the 26-acre Hudson Yards site, where the Related Companies intend to develop a mixed-use district.

West 8 with Mathews Nielsen

Work ac with Balmori associates

Whatever impact a retreating Wall Street will have on Related’s project, the development team seems intent on making sure the area can grow one parcel at a time. And Hudson Park, as the new, four-acre public space is known, is central to that strategy.

Though the city maintains that it will build out the area up to 36th Street by 2013, the plans appear to encourage piecemeal development, as market conditions warrant. “The park and boulevard will break up the area’s 800-foot-long blocks, creating ideal development sites,” the HYDC said in a statement. “There will be increased light and views and high-profile addresses in what would otherwise be mid-block sites.”

Selected from a field of 18, most finalists have a hand in other transformative projects around town. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, which submitted a design with Toshiko Mori Architect, is designing Brooklyn Bridge Park. West 8, which proposed a scheme with Mathews Nielsen, is reinventing Governors Island. And Work AC, which partnered with landscape veterans Balmori Associates, remade the P.S. 1 courtyard as a farm this summer. The other teams—Gustafson Guthrie Nichol with Allied Works Architecture, and Hargreaves Associates with TEN Arquitectos—either made the shortlist for those projects or have consulted on Hudson Yards.

All the proposals heed the mayor’s call for infrastructure that can survive climate change. Work AC’s design, for instance, highlights the use of rainwater for irrigation, as well as bioremediation of gray water within the park. “In order to make the systems more visible,” firm principal Dan Wood told AN, “we propose a series of brightly painted tubes to carry the water above ground, that also can be bent to create furniture and playground equipment.”

Other designs also make use of green infrastructure. Hargreaves envisions a turf-lined pedestrian bridge offering space for lounging. West 8’s scheme shows linked park areas programmed with art installations and other uses. Van Valkenburgh Associates mound up a series of grassy knolls that seem to cantilever over the sidewalks. All the designs will tie into a 20-acre open space around Hudson Yards.

“In our minds, the density of use at Hudson Yards was similar to Union Square Park,” said Van Valkenburgh principal Matthew Urbanski. “The relationship between the paved areas and the green spaces are informed by the flow.”

Details about the proposals remain somewhat elusive, since the city’s Department of Design and Construction, which will help implement the streetscape, asked finalists not to describe their plans in any way that might lead politicians to pick a favorite before the selection date. And that, department spokesperson John Ryan told AN, will likely occur by the end of this year.

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol with Allied Works Architecture


Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates with Toshiko Mori Architect

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Future Follies
The Omi property, on 460 acres of rolling Hudson Valley countryside, will soon be adding more architectural works.
Courtesy Art Omi

Last October, New York City real estate developer and Time Equities CEO Francis J. Greenburger announced the establishment of Architecture Omi, a program of the Omi International Arts Center dedicated to exploring the middle ground between architecture and art. This month, with the imminent selection of the first participating designers and the naming of architect Lee H. Skolnick as board chairperson, Architecture Omi has begun to show signs of life.

Art Omi was founded in 1991 as a residency program for artists and writers on Greenburger’s Hudson Valley property. Expanding to some 460 acres of rolling countryside two hours north of the city, since 1998 Omi has been home to The Fields Sculpture Park, a year-round exhibition of large-scale modern and contemporary works from artists both renowned and emerging. The creation a year ago of Architecture Omi, under the stewardship of program director Peter Barton, signaled a shift for the organization, envisaging a series of 21st-century garden follies on 75 acres of the estate.

“That’s our green rug to put stuff on,” said Barton. “Right now it’s mostly cornfields and woodland, all very beautiful.” Barton said that the structures chosen for the site will harmonize with the bucolic landscape, and will include temporary pavilions, longer-term structures, and architectural settings for private collections.

Barton has a few precedents in mind when thinking of Architecture Omi’s future. He cites Chris Burden’s installation for the plaza of Renzo Piano’s LACMA extension as an example of a collaborative model in which artists respond to the work of architects in conjunction with institutional support. In another instance of the same approach, San Francisco–based architect Jim Jennings worked with artist David Rabinowitch in 2006 on a Sonoma artist’s studio for collector Steven Oliver. Barton imagines such artist/architect collaborations undertaken with the aid of collectors, gallerists, and museums, mentioning Connecticut’s Aldrich Museum as a possible co-sponsor for projects at Architecture Omi.

Rabinowitch and Jennings are “frontrunners” to design Architecture Omi’s first project, along with a so-called “Museum in Action” from board member and founder Paola Iaccuci. Steven Holl was also reported to have visited The Fields recently, but no final decisions have been made as yet; the architects will be chosen in consultation with the board of directors, which includes artist Tarik Currimbhoy and architects Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem, who have developed the site’s masterplan.

The new chair Lee Skolnick, principal of Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, has worked on a number of museum and cultural projects, including the Children’s Museum in Bridgehampton. Planners Franck and Triem’s firm, ft Architecture + Interiors, recently completed a new visitors’ center for Omi, a modestly scaled, appealingly unassuming glass-fronted box cantilevered over a cornfield. Barton also pointed to works currently on exhibit in The Fields, “architectonic sculptures” by Currimbhoy and Charles Frazier, as well as proposals from the team of sculptor Pino Barrillà and architect Fausto Ferrara, all of which split the difference between habitable works of art and environmental experiments. But process, more than product, is at the core of this long-term project. Stressed Barton, “explorations and thesis projects are our goals,” not necessarily buildings “in the traditional sense.”

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The Sites Fantastic
Central Park was the only New York City site to make the Great Places list.
Courtesy APA

On October 8, the American Planning Association (APA) announced its list of 30 “Great Places in America.” Launched in 2007, APA Great Places is a national program that highlights locations of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Each year sites are selected that embody a distinctive sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future. This year’s list is made up of neighborhoods, streets, and public spaces in 21 states and the District of Columbia, including New York and California.

Among the honored sites, Central Park was the only New York City destination to be represented, acknowledged as being “an exemplary public space that successfully maintains a large naturalistic landscape in the midst of one of the densest cities in the country,” according to an APA statement. Upstate, Syracuse was honored for its Greater University Hill area, which planners praised for its "memorable character" and role as an economic engine for central New York. (Last year, Harlem's 125th Street and Brooklyn's Park Slope district were honored, along with the Elmwood Village neighborhood in Buffalo.) 

Elsewhere in the region, Philadelphia scored double honors: Society Hill was recognized for the area’s “blend of historic charm, smart mid-century and modern-day planning, and social diversity,” while South Broad Street was noted for its “historical character, focus on the arts, and social vibrancy.”

Santa Monica beach was praised for its strong commitment to public access. 

The Los Angeles area also fared well, with the Echo Park neighborhood, known for its hilly terrain that sets it apart from other Los Angeles neighborhoods, chosen as one of the APA’s best. According to the release, planners admired its “varied topography, historic architecture, and engaged citizens who, over the years, have gone to great lengths to protect and preserve their historic arts community.” Another nod was given to Santa Monica Beach, because of its opportunities for recreation and social interaction, as well as its “commitment to accessibility, environmental stewardship and historic preservation, and maintaining its distinctive character.” Much-lauded San Francisco was shut out of the Great Places list this year, but its North Beach neighborhood was honored in 2007.

The APA’s selection guidelines are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement, as well as other important factors such as geography, population, demographics, and setting, be it urban, suburban, or rural.

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Landscapers Short On Green, Too
We've been tracking the AIA Architecture Billings Index ever since it took a dive last spring. But what about the rest of the design industry? Well, the American Society of Landscape Architects released its quarterly survey of member firms, and the numbers are no better than their brick-and-mortar friends. In fact, the numbers are even worse, with only 16 percent of firms experiencing growth in their billings and 43 percent having stable or rising inquiries. Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the society, said that with the market the way it is, the downturn was to be expected. “The reduced demand for landscape architecture work comes as no surprise considering the current problems with the economy,” Somerville said in a release. “International projects, particularly in the Middle East and Pacific Rim, are a strong and expanding source of work for many firms. Domestically, the public sector remains the most robust source of projects.” Not surprisingly, architects are seeing the same trends. As for the landscape designers, those are: Compared to last quarter, your billable hours are: Well above average – 5.6% Slightly above average – 17.3% Right where they usually are, average – 21.1% Slightly below average – 38.3% Well below average – 17.7% Compared to last quarter, your inquiries are: Well above average – 2.3% Slightly above average – 14.7% Right where they usually are, average – 25.7% Slightly below average – 35.5% Well below average – 21.9% Compared to the same quarter a year ago, your second quarter 2008 billable hours were: Higher – 17.9% About the same – 23.7% Lower – 58% Don’t know – .4% Compared to the same quarter a year ago, your second quarter 2008 inquiries were: Higher – 12.5% About the same – 27.8% Lower – 59.3% Don’t know – .4% Do you plan on hiring any employees in the upcoming quarter?: Experienced landscape architect – 6.8% Entry level landscape architect – 9.4% Support staff – 7.9% Intern – 4.1% Other – 6.4% Not hiring – 74.4% Role of sustainability issues in candidates’ platforms: High on candidates’ agendas – 9.4% Cited more than in the 2004 campaigns – 38.9% About the same as 2004 – 14.0% Cited less than 2004 – 4.2% Not a significant part of the candidates’ agendas – 31.3% Other – 2.3%
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XI International Architecture Biennale
Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff
Martin Perrin

The Arsenale

The theme was “Out There” but the experience was over the top as the leading lights of the profession plus a smattering of young up-and-comers from around the world produced a heroically-scaled display of performance architecture.

By Julie V. Iovine

To make sharp critical observers out of his audiences, German playwright Bertolt Brecht inserted blackout moments into scenes. The 11th International Architecture Biennale offered its own alienation effect in a dark-as-pitch room—a forecourt to the vast two-mile long Arsenale exhibition space—featuring an installation by Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff involving towering interactive screens where scenes from architecture’s favorite movies (Cleopatra,The Fountainhead, A Clockwork Orange, etc.) as complex XY-axis projections leapt up in response to the crowd moving through. This Hall of Fragments set a seductive stage for the subsequent installations commissioned from 24 architecture practices by Biennale director Aaron Betsky. The brief was to show architecture “beyond building,” that is “revelatory, utopian, and critical.” Visitors marched past a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of gargantuan works: elegantly embalmed prototyped extrusions by Asymptote; Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Oz-like Feed Back Space first envisioned in 1969; and Zaha Hadid’s brand-perfect acid green furniture/architecture. Most breathtaking in this sequence was Frank Gehry’s Ungapatchket, a three-story timber model of a Moscow hotel that the architect is designing, slabbed over with clay in the spirit of Cai Guo Qiang’s ephemeral Rent Collection Courtyard figurines shown in New York last winter, but originally exhibited in the Arsenale in 1999.

Even if you had not already been over to the Giardini, the other part of the Biennale dedicated to national pavilions and their individually curated exhibits, and seen the Estonian’s big yellow “pipeline” providentially and ominously running down a gravel slope to the steps of the Russian pavilion, you might have questioned the relevance of the Arsenale’s fabulously blousy installations. The European press has already come down hard, especially on the nudes brought in by French architect Philippe Rahm in an effort to demonstrate space-making through convection air currents instead of walls. The concept was certainly clever, and might have been enough for an art installation, but it cannot pass muster at an architecture fair if it doesn’t actually work. Betsky tried to make an end-run around buildings that “just stand there” in favor of architecture that inspires and “transforms one’s perception of one’s world.” And while there was plenty of food for thought about the latest way to turn data into structure, from artist Matthew Ritchie & Aranda/Lasch’s scale-less, fractal-turned-structural-doily to M-A-D’s AirXY, which replicated the technology of Hall of Fragments with LED lights instead of movies, many of the installations looked as if they could too easily end up as catalog fodder for the amusement of galleristas.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Iwan Baan

The urban problems that preoccupied some architects—the lives of singletons for the Dutch collective Droog; the pile-up of unrecyclable and ghastly plastic toys for Greg Lynn—didn’t seem global enough. Pros at performance architecture like Diller Scofidio + Renfro did not disappoint with a video installation that mashed up interviews with gondoliers in three different Venices—Italy, Las Vegas, and Macau—along with anyone’s belief in authenticity of place. UNStudio, too, satisfied with a slitheringly stunning rendition of a villa fit for Zoolander that served as a screen for footage from an Alexander McQueen fashion show.

But as one continued down the vast Arsenale where in the 12th century, entire battleships could be built in a week, the impression that today powerful minds were bent to far less mighty tasks was hard to ignore. Ten months ago when Betsky set to work, presidents and vice presidents had not been nominated, Georgian borders had not been crossed, and hurricanes both natural and financial had not rocked our foundations. Now that they have, architects working in high concepts rather than hard realities seem somehow passé.



Arsenale Interrota

By Anne Guiney

After the machined perfection of so many of the Arsenale’s massive installations, the drawings of Roma Interrota provided the show’s first real jolt. The recreation of a 1978 exhibition of the same name was inspired by the 1748 Nolli Map of Rome. The drawings show the eternal city reimagined by 12 architects, including Aldo Rossi (pictured), Paolo Portoghesi, Robert Venturi, Leon and Robert Krier, and Colin Rowe, who were themselves monumental practitioners in the 1970s. The reinstallation was an eye-opener for a new generation, including Casey Jones and Reed Kroloff, who collaborated with David Rockwell on the video installation Hall of Fragments. For them, the juxtaposition provided a revealing contrast in the ways architects look at cities. “It has the stillness of a time capsule,” said Kroloff, “and it’s amazing to see how radically the tools of expression have changed.”

The original Roma Interrota was organized by then-mayor of Rome Giulio Carlo Argan, and took as its premise the idea that since the publication of Giovanni Battista Nolli’s famous New Plan for Rome, planning in the city had been stymied and destructive. Argan asked architects to start where the 230-year-old plan left off and dream of what the city could be. Revisiting the new reinstallation at the Arsenale, Argan wrote, “It is comprised not of proposals for urban planning, naturally, but of a series of gymnastic exercises for the imagination whose course runs parallel to that of memory… [Here] are hypotheses for the Rome which would have resulted had man continued to imagine it and not to plan it (badly.)”


Belgium's curators David van Severen and Kersten Geers commemorated a missed centennial—the country first entered the Biennale in 1907—with after the party, an installation whose main components are confetti and mostly empty rooms.
Martin Perrin


At the mouth of the Grand Canal, the city’s largest public garden is dotted with 35 national pavilions and a series of outdoor installations. Inside, a few curators showed how architecture can indeed be pushed “beyond building,” with results ranging from poetic to pragmatic.

By Anne Guiney

By taking the Biennale’s theme “Out There—Architecture Beyond Building” as more guideline than directive, curators of more than 30 national exhibitions in the Giardini found expansive and fertile ground for their ideas. Expansive enough, in fact, to encompass almost anything. Freed from the physical limitations of building, architecture could relate to everything.

The two most prevalent (and often intertwined) ideas curators explored were politics and the environment, but the work ranged from the poetic approach of Japan’s Junya Ishigumi, who created a dreamland of flower-structures, to Russia, whose installation of a competitive architectural chess game could be read as a mirror held up to contemporary politics.

Perhaps the most immediately satisfying project was not in a pavilion, but running between two. Estonia put a real-scale gas pipe on the ground between the German and Russian pavilions to represent a Gazprom proposal to build the Nord Stream pipeline connecting the two countries through the Baltic Sea. It was wonderfully concise in its ability to make a political argument physically manifest, and to raise questions about issues from regional power dynamics to environmental damage.

martin perrin 

Eric holm

martin perrin

Poland’s curators took the seldom-sexy idea of recycling and gave it some style by repurposing their pavilion as the Hotel Polonia, complete with beds. Inside, there were a series of photographic triptychs showing a building as it looks today and then one that Photoshops it into the future. A 2004 basilica becomes a fantastic water park, since after a while the only people attending church would be tourists anyway, so why not? Likewise, a university library is rebranded as a mall, and cheekily, a Foster-designed building became a convincingly ominous jail. The mixture of solid ideas and a light touch led the jurors to award it the Golden Lion. 

Germany, too, drew attention to the use and abuse of nature, though without the humor of its neighbor. To highlight the way we often squander our resources, the curators did some squandering of their own: The neoclassical German pavilion’s portico was lit with 32 massive spotlights, which gave it an unfortunate eerie glow, and each visitor passing underneath felt their heat. The physical sensation made an effective point, and while there was a notice inside that team members were reducing energy consumption to offset the 50,000 kilowatts of electricity the piece will ultimately consume, the choice seemed dubious. A second inadvertently funny moment was an indoor grove of apple trees under Gro-lights, fed by an IV-like sack of radioactively bright liquid that suggested nothing more than Soylent Green.

Japan’s curator Junya Ishigumi took a very different stance on the issue of our relationship to nature, and imagined a world where architecture was not set in a landscape but inextricably a part of it. The seemingly blank white walls of the pavilion were covered with dozens of drawings of greenery-clad structures in different scenarios, and outside were a series of delicate glass greenhouses filled with flowers. Its dreamy beauty made it a favorite, but the ideas it raised were really no more far-fetched than much of the more ecologically-minded work in the Italian Pavilion.


Ryan Reitbauer

U.S. Pavilion

By William Menking

When word first went out that the theme of this year’s architecture biennale was “Out There: Beyond Building,” I suspected that Aaron Betsky would take a more formalist approach and not include the kind of social activism that has recently engaged an increasing number of architects frustrated by a sense of impotence in the face of the country’s crumbling infrastructure and frayed social fabric. I turned to Teddy Cruz, whose housing proposals for Hudson, NY, we’ve covered in AN, and he started a conversation with Pratt Institute’s Deborah Gans. Soon the team also included Andy Sturm of the PARC Foundation and Aaron Levy of the Slought Foundation, two non-profits often involved with architects pursuing alternative practices. There seemed to be an opportunity to provide a counterpoint to the main exhibition with something that focused more on new approaches to engaging with communities and shaping local infrastructure.

Time was not on our side: We had only four months to conceive, develop, design, ship, and install everything down to the guestbook to Venice. Right at the start, Leanne Mella, with years of experience as a biennale coordinator and with the State Department, warned me, “I’ve done exhibits in Africa, and it can be a difficult place to mount an exhibition, but Venice is tougher!” and then she joined our team, an unbeatable vote of confidence.

Our goal was not modest: We were basically trying to develop and encourage an architecture culture that doesn’t yet exist in the United States. And while we included efforts like The Heidelberg Project, where abandoned houses in Detroit have been encrusted by recycled refuse collected in the neighborhood, or Kyong Park’s New Silk Road video montage, the impulse was to provoke new thinking about architecture, not to feature art projects.

While some of the work we decided to include (and that you may have read about in the last issue of AN) was very critical about aspects of American culture and the built environment, some of it was equally proactive about our problems, because they are in fact hard to believe. The reality is that in the last 25 years, this country hasn’t really invested in our infrastructure, and so a lot of the projects in the pavilion looked at that rather than at buildings in order to make a connection between an architectural sensibility and a larger social infrastructure. Finally, I believe that architects are by and large urbanists who love cities and want to make them function better, and the projects we chose to include represented a range of ways to do just that.



Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Wei Wei
Martin Perrin

Experimental Architecture

Inside the Italian Pavilion, 56 exhibits showed the range of experiment across the spectrum, from Lebbeus Woods’ drawings to architecture’s future as seen through the I Ching. With a tone set by the early, ground-breaking work of masters like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Coop Himmelb(l)au, the work suggests that the spirit of the new is alive and engaged.

By Anne Guiney

The Italian Pavilion in the Giardini promises an overview on the state of progressive practice in architecture, and while it certainly delivers, it does so in a way that is alternately provocative, satisfying, and dispiriting. Curator Aaron Betsky chose to devote the building that once housed the host country’s installation (now relocated to the Arsenale) with the work of 55 experimental firms, many of whom are younger, like MOS, NL Architects, and LOT-EK, and seven of the avant-garde’s old school, most now prolific builders, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Morphosis. Most of the masters pulled work from their archives—Zaha Hadid’s drawings were particularly spectacular, and a reminder of her extraordinary talent. A noteworthy exception was Herzog & de Meuron, who teamed up with Ai Wei Wei, their collaborator on the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, and made a simple but beautiful installation from the bamboo poles so prevalent on construction sites in China.

NL Architects

courtesy the architects

Almost all of the work on display is drawn from projects that were underway long before the Biennale, and Betsky has grouped like with like. Teddy Cruz’s cross-border work in Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego is catercorner to FAST’s planning and community organizing project in the Arab-Israeli town of Ein Hawd, while Field Operations’ large-scale and long-term efforts in landscape urbanism share a room with the Colombia-based Husos’ engaging Proyecto Cali, which wonderfully manages to include the restoration of a habitat for Monarch butterflies, an exhibitions building, and a soap opera called Butterflies and Passions.

One of the more striking things that emerges from the contrast Betsky sets up between the old-new and the new-new is the preoccupation with creating a more socially engaged practice over form-making, and the use of different means to tell a story. Along with Husos and its racy telenovela, AOC developed a Monopoly-based board game to help Venetians rethink their shrinking city, and J,P:A Jones Partners put together a Marvel-style comic book projecting 50 years into the future of Dubai. CUP’s intentionally crude Xeroxed posters diagram a link between sneakers and poverty, while Urban Think Tank’s colorful wall of posters from Caracas, Venezuela is as suggestive of a vibrant public realm as any in the show.

Yogi Berra, as usual, had it right: The future ain’t what it used to be, and utopia as we know and love it is in fairly short supply in the pavilion. One of the more provocative pieces calls the very idea into question: Abitare editor Stefano Boeri and a student team took on the eco-enthusiasm so prevalent in the pavilion and beyond and ask what it would really be like if nature once again was deeply integrated into our cities. Boeri’s Sustainable Dystopias presents three scenarios—the city of energy devices, the city of vegetable surfaces, and the city of wild animals, each of which pushes the proposal to its logical conclusion and points out the pros and cons. As neat as it might sound, the piece argues, there’s also a downside to having elk and moose wandering through protected greenbelts in a city. NL Architects also presents cut-n’-paste what-if scenarios in Virtual Realities that are a little uncomfortable, in spite of their humor. The ice caps are melting? Let’s make one out of trash, since there’s plenty of that! The two projects stand in marked contrast to the visually appealing yet thin suggestion represented by ma0/emmeazero’s Footprints, whose vision for new types of public space seems more grounded in the possibilities of Photoshop than in a meaningful sense of how people use city streets and parks.

Only in Venice, kids, only in Venice!
From our roving correspondent Alex Gorlin, who was party-hopping the other night:
Among the guests at Aaron Betsky's 50th birthday celebration on Thursday were Henry Urbach, curator of Architecture at SFMOMA, Laurie Beckelman, UCLA's Sylvia Lavin (who was complaining to Jeff Kipnis about the mosquitoes), Susan Grant Lewin the PR Queen—she barely made the "haj" to the party—the Modern's Barry Bergdoll with Bill Ryall, his partner, Reed Kroloff and Casey Jones. Last and certainly not least was Katherine Gustafson, the Zaha of landscape design, who appeared in a regally flowing white toga-like gown. The setting was her "Garden of Paradise" at the Arsenale,  a coyly-renamed installation in the Garden of Virgins, with vegetables and flowers culminating in a swirling ridge of grassy mounds above which floated giant white ballons and what looked like the remains of a parachute. All in all, an elegant evening, although with no lights on, it was pitch black and so far away that one can only imagine half the guests, a little tipsy perhaps, falling into canals on the trek home.
Robert and Holly Ivy hosted their annual Architectural Record party at the same time as Aaron's fete, causing high anxiety and handwringing among the smart set who wanted to attend both. Many cleverly thought they could go to the Garden of the Virgins and then sprint over to the Accademia Bridge where Bob's soiree was held, not knowing of the tremendous distance between the two. Bergdoll, Kroloff  and Jones, and David Rockwell showed up late in the evening exhausted by the trek. Hans Hollein was already there, looking somewhat fearsome, as were Joseph and Mrs. Rykwert, Charles Jencks, and AN's own Bill Menking and Diana Darling."
—Alex Gorlin
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Slow Architecture
Jensen Architects' colorful welcome pavilions were created from reclaimed shipping containers, each topped by a full-size, galvanized-steel windmill.
Courtesy Slow Food Nation

Over Labor Day weekend, San Francisco hosted a blow-out celebration of the Slow Food movement, and architects showed up for the party.

Hailed as the largest festival of American chow in history—some called it the “Woodstock of food”—the event was the offspring of Slow Food, the 19-year-old organization that has become a global force for sustainable food culture. Showcasing local tastes, products, and agricultural innovations, the first-ever event drew more than 50,000 visitors to venues throughout the city.

As they hungrily sought out California merlot, charcuterie, and sauerkraut, visitors also found fresh architecture in the form of pavilions built pro-bono by fifteen local firms, tapped by organizers to integrate gastronomy with green design.

courtesy slow food nation
Aidlin Darling Design’s chocolate pavilion (top) used hundreds of shipping pallets to evoke the cacao harvest. Visitors shopped for local wares at Civic Center (middle), while the Taste pavilion hosted most of the architects’ new designs (below).

Participating architects varied from giants like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which designed a “soap box” for farmers to share stories, to smaller practices like Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects, which contributed a bread pavilion, complete with baking area and museum. Also pitching in were socially-motivated firms like SMWM, which built a water station made from recycled water bottles, and also developed the event’s Civic Center master plan. Other participants included David Baker + Partners, who with CCS Architecture designed the festival’s outdoor vendor stalls and eating area, and Jensen Architects (designer of the welcome pavilions), Winslow Architecture (wine pavilion), and Ideo (compost exhibit).

Most of the temporary structures were erected inside a 50,000-square-foot pavilion called Taste, located at Fort Mason, the cultural center on San Francisco’s northern waterfront. There, the reigning design mood was one of critical earnestness. Architect Cary Bernstein designed a charcuterie pavilion, for instance, that displayed the history of meat production through paintings and photography, to educate visitors about the interdependence of food and health. With photomurals of ranches and graphics of chicken feed, Bernstein illustrated the principle that “whatever the animal eats, we eat.” Her pavilion was designed with re-use in mind; even the artworks were re-purposed for permanent display in local restaurants.

Events at other venues reiterated this holistic theme. At City Hall Park, Mayor Gavin Newsom devoted over a quarter-acre to a “Victory Garden,” designed by John Bela, co-founder of the artists’ and designers’ collective REBAR. Modeled on the homegrown vegetable gardens tended during World War Two, the pleasantly unmanicured space demonstrated small-scale food production, particularly backyard farming within the city limits (a movement that will get a boost this year when the group Victory Gardens 08+ gives away 15 free starter gardens in San Francisco).

The scale and enthusiasm for this first-time festival—all major events were sold out well in advance—were not only a testament to a growing respect for environmental interdependence, but to architecture’s role as part of the conversation.

Landscape architect Kevin Conger, of CMG, who assisted with the City Hall garden, noted that “getting our food production closer to the consumer is essential, both so we understand where food comes from, and also so we reduce the carbon footprint of production and shipping.”

Beyond backyard gardens, Slow Food’s use of green materials—reclaimed lumber, hay bales, recycled berry crates, bundles of native California tule reeds—showed that good design can be an essential part of our low-carbon diet.

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Concrete Plant Park
All Images: Christopher Payne

Concrete Plant Park
Designer: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation
Crotona Park East, Bronx

With railroad tracks, an elevated subway line, and the Sheridan Expressway on one side and the muddy and fragrant Bronx River on the other, the site of Concrete Plant Park is far from picturesque. But with its now unused silos and mixing bins retained as a folly—reminders of the site’s former use—the park has the uncanny effect of transforming this post-industrial landscape into a place of serenity and rugged beauty. 

Designed by the Bronx landscape architecture team of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the park is not conventionally pretty. “It’s an intertwining of the man-made and the natural with an on-site urban ruin,” said James Mituzas, a landscape architect with the Bronx Parks team. Plantings are spare, the design moves are simple—a few curving paths, a hard-edged esplanade, a soft-edged portion with a kayak launch, a shade structure, some benches and tables—but the results are surprisingly moving. The no-frills materials look appropriate here. And like Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, Concrete Plant Park benefits from its location off the beaten path. One arrives with a sense of intention and—though the park will likely be well used when it opens next spring, due to the scarcity of parkland in the neighborhood—it feels like a discovery.


Walking south through the linear park, one passes the long-abandoned Cass Gilbert-designed Westchester Avenue Railroad Station, which hangs high above the tracks and the park to the east. Plants sprout from the terra-cotta roof and brightly colored tiles still hang from the walls of the building, which appears to hang perilously over the site. Looking east toward the river, the other side of which is lined with crumbling cinderblock buildings and rusted corrugated fences, it is clear how the city has turned its back on the waterway. That attitude is changing, slowly. Concrete Plant Park is a small link in what will eventually become the Bronx River Greenway, which will extend up to Westchester County.

Within the park, the silos hold your eye. Painted a matte kidney-bean pink, the silenced concrete works look like sculpture as much as infrastructure. Even the somewhat clunky concrete bases, which were recast by Parks, add to the composition’s abstract quality. They also provide shade while the new trees mature.

Mituzas said that Parks hopes to eventually use the silos as “green machines,” as water cisterns or power generators with attached photovoltaics, but in the meantime the Parks department spent much of the project’s funding removing petroleum-tainted soil from the site, a former brownfield. “Most of the money went to clean the site,” he said. “It’s come a long way.”