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Urban Theatricality

Rios Clementi Hale choreographs a new park for Houston
Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCHS) plans to transform Houston’s Jones Plaza from a sterile concrete jungle into a verdant, multi-functional space for locals and visitors to enjoy. The 1.5-acre design concept called “Urban Choreography” aims to embody the charm and appeal of Houston’s celebrated Theater District. With the growing number of workers, residents, and visitors to the area, there has been an increasing demand for pedestrian and transit-friendly environments with an abundance of green and open space. “Within Downtown, the Theater District and its many venues create a ‘magnetic field’ of culture that generates buzz and catalyzes investment in the surrounding neighborhoods,” RCHS said in a statement. “Jones Plaza, at the epicenter of the Theater District, can provide an inviting green oasis that enhances downtown life and it can flexibly accommodate a wide range of outdoor performances and special events that serve the entire region.” Inspired by the fluid, dramatic, and theatrical movements of the performing arts, the Urban Choreography design concept will connect Jones Plaza to its surrounding environment while creating a unique and artistic space for gathering. The vast plaza is reminiscent of a theatrical stage, where various steps and levels culminate to a plateau of lush green space. The expansive Street Theater, tree-filled Gateway Gardens, and dynamic Spring Stage, characterized by water cascading toward the street, can be found in three corners of the plaza. Each distinct space is connected by a proscenium walk, with multi-functional media towers that allow for various performances, activities, and special events. Meanwhile, a grand staircase and elevator connect the park to an upscale restaurant on Capitol Street. Perhaps the most substantial impact Jones Plaza can have on its surrounding environment is its ability to attract people to the heart of Houston's Theater District. Its presence will only heighten the cultural growth of a region known for its art, creativity, and diversity. RCHS will collaborate with Houston First Corporation, the City of Houston, and Theater District stakeholders on the project.
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Design Driver

Golfer Jordan Spieth opens inclusive, accessible children’s park in Dallas
As the Dallas Morning News reported, professional golfer Jordan Spieth, 2015 U.S. Open and Master Tournament winner, backed the new Flag Pole Hill Park in Dallas, Texas, which opened this week. The park is designed to be accessible to as wide a range of children as possible, with special attention to the abilities of young people with special needs. The park includes several pieces of playground structures designed and produced by Austin, Texas–based Kompan, a sports and play equipment company. Kompan has partnered on other projects with the Gehl Institute, an international consultancy that advises on the relationship between people's wellbeing and the built environment. The pieces used in the new Dallas park are designed to be engaging but safe, and accessible by children with a board range of physical and mental abilities. Spieth's younger sister, Ellie, attended the ribbon cutting with her older brother and her fellow cheer squad members, according to the Dallas Morning News. The golfer subsequently posted online several photos of the squad enjoying the park. Inclusive design is an approach to designing for people who may have radically different physical and intellectual abilities. The term can refer to things like adjusting lighting and acoustics for people with sensory sensitivities, adding braille labels to exhibits, or making playgrounds ADA accessible. The park was jointly produced by the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation, the City of Dallas, the Lake Highlands Junior Women's League, the Lake Highlands Exchange Club, and For the Love of the Lake, a local neighborhood-improvement project.
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Continental Culture

Austin’s Blanton Museum surveys the state of African design
Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, an upcoming exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, takes a broad look at the state of design across Africa. Rather than trying to catalog every aesthetic movement across a land mass of over one billion people and dozens of countries, the show instead focuses on designers and artists who are challenging negative narratives about the continent. The show's curators have taken the position that the region is a contemporary hotbed of architecture and design, one that mixes cultures and influences to create optimistic ideas about the future. The show mixes photography, furniture, and a range of other media to explore a rich and expansive cultural mood. The show is divided into four sections. The first, Prologue, attempts to "provide counter-narratives that challenge preconceived notions of the continent," according to a statement from the museum. Through imaginary maps and reworked Renaissance paintings, artists imagine alternative histories for the continent and rework traditional imagery. The next category, I and We, looks at personal style and the fashioning of subcultures. Space and Object tackles the continent's architecture and urbanism, bringing up the work of familiar names like David Adjaye and Diébédo Francis Kéré. Finally, the show collects work that reflect on Africa's colonial past and its lasting impact in Origin and Future. For those interested who cannot make it to Austin, the show's website collects much of the work on view and supplements it with interviews and added information. The show was created by the Vitra Design Musem and the Guggenheim Bilbao and was previously on view in the U.S. at Atlanta's High Museum of Art and the Albuquerque Museum. Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design Blanton Museum of Art Austin, Texas October 14, 2018, to January 6, 2019
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Oh, the Irony

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation sued for building defective homes
The Make It Right Foundation, a New Orleans–based housing charity, which was founded by actor Brad Pitt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has been hit with a class action lawsuit for allegedly selling residents “defectively and improperly constructed homes.” Since launching in 2007, the foundation has built more than 100 affordable homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, the area most devastated by flooding when the levees broke. The initiative attracted some of the biggest names in architecture, including Pritzker Prize–winners Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne, and Alejandro Aravena, and was lauded in the press for its commitment to building green. However, within a few short years, many of the homes began experiencing serious structural issues as well as mechanical system failures, roof leaks, and black mold growth. According to the lawsuit, Make It Right was made aware of these defects by their own engineers but failed to notify homeowners, who would have been protected by the state’s New Home Warranty Act. The suit goes on to accuse the foundation of fraud, contract breaches, and unfair trade practices. “While the citizens of the 9th Ward are grateful to Brad Pitt they were forced to file this lawsuit because the Make It Right Foundation built substandard homes, that are deteriorating at a rapid pace while the homeowners are stuck with mortgages on properties that have diminished values,” attorney Ron Austin told NBC News. “We have filed to make Make It Right make it right.” The litigation marks the latest in a series of troubling headlines for the celebrity-helmed nonprofit. In 2015, NOLA reported that Make It Right was forced to renovate 39 decaying decks at an average cost of $12,000 each, due to its use of TimberSIL, a purportedly long-lasting wood product that rotted in the subtropical climate. Earlier this year, the KieranTimberlake-designed house at 5012 North Derbigny Street became the first Make It Right home to be demolished, just seven years after being completed, following a prolonged period of vacancy, code violations, and half-finished roof repairs.
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Lens Flare

This concrete screen wall was inspired by the proportions of camera lenses
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Brought to you with support from
The Fort Worth Camera building, a new photography studio and retail space, is surrounded by notable concrete neighbors, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth by Tadao Ando and the Kimball Art Museum by Louis Kahn. Ibanez Shaw Architecture responded with its own concrete novelty inspired by the building’s program.
 
  • Facade Manufacturer Tim Pulliam Concrete (concrete sub-contractor/installer) Fort Construction (general contractor), PPG (low e Solarban)
  • Architects Ibanez Shaw Architecture
  • Facade Installer Tim Pulliam Concrete (concrete sub-contractor/installer), Fort Construction (general contractor, steel glass system fabricator), United Glass (glazing)
  • Facade Consultants HnH (structural engineer), W.J. Simpson Co. (concrete shop drawings)
  • Location Fort Worth, Texas
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System Tilt-up site-cast concrete panels, steel plate window enclosure
  • Products PPG low e Solarban glass, site cast concrete panels by Tim Pullium Concrete
The primary facade is a site-cast concrete panel system which used tilt-up construction with steel anchors cast into the wall. The concrete wraps the perimeter of the building and transitions into an aperture screen on its most prominent street frontage. Ibanez Shaw decided upon concrete as the best material because security was a major concern for the client. The concrete provided protection at the street level and all the glazing on the building was either elevated above ground or made too small for a human to fit through. The seven standard aperture settings of a camera lens inspired the design of the concrete feature wall. The shape and proportions of the apertures were directly translated from these lenses and then modified to make them into standard-size openings. The formwork for the wall was made by gluing wood blocks together, which were then vacuum formed into fiberglass. The array of 25 fiberglass shapes were filled with grout and then cast around to create the screen wall. Because each hole is conical in shape, the aperture wall faces toward the interior and allows light and views into the courtyard. Across the courtyard from the concrete screen is a glass wall that allows views into the studio spaces. There was some initial concern about how the concrete would turn out. Bart Shaw, principal of Ibanez Shaw Architecture, told AN that with concrete, “you never know what’s going to come out. This big perforated concrete wall is going to sit across from the museum district, and when they lifted it out of the formwork it was pretty incredible.” The fiberglass formwork gave each aperture a smooth finish and release which contributed to the aesthetic of the wall. Aside from the concrete aperture wall, there is another distinguishable feature to the facade: a large window with a yellow steel enclosure. This glazing fronts a children's area on the interior and creates a framed window nook that faces the adjacent residential neighborhood. It is also the only glazing on the north facade of the building. The rest of the glazing fills the east and west facades.
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The Two Towers

New Cityplace tower could finally come to Dallas, Texas
A new tower could finally join the existing Cityplace tower in Dallas, Texas. The current 42-story building was originally planned in the 1980s as part of a massive 140-acre development that included plans for twin towers on either side of North Central Expressway, but an economic downturn foiled those plans and only one tower was ever built. But Dallas News reported this week that the site's current owner, Cityplace Co., is planning a large new hotel and office tower for the site north of Lemmon Avenue and south of Blackburn Street. The developer is pursuing a tower larger than the site's current zoning allows and will presumably not match the original tower with a twin, as the now 30-year-old plans intended. The existing Cityplace tower is the tallest building in Dallas outside of downtown and has housed office space since it was designed by Cossutta & Associates and opened in 1988. At the time it was Dallas's most expensive tower to build. The surrounding development was originally planned to house over 60 other office towers, but plans for the complex fell through after the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s hit the region and tempered the area's oil-fueled growth over the previous decade. Today, Dallas, along with the rest of Texas, is enjoying a building boom as jobs continue to grow in the region. In 2017, Texas led the nation in corporate office construction projects, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area was among the most active metropolitan regions. Cityplace Co. is slowly developing properties across the original development's neighborhood, and other developers have gotten in on the game as well. Forest City Realty Trust is partnering with Cityplace Co. to build a 23-story luxury residential tower in the area, and earlier this year Highland Capital Management bought the Cityplace tower and announced plans to upgrade the building and add restaurant and amenity spaces.  
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Like a Rising Phoenix

Waymo faces tech hurdles as self-driving taxi deadline looms
As the technology propelling autonomous vehicles lurches forward, car companies have been struggling to make the leap between fundamental research and a marketable product. After an Uber test car struck and killed a woman in March of this year, the ride-sharing company abruptly shut down their self-driving program in Arizona. Now Waymo, the Alphabet-owned self-driving car company that had pledged it would launch a fleet of autonomous taxis in Arizona by the end of 2018, has reportedly been running into issues of their own. According to The Information, residents of Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, have become fed up with Waymo’s testing. The year-long process has seen cars stop without warning while making right turns at a T-shaped intersection, and sources have told The Information that the human safety drivers stationed in the passenger seat have routinely been forced to take manual control of the car. As with most other autonomous vehicle companies, Waymo uses safety drivers to take over when the car is in an unsafe or illegal position; the disengagement rate, or how frequently the human driver needs to take over per miles driven, is generally indicative of how well a self-driving car can move around on its own. The cars in Chandler have been deployed within a geo-fenced area–a location with GPS-defined boundaries–around Waymo’s office. Even in this small area, residents have complained that the abrupt stopping at intersections has caused them to nearly rear-end the test cars or to illegally drive around them. Waymo wouldn’t comment specifically on The Information’s report, but a spokesperson has said that Waymo’s cars are "continually learning" and that "safety remains its highest priority." The company hasn’t backed down from its ride-hailing plan either, though it may be some time before a truly autonomous taxi service hits the streets. Waymo plans to station a human chaperone in each taxi, and the cars will operate within a set area where the streets have been thoroughly mapped. Early adopters will (maybe) be able to hail a ride in Waymo’s fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans at the end of the year, but the company eventually hopes to roll out 20,000 electric Jaguar-built SUVs by 2020.
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Top of the Rock

Neil M. Denari Architects unveils a sculptural rooftop office space in El Paso

Los Angeles–based Neil M. Denari Architects (NDMA) has unveiled plans for a 10,000-square-foot office and gallery addition slated for the Sotoak Realty company in the Union Plaza District of El Paso, Texas.

The adaptive-reuse project aims to add a sculptural rooftop pavilion to an existing three-story red brick warehouse. The proposed addition cantilevers 18 feet over an adjacent street and features a red aluminum panel soffit designed in homage to the region’s clay-rich soils.

For the project, the designers have created a north-facing window wall that will capture daylight, a feature that compliments an interior light well connecting a rooftop terrace with the building’s main stairs and a lower level gallery. Renderings for the project depict a bright open office area flanking a cluster of executive suites, with perforated metal panel window walls lining the eastern-facing portions of the space. The project is currently entering the construction documents phase, according to the Texas-born Neil M. Denari, principal at NMDA.

The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

Architect: Neil M. Denari Architects Client/Developer: Sotoak Realty Location: El Paso, Texas Expected completion: 2020

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Green Wave

Pelli Clarke Pelli designs a snaking business complex for Tulane University
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (PCPA) connected two preexisting buildings at the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University in New Orleans with a 46,000-square-foot addition. The overhaul also included the renovation of a classroom, two auditoriums, and two lecture halls, joining the complete sum of 85,000 square feet with the sweeping curves of a serpentine curtain wall that weaves around century-old oak trees and also loosely references the university’s team mascot, the Tulane Green Wave, an angry-faced cartoon wave holding a megaphone. Bathed in natural light, the distinctive skin provides transparency and openness to enhance the sense of community and collaboration in the new and existing spaces throughout, which include classrooms, an incubator space for student startups, breakout stations, a new financial analysis lab, and administrative offices. Designed to meet LEED Gold criteria and withstand local weather conditions, especially hurricane impact, the unitized, hurricane-resistant YKK AP YUW 750 XT curtain wall and the Viracon glass hybrid system were fashioned in factory-controlled conditions to mitigate risks relating to quality control. YKK’s thermal sunshades and light shelves were assembled as complete curtain wall system units, allowing for a climate-controlled environment that eliminates interior moisture and thermal transfer. The glazed exterior also features a custom frit pattern by Viracon that maximizes the visibility of the structure for birds. Achieving both performance standards and sinuous construction was not an easy feat. The design, development, and construction process was a multiphase project. Beginning with the layout, the serpentine steel curtain wall was preassembled while the structural steel beams and concrete were put in place on-site. This separate undertaking proved to be problematic, as areas in the curtain wall that didn’t line up with the prescribed 90-degree angle of the field layout had to be adjusted before fabrication. The whirly glass wall required an intricate five-mullion support system composed of two convex and two concave structural supports. This then required the sunshades and solar fins to be correctly positioned at various angles along the multifaceted surface, calling for many custom permutations of anchor brackets machined for specific locations. Other customization was necessary for the sunshades and fins, which had to be miter-cut due to the ever-changing nature of the undulating facade, resulting in massive opening-to-opening variations. Architect: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects Location: New Orleans, Louisiana Architect of Record: Manning Architects General Contractor: Broadmoor LLC Glass Fabricator: DeGeorge Glass Company Glass Manufacturer: Viracon Framing Systems: YKK AP America Inc. Panel Work, Sun Shades, and Fins: Performance Architectural Inc.  
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Listen Up!

AN chooses this fall’s can’t-miss architecture lectures across the South
This fall, architecture schools across the southern half of the U.S. will host architects, landscape designers, curators, and architectural photographers as part of their semester-long lecture series. These types of events often see hundreds of students scrambling to get a front row seat to hear from the greatest minds in design. But the public is invited too, meaning architecture enthusiasts, veteran designers, and aspiring city planners alike can learn from these influential talks. While several universities have yet to publish their fall schedules, we’ve gathered some highlights from a few top-notch schools in the list below. Mark your calendars before September sneaks up on us this weekend! Rice University School of Architecture Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, MoMA “Toward a Concrete Utopia: Yugoslav Architecture at the Crossroads of International Exchange in the Cold War” Thursday, September 27 Ellen van Loon, Partner at OMA "Was it Just a Dream? Architecture and Social Inclusion" Monday, October 15 Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design Marlon Blackwell, founder of Marlon Blackwell Architects Wednesday, September 26 Christian Bailey, founding principal at ODA Thursday, October 25 University of Miami School of Architecture Meejin Yoon, dean of Cornell APP and co-founder of Howeler + Yoon Technoglass Lecture Wednesday, September 19 Livia Tani, architect and project manager at Atelier Jean Nouvel Technoglass Lecture Wednesday, October 3 Georgia Tech School of Architecture Michael Murphy, cofounder and director of MASS Design Group “Architecture That’s Built to Heal” in collaboration with Museum of Design Atlanta Thursday, October 18 Nader Tehrani, Principal at NADAAA “The Tectonic Grain” Wednesday, October 24 NC State University College of Design                                                                                                              Neil Denari, principal of Neil M. Denari Architects Monday, September 10 Hagy Belzberg, FAIA, founding principal of Belzberg Architects Monday, September 24 Louisiana State University College of Art + Design Robb Williamson, photographer Wednesday, September 26 Kate Orff, founder & principal of SCAPE Wednesday, October 24
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But Are They Pretty?

Government grades border wall prototypes on effectiveness and aesthetics
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report that documented the ways in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing its eight border wall prototypes. The report showed that while the prototypes are being tested for their effectiveness, cost, and constructability, they are also being evaluated on their appearance, at least on their U.S.-facing north sides. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS branch responsible for testing the wall, said that "the north side of the barrier should be pleasing in color and texture to be consistent with the surrounding area." The prototypes were constructed after President Trump, in one of his first acts in office in January 2017, signed an executive order directing DHS to design and build a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. In March of that year, DHS issued two requests for proposals, one for a concrete border wall, and the other for a wall made from any material. DHS ended up selecting four concrete options and four that mix materials. Caddell Construction, KWR Construction, ELTA North America, W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Company, Fisher Sand & Gravel, and Texas Sterling Construction were the six companies contracted to build the prototypes. The prototypes were intended to be study models, and CBP said that the final design would adapt lessons from a variety of proposals. The GAO report also said that CBP tests found that all of the concrete prototypes presented "extensive" construction challenges and that the other prototypes presented "moderate" to "substantial" construction challenges. The report also found that CBP's cost estimates were off because they hadn't factored in the difficulty of building the wall in some of the border's most inhospitable locations. Much of the U.S.–Mexico border runs through rough terrain that is difficult for construction equipment to access and would present significant engineering challenges. Other aspects of the walls' performance, like scalability and breachability, were not made public out of security concerns. Engineers from Johns Hopkins University developed a test to evaluate the prototypes' aesthetics, and they found three models "that ranked highest in terms of attractiveness," but the report did not specify which designs were those were. The fate of the wall remains in limbo, as Congress has not authorized funding for its construction.
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Climate Irony

Texas fast-tracks seawalls for oil and gas infrastructure
Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas, Gulf Coast oil and gas industries have reportedly been lobbying hard for protection against the rising tides. As Houston residents prepare to go to the ballot over a $2.5 billion resiliency and flood mitigation bond package on August 25, the Texas state government has already approved $3.9 billion to protect oil refineries. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state leaders had proposed a $61 billion plan for rebuilding and hardening the state’s coast in November of last year, but at the time, officials in the fiscally conservative state balked at the cost. Texas was far from the only state swamped by a heavy hurricane season last year, and with wildfires raging across the West Coast, lawmakers claimed that disaster relief funding had been stretched thin. The most ambitious portion of the Rebuild Texas plan proposed last year was the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of levees and seawalls along the Gulf Coast that would form a protective “spine.” If the plan were funded, three large barriers would be installed along the Houston-Galveston coast to protect against flooding. Now, as AP reports, while the state is still trying to secure the public funding necessary to build the spine, the aforementioned $3.9 billion will go towards building three smaller seawalls to protect oil and gas infrastructure. That was deliberate on the part of the Texas Land Commissioner’s Office, as Hurricane Harvey knocked out about a quarter of the area’s refining capability. Refineries along the Gulf Coast are responsible for 30 percent of America’s refining capacity. The taxpayer-funded sections will provide a six-mile-long stretch of 19-foot-tall seawalls along Port Arthur on the Texas-Louisiana border, 25 miles of floodwalls around Orange County, and the final swath would protect Freeport. Construction is slated to begin in the next few months and once these disparate projects are complete, they could become part of a larger protection network if the rest of the funding is secured later. Still, the irony of the fossil fuel industry asking for money to protect against the effects of climate change was not lost on advocates and casual observers. “The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club told AP. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.’”