All posts in Professional Practice

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Industry and Innovation

NYU launches center for construction innovation at Brooklyn campus
This past month, New York University's Tandon School of Engineering unveiled its new Institute of Design and Construction (IDC) Innovations Hub. The research center, located at NYU’s engineering school in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, will promote safety, sustainability, and productivity within the construction industry, as well as educate executives and organizations in the field on how to find solutions to challenges in construction project management. Construction companies have had a history of resisting change and new technologies, especially when it comes to financial and safety concerns. But within the past few years, advancements in construction technology have pushed companies toward modernizing their practices, integrating 3D printing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, laser scanning, modularization, and robotics into their latest projects and developments. Staff members and researchers at IDC Innovations Hub will push innovation in the industry by offering advanced seminars, providing training, hosting networking events, and helping members solve design and construction issues. Its goal is to prepare a new generation of engineers to tackle the challenges of tomorrow's industry. Heading the IDC Innovations Hub as chairman is engineer Michael Horodniceanu, once president of New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction. Horodniceanu has over 40 years of experience in transportation planning, design, and construction management, and hopes to use the IDC to foster a network of people—including students, graduates, and industry professionals—that will grow together and overcome challenges with one another. As the school semester continues, the IDC Innovations Hub will reveal additional details regarding the center’s structure and operations, including its staff members, board of directors, and advisory committee.
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Return of the 49%

Public Practice helps architects and planners in the U.K. engage the public
“Attention: The fire alarm system is about to be tested. You do not have to leave the building. When all testing is complete, you will hear a further message.” In the local council buildings in Greater London, the fire alarms are tested every Friday at 3 p.m. The seventeen associates of the independent nonprofit Public Practice have learned this by now, a few months into the nonprofit’s associates program. The participants are selected and placed at public planning offices in the region and meet up every two weeks, one hosting the rest of the group on a rotating schedule. These Fridays mean mutual exchange—of everything from recent research to the nuances of office culture. This morning they arrived at a mildly postmodern conference room at Epping Forest District Council for tea and instant coffee. Semi-rural Epping sits at the northeastern end of London’s longest tube line, six public transit zones and a brisk walk from central London. Ione Braddick, a young architect who was selected as an associate in the first Public Practice cohort a few months ago, has taken that route here every morning since. “Much of the work comes down to persuading people that a local council thinking about design is even a good thing,” she told AN. This is also the main argument behind Public Practice. It works as a broker between organizations and people. On one end are local councils, planning authorities, transportation agencies, regional actors, and publicly owned development companies, and on the other are a new generation of designers looking to work in public planning. The first cohort of seventeen associates was picked and placed in new, strategic roles in April 2018. After a year, the hope is that they have gathered unique experiences, and also have built collective knowledge and networks between planning institutions. When Public Practice was founded around a year ago by Pooja Agrawal and Finn Williams, it was on a basis of a series of clear observations: Four decades ago, 49 percent of all architects in the U.K. worked in the public sector. Today, only 0.7 percent do. Since the financial crash in 2008, local budgets for planning and development have dwindled. Planning authorities are struggling to stay relevant counterparts to strictly commercial interests. Nearly half of them have no in-house design capacity at all. Epping Forest was one such authority, until Braddick was placed here as a pioneer for the yearlong program. Some of Braddick’s new Epping workmates have joined in around the table. Veneered walls and a lavender carpet frame the conference room window, which overlooks the far end of High Street, with a Tesco Superstore, a gas station, an Indian restaurant squeezed between coffee franchises, and a gothic revival church farther down. One block away, terraced-houses line private cul-de-sacs and at the horizon sit a dozen golf courses and a royal forest. Much of what is happening here since Braddick arrived is happening for the first time. “You realize one of the things we architects are worst at is explaining why design is important,” she said. Braddick used to work at a small architecture firm and enjoyed it. She led housing schemes from sketch to the construction site, instructed on the placement of bricks and the depth of mortar joints. But she found herself thinking: “Of all the things in architecture, buildings were maybe the one I was least interested in.” She was more drawn to the ways people use the city and its structures. At her new workplace in Epping Forest’s public sector, she leads the council’s new “Implementation Team,” negotiating and reviewing larger projects, which in Epping’s case means 50 units or more. Plans for the expansion of Harlow and Gilston Garden Town are now on her table. “It’s like jumping into an entirely new career. Not only, as with any new job, trying to learn to use the printers and who everyone is and what everyone’s name is. You’re also trying to learn about whole democratic processes, decision-making and get a strategic understanding of an area that you, quite often, don’t know very well.” Public Practice’s cofounders Agrawal and Williams, who share a background at reputable architecture schools and award-winning offices, themselves left the private sector to work for local authorities a few years ago. They would like to see more architects follow suit. And, more importantly, they have noticed that the British public sector struggles to attract—and maintain—the competence and knowledge that urban planning requires. They thought they would have to work very hard to get local councils on board, but they have already received more inquiries than they can handle from all over the country. To the planning and development industry, Public Practice offers a resource pool that the field could not otherwise reach and at a lower cost than the go-to temporary consultants. For the associates, the program offers a prestigious and hands-on role with a huge potential impact alongside a tight-knit community of like-minded colleagues. The Public Practice cohort meets regularly and spends a tenth of their time on common research and development. The project is supported financially by regional and national actors, private as well as public. That the associates are placed in a wide spectrum of contexts, from Epping to the City of London and everything in between, is part of the idea. It is also a precondition for the exchange that everyone can visit each other without spending half a day traveling. Public Practice is looking to branch off to other regions with enough critical mass but, for the first cohort, London’s outer ring road is more or less the limit. For Ei-Lyn Chia, another associate in the cohort, the London metropolitan region is also as far as her design work stretches. She used to do strategic planning with a private firm working on schemes which, she points out, ended up on a shelf. “I wanted to get things done. That’s why I applied here,” she said. She is now getting used to the view from City Hall’s glass cocoon by the Thames. Her morning commute goes to Greater London Authority (GLA), run by Mayor Sadiq Khan. Braddick jokingly describes where Chia works as “the brain of London.” Chia agrees that the job deals with the city on a macro scale, but added: “Local councils are the real experts, who really understand local conditions. But ideas have to be carried through policy level and political decisions and Braddick fills in, urging for design skills to be present at every stage of planning, also, when projects are proposed, procured, reviewed, executed. That is not the case today.” Along with two other Public Practice associates, Chia spends her research days exploring how industrial intensification can coexist with things like offices and housing. “Since the topics you work within the public sector are so multifaceted, it allows you to reach out to people in different disciplines, without it being weird,” she said, adding, “We’re allowing conversations to happen between people who wouldn’t otherwise have spoken to each other.” That also applies to dialogues within, and between, the public sector’s different actors. One of the advantages of Public Practice, they have realized, is that seventeen people from different authorities regularly get together in the same room. It is a rare thing. Most of the roles in which the associates have been placed are also positioned in between two different departments of an organization—which is intentional, said Chia. “With one foot in each door, that person, in effect, allows teams to transfer information in new ways. Most of the associates have an architecture background and are at the start of their careers, with a stray example of one with 25 years of experience in local planning. Some have expertise in strategic planning, others in digital infrastructure or placemaking and public relations. What they all have in common is that they were drawn to the Public Practice model and, in tough competition with ten times as many applicants, have been placed where they can contribute the most during a year. In a similar way, the organizations they now work for also applied to be part of the network. It is not a matter of just filling vacancies. Epping Forest and the GLA both had to present a case for a new role that they saw a strategic need for and were willing to offer resources for. On an intense day last spring, two hundred applicant architects and almost forty aspiring partner organizations gathered for workshops, talks, and interviews. According to Agrawal and Williams, it is this rigorous selection and matching process that is the key to the initiative actually working. Almost all 32 London municipalities say they need more urban design and planning expertise on the payroll, but have difficulties recruiting them. That is the gap that Public Practice is aiming to address. And what they are looking for in the applications, apart from talent and training, is humility, and the capacity to listen and to learn. “Attention: All testing and engineering work on the fire alarm system is now complete. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.” “I’m hoping to stay,” Braddick said, knowing what she would like to get out of her one-year placement. To see what she can contribute takes more than twelve months. And she hopes Epping Forest District Council sees the value in making a role like hers permanent. People around her are already talking about how things are designed, not just about parking quotas, profitability, and unit ratios. “‘Does it have a sense of place?’ people would ask, out of habit,” she said. “Well yeah, somewhere really shit can have a sense of place—but we want it to be a good place, don’t we?” Already trying to define what “good” is, is a successful start, she argues, and worth the effort. Two weeks later, someone else will have the group visiting them at their workplace. The participants say it is thanks to the Friday meet-ups with their Public Practice colleagues that they had a smooth transition to a new working environment. When they see each other, they exchange new knowledge and concrete tips, but also share their experiences open heartedly. “Sometimes it’s all about leaning against someone and going, ‘Ah, what a week…I need a drink!’” Braddick and Chia said, “and the next time, it’s, ‘Something happened—it’s amazing!’” A new cohort of Public Practice Associates will be starting placements in April 2019 in London, the South East, and the East of England. In the near future, the model is set to be expanded to other UK regions—perhaps also abroad. This is a translation of an article previously published in Arkitekten, the news magazine of Architects Sweden.
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Modernity Missive

Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani proposes foundational principles for design
Modernity and Durability: Perspectives for the Culture of Design Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani DOM Publishers, 2018 The ghost of modernity—the quest to define what it means to be modern, and what its fundamental principles are—has haunted Western culture for a long time. In his 1991 book We Have Never Been Modern the French philosopher Bruno Latour revised one of modernity’s main axioms—the separation between nature and society, humans and things—by claiming that the world we live in today is characterized by the constant hybridization of politics, science, technology, and nature. Similar to Latour, the idea of modernity as a frustrated project is also present in Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani’s speculations on architecture and design, now collected for the first time in English in the book Modernity and Durability. Perspectives for the Culture of Design. Magnago Lampugnani, architect and professor of history of urban design at ETH Zurich for more than 20 years, is also a prolific writer and polemicist: his book, a series of micro-essays originally published between 1990 and 1994 in the Italian magazine Domus, is in fact a manifesto on the current status of design, where the author’s peculiar worldview is presented with extreme clarity and effectiveness. Magnago Lampugnani’s perspective—the one of a European intellectual, an enlighted sophisticated thinker who looks at design in terms of humanist values—is to some extent inscribed in a broader tradition that puts the Italian architect in good company. From Manfredo Tafuri’s idea of disincanto (disenchantment) to Pier Vittorio Aureli’s claim for autonomy, all these authors share a similar conviction: that architecture is a form of resistance. Resistance from consumerism, resistance from ephemerality, resistance from spectacle. In other words, resistance from capitalism. Whereas Latour dissected modernity in relation to the role played by science, at the beginning of his speculations Magnago Lampugnani formulates a fundamental separation between what is Modern and modernism. What the Italian architect calls Modern is a broad condition: an era that begins at the turn of the 20th century and ends after World War II, whose brightest manifestation is the work of the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius’s direction. Modernism, on the contrary, is a style, a degeneration of the principles that animated this paradigm shift at the beginning of the century, and a banalization of the Modern message into a simplistic formal language. Lampugnani’s assertions derive from a European-Eurocentric perspective; although he never makes it explicit, Lampugnani considers modernity mainly to be a European phenomenon, whose raison d’être is deeply rooted in a European cultural and social context. The only reference to American architecture, for example, is to a German architect based in the United States: Mies van der Rohe, and his Seagram Building in New York City. This doesn’t mean that the United States didn’t produce any Modern architecture, but that, once imported in the American territory, its original message was detached from its ideological impetus and was very soon transformed into a style. After having established the dichotomy between Modern and modernism, Magnago Lampugnani deploys his main argument: in order to provide precise design solutions to contemporary issues, we have to reformulate the message of the Modern by preserving its original social and humanist aspirations while revising critically its means and its technical and economic content. Its ultimate goal, in Magnago Lampugnani’s idea, is to create a better world. How? Through a holistic approach. Against the current specialization of design into different professional categories, the author argues for a return to the figure of the architect as a “bricklayer who had learnt Latin”—to quote Adolf Loos—who can design good cities, good buildings, good interiors, and good furniture. At the same time, Magnago Lampugnani suggests looking at design as a craft: “a patient, conscientious, accurate and competent work, whose result will always be useful, right, and fine.” To consider design as craft means to disconnect architecture, urban planning, and furniture from passing fashions. This way, design can reimagine conventions, or the system of rules sedimented in history aimed at guaranteeing functionality and economy of means. If design can exist as a system of rules, Magnago Lampugnani identifies some principles that can help recuperate the original message of the Modern and serve as an operative basis for the future. The first and main principle is durability, in a physical and cultural sense. To be durable, design must refer to tradition: by dealing with tradition, it’s possible to design cities and architectures that can transcend the oscillations of taste.  At the same time, only permanence transforms design into a cultural entity—the expression of certain values in relation to a certain context. The imaginary lexicon depicted by Magnago Lampugnani includes several other concepts: simplicity, which doesn’t translate in abstraction, but it means clarity and closeness to people’s needs; rigor, which is crucial to identifying the design’s requirements; essence, because every good design must be founded on a very few strong ideas—see Marcel Breuer’s S32 chair, or Villa Malaparte by Adalberto Libera; slowness, as an answer to the decline in the quality of our cities and buildings—here the author refers to the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, which took more than 120 years. What emerges from this cosmology of terms is an ascetic dimension, a sort of passive resistance against hedonism and consumerism. And whereas the book seems to be in some points a sort of nostalgic celebration of the past, it’s in its last pages that Magnago Lampugnani delineates a project for the future. In reiterating the separation between the Modern as condition and modernism as style, the architect refers to the three Vitruvian principles—firmitas, utilitas, venustas—as main categories of the Modern but integrates them with two new ones: democracy and ecology. Democratic and ecological commitment become urgent challenges for a Modern culture, as an attempt to create a new humanity: a “humanity that believes in the ideal of social justice as the prerequisite for peace and prosperity, and is ready to share the riches of the world equally among its citizens.”
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Extending Operations

Construction industry launches campaign to diversify national workforce
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a group that represents thousands of construction workers and contracting firms nationwide, is launching a campaign to diversify its predominantly white and male workforce. Stephen Sandherr, the CEO of the AGC, announced his plans to introduce professional construction training to high school students in an attempt to attract more minorities and women to the trade in order to better reflect America’s evolving and increasingly diverse workforce, according to The New York Daily News. According to the AGC, very few minorities and women enter the construction industry due to their lack of familiarity with it, therefore the business is overwhelmingly white and male. By familiarizing high schoolers and college students with vocational training, some of which will be paid for by the AGC itself, the association hopes to boost the diversity of the industry. The group also hopes to attract more skilled workers in general to the stagnant industry, where nearly 80 percent of employers claim to lack experienced or qualified contractors, according to a recent AGC survey. But critics say that this new initiative could prevent poor and minority students from attending college or learning the professional skills necessary to build a business in the trade. While the AGC has launched previous initiatives aimed toward bringing minorities and women into the construction workforce, few have made a substantial impact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women composed about 9 percent of the 2017 U.S. construction workforce, with the number of Asians at 2 percent, African Americans at 6 percent, and Hispanics at almost 30 percent.
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RIP

English architect and educator John Andrews dies
John Andrews, an English architect and educator, died at his home in London on February 15. Andrews was enormously influential as a teacher and his work—drawings, exhibitions, installations, and design—should be better known. He created a website last year that highlights his work of 40-plus years. Andrews graduated from Chelsea Art School and the Architectural Association and was very keen to bring together the two disciplines, and this website was meant to be, in Andrews's words, a “testimony to this commitment and a desire in a subtle way, to move forwards and backwards between action and reflection, between practice and academia. I believe that the idea of architecture is not limited to the domain of building; it is essentially about the structure of space. A recurrent question which surfaces throughout the quintet of titles in this site is the role of space-space as thought, perception, memory, interiority, and drama.” We asked colleagues of Andrews for comments, and Nigel Coates sent this touching reminiscence and we publish it here in its entirety as a fitting tribute to the architect:
John joined Bernard Tschumi’s unit at the AA the year it began; he graduated a year after me, in 1975. We were all obsessed with Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and John’s diploma project was called Fendora, an exploration of one of Marco Polo’s fables as told to Kubla Khan. John’s Situationist style, of fleeting moments, hidden stairs, doors ajar was already fully formed. He lived, like his family, in what was then a working class part of Islington at the beginning of the Essex Road. He was born there and carried on living there after his parents had gone, proud of his earthy connection with the eccentricities of Islington. He cut a snappy figure, the Tommy Steele of Architecture, a sharp suited lad with a heart of gold. Younger students thought he was the epitome of cool. He was.  There was always something of the arty maverick too. The dreamy drawings would capture "atmosphere," which is, I guess, what lead him to embrace the interior as a medium in its own right. That specialty took him to Melbourne and to Brighton University, where his indefatigable enthusiasm would push generations of students to look for more than decor in a room.
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Free Park-ing

Judge rules that lawsuit against the Obama Presidential Center can proceed
U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey has ruled that a lawsuit against Chicago’s proposed Obama Presidential Center (OPC) can proceed, potentially delaying construction by months or even years. The OPC campus is looking to carve out 19.3 acres from the historic Olmsted and Vaux–designed Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. Despite being approved by the Chicago City Council in May of last year, the $500 million project has been held up by a still-pending federal review process and work stoppages at adjacent sites in the park. Construction on the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Interactive Design–planned campus was expected to begin sometime this year, but it seems that community concerns may shake up that timeline. A lawsuit filed against Chicago and the Chicago Park District by the environmental group Protect Our Parks and three others argues that the Obama Foundation’s intrusion into the park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is illegal. That’s in part because the Center won’t actually be a presidential library. Instead, the campus will contain a squat, stone-clad museum tower, training center, parking garage, and community hub, as well as a 5,000-square-foot Chicago Public Library offshoot, with President Obama’s archives stored offsite and digitized. That distinction is important, as the OPC will be a privately-run institution instead of a government project and Protect Our Parks has argued that this should invalidate the land transfer from the city to the Obama Foundation. The group isn’t against the construction of the center but would prefer that it be moved somewhere else on the South Side if possible. The spat is reminiscent of George Lucas’s battle with the public space advocacy group Friends of the Parks in 2016. After a similar lawsuit over the Museum of Narrative Arts and its place on the Lake Michigan waterfront was allowed to proceed, Lucas instead canceled development and shipped the spaceship-like museum out to Los Angeles. Supporters of the OPC have expressed fear that the Obama Foundation may change its plans and leave Chicago if the project is allowed to languish. “The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland,” said president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation Charles A. Birnbaum in a statement. “The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.” The OPC was originally expected to open in 2021, but it remains to be seen whether the project will go ahead as planned. Although Protect Our Parks was victorious, Judge Blakey’s ruling only affirms the group’s right to sue, not that their argument is correct.
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RIP

New York architect Warren Gran dies at age 85
Warren Gran, a New York City architect, died Sunday at age 85 in Los Angeles. Gran practiced in New York City for over 45 years and was known for his commitment to making social change through architecture. Gran specialized in public and non-profit projects with an emphasis on affordable housing, sustainability, and social responsibility, including supportive housing for the homeless and those suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems. He worked on many projects with the New York Public Schools, producing innovative spaces to help children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Prominent projects include: PS/IS 395, PS/IS 78Q Robert F. Wagner School in Long Island City, PS/IS 109 in Brooklyn, multiple projects for the Bank Street College of Education, and Brooklyn Family Court. His renovation of and addition to PS 14 won an AIA New York Design Award. Gran was also awarded the Boston Society of Architects/AIA Award for his work on the Lighthouse Charter School in the Bronx. One of his most visible projects was the conversion of a large Brooklyn courthouse on Adams Street into two high schools. A rooftop addition provided gyms and a signature look with red cylinders facing the street. On Morris Avenue in the Bronx, his 1974 housing development built with then-partner Irv Weiner, Melrose D-1 (a.k.a. the Michelangelo Apartments), has been described as an overlooked, pioneering, humane answer to housing problems that still plague the city today. “Why look at Melrose D-1 today? Because it acknowledges housing as a banal, repetitive, highly cost-driven design problem, and makes a virtue out of it,” wrote Susanne Schindler in The Avery Review in 2012. The complex is praised for its innovative floor plan, with access to three courtyards landscaped by Henry Arnold. Gran also worked in historic preservation. Among the prominent projects he worked on were the renovation of the dome at Manhattan Surrogate Court, the Manhattan Appellate Court, Queens Supreme Court, and a restoration of the Pratt Institute Library in collaboration with Giorgio Cavaglieri. Gran also worked as a residential architect designing homes in New Jersey, Connecticut, the Hamptons, and upstate New York that were often inspired by vernacular rural architecture, and balanced humanism and modernist ideals. These include the Weininger Residence in the Hudson Valley and his own weekend home in Ghent, New York, where he and his wife Suzanne vacationed. Gran’s career started while working in the office of the great Edward Larrabee Barnes. From 1967 to 2003 he taught architecture and urban design at Pratt Institute, also serving as the chairperson of the graduate program in urban design, the acting dean of the school of architecture, and teaching seminars at Yale, CUNY, Cooper Union, and NYU. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture at Penn State and his Masters in Planning from Pratt. Students have always said he was incredibly tough—but that they appreciated that toughness, and what he taught them launched their careers. He was a member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Urban Design Committee of AIA’s New York chapter. Gran was an officer in the navy in the late ‘50s, on the aircraft carrier the USS Ticonderoga. During these years he kept an apartment on Fillmore Street in San Francisco that was memorialized in Herb Caen’s San Francisco Chronicle column: Apparently, Gran and his Navy buddies’ parties were so loud the nightclub downstairs had to complain. Suzanne of Kansas City, Missouri, worked at The New Yorker magazine throughout the 1960s. Suzanne died in July of 2017. They are survived by two daughters, designer Eliza Gran and novelist Sara Gran, who went to Saint Ann’s and now live in Los Angeles. Warren is also survived by three grandchildren, Violet Phillips, 19, Ruby Phillips, 17, and Charles Wolf Phillips, 14.
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X-treme Construction

Extreme architecture: The great lengths (and heights) of high design
Throughout history, many great works of architecture both large and small have been made possible only through incredible feats of engineering and construction. In today’s world—where office and residential towers reach ever-increasing heights, new cities appear in an instant, and stringent safety and structural requirements make building arduous and time-consuming—architects must draw on their experience and know-how to bring innovative new projects to life. Three recent projects by American architecture firms highlight the lengths designers can go (and heights they can achieve) in pursuit of great design. Seattle Space Needle Olson Kundig The Space Needle in Seattle is a superlative building through and through. Built in 1962, the flying saucer-shaped observation tower was recently renovated by Olson Kundig and a daring team of contractors and engineers, including Hoffman Construction, Arup, Fives Lund, and Magnusson Klemencic Associates. To achieve their goal of modernizing the structure, the project team had to work delicately to make sure the weight of added and subtracted materials balanced out, while also ensuring that the majority of the new components could be transported up the needle’s two passenger elevators. Beyond these exacting specifications, crews also dealt with a job site located some 500 feet up in the air as they worked to install new panes of glass around the Space Needle’s flying saucer-shaped Top House. For the project, Hoffman and associated contractors erected a giant covered platform directly underneath the Top House to stage construction activities. The massive structure was lifted into the sky and built out from key hoist points, according to Bob Vincent, project manager at Hoffman. The platform, designed to function more or less like an oil rig deck, was used to stage construction so that workers could access the Space Needle’s Top House from below. The stage created something akin to a massive cocoon around the base of the Top House, and its associated enclosure kept workers protected from the elements. Vincent said, “With the full enclosure, the workers weren’t freezing and materials didn’t fly around too much. It kept wind and elements out, too. When we were done with the project, we dismantled the ring by bringing in all the components from the edges toward the middle.” Embassy in Chad Moore Ruble Yudell Architects A new American embassy campus in N’Djamena, Chad, by Santa Monica, California–based Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY) posed a different set of construction and site limitations. Located in a remote region of the country with a small pool of skilled labor, it fell on the design team to create a state-of-the-art building that could be constructed using locally available materials and building techniques. The approach for the technically complex and decidedly low-tech project was to blend simple finishes and off-the-shelf components with the aim of creating lively but humble buildings. The complex was erected using site-poured concrete walls and modular roof pieces, elements that helped meet the strict security and functional requirements for the embassy. The cementitious walls were then wrapped in exterior rainscreen paneling made up of thin-shell concrete and metal latticework. The lightweight panels, available in standard sizes that could be shipped easily to the site, were chosen to add color and patterning to the pragmatic buildings. In certain areas, including between the main lobby and the cafe, lightweight canopies were strung to create shaded outdoor areas and to collect rainwater. A new, centralized energy plant connected to solar panel arrays was also included in the off-the-grid project. Alexander Residence Mark English Architects While working on extensive renovations to an existing five-story cliffside home in the San Francisco Bay, Mark English Architects (MEA) was only able to deliver construction materials and remove debris via floating barge. With the closest road nearly 200 feet away from the waterfront home and accessible only by steep stairs and a cable car funicular, the design and construction team had to rent several barges to undertake the project. Located on the bayside face of Sausalito, MEA’s Alexander Residence is conceived of as a getaway spot for a client with an extensive art and furniture collection. For the renovation, MEA and GFDS Engineers worked to open up the 1970s-era home by removing some of the unnecessary interior partitions that marked its original pinwheel design. Along the lowest level, for example, facing the house’s private dock, a closed-off bedroom and living area were combined to create a studio apartment. Farther up, a home office, living room, and kitchen were united to form a great room–style arrangement with an elevated dining room, pass-through kitchen, and living area oriented around multimillion-dollar views of downtown San Francisco, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. “We rebuilt the house from inside out,” principal Mark English explained. “Everything we demoed, including the roofing, old doors and windows, and drywall, had to go out through the dock by barge.” The same was true for all of the replacement materials coming in, including new lengths of structural steel that were added for seismic resiliency and to transfer loads over some of the new window openings. For these elements, the contractors added a crane to the barge that was then used to lift the steel beams into place. English added, “We talked to two or three builders before settling on Landmark Builders. The others would inevitably bring up how difficult and expensive it would be to do this project. Luckily, we eventually found someone who thought it would be interesting to take on this out-of-the-ordinary project.”
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Ballad of the Ballot

Mayoral hopefuls talk architecture and policy before Chicago votes
On February 26, Chicagoans will go to the polls and choose one of fourteen candidates for mayor, the most seen on a general election ballot since 1901. Once Rahm Emanuel announced he would not be running for a third term and the cohort of dozens of candidates began whittling itself down, The Architect’s Newspaper began looking into the crowded field of candidates to see how they might address critical issues relating to the built environment, architecture, and historic preservation. The 2019 election is a cacophonous mix of candidates, and even with a number of familiar names from across the county and state, determining a probable winner is difficult. While former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have shown to be frontrunners in recent polls, Illinois Comptroller Susanna Mendoza, former Chicago Public Schools President Gery Chico, and entrepreneur Willie Wilson aren’t far behind, and no candidate has been able to crack a majority. Other candidates rounding out the ballot include former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, former Alderman Bob Fioretti, State Representative La Shawn Ford, lawyers Jerry Joyce and John Kozlar, and Community Organizer Amara Enyia, who received a surge via a nod and a campaign contribution from Chance the Rapper. All bets are off if no candidate receives a majority of the votes and a runoff election is held April 2. In November, FBI agents raided the office of 14th Ward alderman Edward Burke, the longest serving alderman in Chicago, over allegations that he extorted the owners of a Burger King after they sought permits to remodel. While both mayoral candidates Preckwinkle and Mendoza have connections with Burke, it’s difficult to gauge how that association will play out at the polls. In January it was revealed that 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis was also under federal investigation for misusing his official office, and that Solis had served as a confidential informant against Burke and had worn a wire in order to deal with his own federal investigation. Chicago has a long history of political corruption and apparently intends to live up to that reputation. The next mayor of Chicago faces a number of issues connected to the built environment. The city’s tax increment financing (TIF) program, established to jump-start development in blighted areas, has been used on wealthy downtown development projects that arguably need little assistance getting off the ground. With the program running a surplus, City Council members have been calling for reform, a demand that has become increasingly louder as megadevelopments like Lincoln Yards, expected to become a new TIF district, breeze through the Chicago Planning Commission. Every candidate has spoken out on making the TIF program more transparent and accountable. Candidates have also spoken out about the need for more affordable housing across the city, with some advocating for the return of small accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a way to increase the number of affordable homes, and others calling for an elimination of the opt-out clause of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). Mayoral candidates also have Rahm Emanuel’s legacy to deal with, whether that means dismantling it or using the initiatives he created and executed during his two terms as a springboard for the future. Aligning with Emanuel and his policies could mean alienating voters who are looking for change, yet Chicago’s political web is threaded so tightly that denouncing Rahm could mean denouncing some of his powerful friends. AN contacted each of the candidates looking for answers to questions relating to public policy about the built environment. Below are the edited questions and answers provided by every candidate who responded. The Architect’s Newspaper: The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) promises to bring economic and cultural benefits to the south side of Chicago, yet the Obama Foundation will not sign a community benefits agreement (CBA), and the OPC will subtract public parkland from Jackson Park for private use. How might you as mayor work to ensure that the development will have tangible positive effects on the communities that will be impacted by its construction? Lori Lightfoot: I am pleased that the OPC will be in Chicago. It represents a significant investment in a community that needs it. Credit should be given to Jackson Park residents who have and continue to raise issues with the OPC’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods. I would work to bridge the current divides to come to an equitable and respectful solution to the remaining outstanding issues. Paul Vallas: The OPC is an exciting new development. I do believe that the Center would have provided Chicago with even greater benefits had it been sited on the west side of Washington Park where it would have been more directly accessible to CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) rapid transit and could have provided even greater catalyst activity to a neglected corner of the South Side. It is regrettable that the City has agreed to relocate Cornell Drive to accommodate the current plan. At $200 million, the relocation of Cornell is a costly undertaking for a City that is facing severe financial challenges. I would prefer to see the site altered to have the center be less intrusive on public lands, though I realize that this deal may be final—barring any actions on the pending federal lawsuit.  Bob Fioretti: We need a CBA. Period. A community benefits agreement, as well as conditions, including a new trauma center on the South Side, were aspects I asked for from the start from the project. City council agreed to a CBA on the Olympic bid. There are other properties in the area that are better suited for the OPC. Jackson Park is not the place to put it. AN: Mayor Rahm Emanuel has stated that he will block the sale of the Thompson Center by the State of Illinois over concerns that the building’s liquidation and potential demolition will disrupt Chicago’s busiest public transit hub. There have also been calls that the structure is a representation of political waste and should be demolished, and a counter argument by preservationists that the building is a masterpiece of architecture.  What do you see in the future for the Thompson Center? LL: As a lover of Chicago’s architectural history, in general, my first instinct will always be to protect historical treasures. The Thompson Center has had a checkered history and there are valid concerns about maintenance. The fight between outgoing Governor Rauner and Mayor Emanuel should be in the rearview mirror. I would welcome dialogue with the Pritzker administration to devise a plan for the building’s future. PV: The demolition of the Thompson Center would be a terrible waste. Though it has its design issues and needs work to address the years of deferred maintenance, it strains credulity to think that a sale of the center and moving state workers to other quarters would eventually produce a net savings to taxpayers. I also believe that the center is an important piece of architecture that is worthy of preservation. I think the best option may well be the redesign proposal of the center's architect, Helmut Jahn, which envisions constructing a tower on the southwest corner of the complex. Such a tower could provide a valuable income stream to the state if properly executed. BF: I’ve been to Berlin and seen other structures that Helmut Jahn has developed, and I like the Berlin design better. At $300 million it should have been sold a long time ago, and I want to listen to the purchaser and the community. If the whole community says “yes, let’s take it down,” then take it down. AN: Chicago is world-renowned as a center for architectural thought and practice, as evident by the presence of many American masterpieces and new favorites by Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang. Yet neighborhoods are losing their historic building stock, many of it designed and built for and by average working Chicagoans. Demolition is changing the character of neighborhoods and making way for developments that could cause displacement, affecting the ability for a community to be affordable. What can we do as a city to better preserve the architectural history of working-class Chicago while also encouraging growth and development? LL: Much of the city’s history, beauty, and character is found in its neighborhoods. In my 32 years in Chicago, I have lived on the south, west, and north sides. And in that time, I have seen how our neighborhoods have changed. Sometimes for the better, as can be seen from the considerable efforts to preserve and revitalize the Pullman neighborhood, and sometimes not—as is evident in parts of the Southport Corridor and Lincoln Avenue in North Center, where historic two- and three-story buildings have given way to generic, monolithic three- and four-story condominiums. PV: More needs to be done to make certain that redevelopment in historic neighborhoods be done with as much sensitivity as possible, both to reuse as much of the historic housing stock as possible while also reducing potential blight resulting from insensitive, out-of-scale development projects. Some of this could be achieved by exploring landmarking of additional historic areas. Chicago also needs to develop more programs to spur development of the large inventory of abandoned properties throughout the city's more economically challenged areas. BF: It seems like every time we turn around another building is being demolished. I want to slow down this demolition and increase the importance of Chicago’s historic housing stock. As the former president of the Pullman Foundation, I look at what we did there in 1965 as a blueprint. The people rose up to fight the construction of an industrial complex between 111th and 115th Street and Cottage Grove. AN: In 2013, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed 49 elementary schools and one high school, promising students that closing underperforming schools would provide a boost in the quality of education and help liquidate CPS debt. Many of these schools remain vacant and unsold, and their closure has proven to have had a negative effect on CPS students and families. As schools sit empty, they affect neighborhood health, public safety, and economic development. How will you resolve the negative effects of school closures on students and neighborhoods? LL: We need to give communities the opportunity to improve underperforming schools before deciding on further closures. The mayor and CPS must examine the condition of each building to determine a possible future use. This must be done sooner rather than later so CPS can eliminate unnecessary carrying costs where possible, return land to the property tax rolls, or prevent buildings from deteriorating. If a building is going to be sold, then CPS should work with the surrounding community to identify future uses that can benefit the community. This could include selling a vacant school to a non-profit or for-profit affordable housing developer that will make units available for rent or sale. I envision converting some of these buildings into business incubators that are easily accessible for people on the west and south sides, and using others to provide wrap-around services, such as daycare, job training programs, ESL classes, and health care. PV: As the former CEO of CPS, I have an intimate knowledge of CPS's real estate portfolio. I lead the efforts to renovate many of those structures, most of which are solid buildings. My time at CPS was the only period in the last 40 years when CPS's enrollment actually grew, and as CEO, I never closed a single school. In that time, I also conducted the major renovations of over 350 buildings. I led the effort to purchase and restore the historic Bronzeville Armory, maintaining its exterior and interior design, while reopening it as the nation’s first public high school military academy. Sadly, Chicago is confronted with the reality of declining enrollment and something must be done with these valuable structures to again make them centers for the community. Months ago, I detailed a plan to re-purpose many of those structures, especially as centers for adult learners, many of whom are in need of career and vocational training. Significant untapped state, federal, and foundation funding could be tapped to help pay for these efforts. BF: The problem is that the black middle class is leaving, and the exodus continues. We had 150,000 empty seats at CPS. Now we have 362,000. Families aren’t going to come back until we make economic changes. I said from day one that CPS won’t be able to resell or repurpose these schools. Homelessness disrupts the atmosphere, so perhaps we transform them to help our homeless kids.
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East Village Rising

Davies Toews uses a DIY mind-set to punch above its weight
Every year the Architectural League of New York recognizes eight dynamic young firms as Emerging Voices that have the potential to become leaders in the field. Historic winners like Morphosis (1983) and Toshiko Mori (1992) have become today's lions, and practices like Johnston Marklee (2007) and Tatiana Bilbao (2010) have jumped to new heights after recent wins. This year's crop was selected in a two-stage portfolio competition where a jury of architects selected the winners. The deciding jury included several previous winners like Dominic Leong (2017), Fernanda Canales (2018), and Marlon Blackwell (1998), giving the process a familial feel. Laureates for 2019 come from across North America and almost all are partnerships or collaboratives—capital letters feature prominently, too.  Davies Toews will lecture at the Scholastic Auditorium at 130 Mercer Street, New York, New York, at 7:00 p.m. on March 7, as part of the Emerging Voices lecture series. The storefront office of Davies Toews Architecture is tucked behind a corner of 13th Street in Manhattan’s East Village, and like so many of the firm’s projects is defined by constraints. Common elements like outdoor tile and plywood create a homey atmosphere, and models and materials are tightly arranged throughout the space, inviting passersby to peer in on the studio’s creative process. Partners Trattie Davies and Jonathan Toews are no strangers to working around tight spatial and financial limitations. Whether it’s a linear park that rises between a descending set of switchback staircases in Hudson, New York; a perspective-defying, split-level park and art gallery in Memphis, Tennessee; or a three-story townhouse in Brooklyn, their projects are united by the common thread of extreme site-specificity. “Our strategy has been: Do first, analyze second,” said Davies. “It’s really important for us to build work, to learn about how things get done—what works and what doesn’t work, so we could get good at it. Most of what we do is built. We do very few competitions.” Fittingly, materiality plays a large role in these completed projects. For the 72,000-square-foot University of Chicago Charter School: Woodlawn Campus, a school for grades 6 through 12 with a 100 percent college acceptance rate, the studio had to balance a modest budget with lofty design ambitions. Using only locally produced Chicago brick, the studio designed a variegated, kinetic facade by patterning the building with darker, extruded brick. The school’s flared parapets and step-gap massing reference missing buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, breaks in a uniform street wall. “We realized that, project after project, the design came from the constraint,” said Toews. “Lately we’ve been thinking a lot about how to design with Sheetrock.” Even Sheetrock, a ubiquitous and uniform material, can provide inspiration; Davies compared the alternating bands of color in stacked, wrapped Sheetrock to a tapestry. “Every project gets modeled,” said Toews. “There’s the idea of the model sitting there; you can’t avoid it. We just try to keep making stuff around the project until it gets better and better.”
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Emerging Voices 2019

FreelandBuck draws on representation for spatial effects
Every year the Architectural League of New York recognizes eight dynamic young firms as Emerging Voices that have the potential to become leaders in the field. Historic winners like Morphosis (1983) and Toshiko Mori (1992) have become today’s lions, and practices like Johnston Marklee (2007) and Tatiana Bilbao (2010) have jumped to new heights after recent wins. This year’s crop was selected in a two-stage portfolio competition where a jury of architects selected the winners. The deciding jury included several previous winners like Dominic Leong (2017), Fernanda Canales (2018), and Marlon Blackwell (1998), giving the process a familial feel. Laureates for 2019 come from across North America and almost all are partnerships or collaboratives—capital letters feature prominently, too.  FreelandBuck will lecture at the Scholastic Auditorium at 130 Mercer Street, New York, New York, at 7:00 p.m. on March 14, as part of the Emerging Voices lecture series. FreelandBuck builds drawings. Not in the traditional sense of constructing what’s represented by a drawing set, but in the sense that its architecture directly evokes carefully constructed perspectives and painstakingly hand-drawn renderings. “We think about drawing at the scale of architectural space,” says partner Brennan Buck, “as an end product, not a means to build.” Buck, based in New York City, and David Freeland, who is based in Los Angeles, met in grad school at UCLA and started working together in 2009. Of their bicoastal practice, Freeland says, “There are more opportunities than challenges. It exposes us to different groups of potential clients, but also to different environments. I think the practice is richer for that.” Working at a variety of scales also makes the practice richer, giving the firm the chance to explore its ideas in different ways. Parallax Gap, a colorful canopy of layered screens installed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., feels like a drawing come to life. The intricate trompe-l’oeil representations of historic American ceilings are like perspective drawings—each constructed with a unique vanishing point—that reveal themselves as visitors walk through the space. FreelandBuck borrowed rendering techniques to enliven the riff on office cubicles the firm designed for a film production company in L.A. To accommodate the company’s variable spatial needs and match its lighthearted style, the architects defined flexible work areas with a series of “tumbling” cubes whose milled surfaces, evoking a poché or hatch, suggest another set of cubes overlaid onto the first. Furniture that looks torn from a Roy Lichtenstein canvas adds to the effect of stepping into a drawing. Although there are nods to linework in the exterior finishes used on two of the firm's residential projects, Stack House and Second House, these connections to representation are more complex. In both buildings, distinctive exterior volumes articulate dedicated programs, and in both buildings, this distinction is broken down by unexpected interior elements. Stack House’s curved walls blend its spaces together, while Second House achieves a sense of continuity through materials, transparency, and interior courtyards. The perspectival shifts of Parallax Gap appear here in more subtle ways, concealing and revealing spaces, views, and experiences; it’s not about adding lines, it’s about erasing them. FreelandBuck may draw on the techniques of representation but, unlike a conventional drawing, its work can’t be understood through a single image. Like the best architecture, the spaces, places, and objects the firm creates are challenging and engaging and must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
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Emerging Voices 2019

Colloqate instrumentalizes design as a tool for social justice
Every year the Architectural League of New York recognizes eight dynamic young firms as Emerging Voices that have the potential to become leaders in the field. Historic winners like Morphosis (1983) and Toshiko Mori (1992) have become today’s lions, and practices like Johnston Marklee (2007) and Tatiana Bilbao (2010) have jumped to new heights after recent wins. This year’s crop was selected in a two-stage portfolio competition where a jury of architects selected the winners. The deciding jury included several previous winners like Dominic Leong (2017), Fernanda Canales (2018), and Marlon Blackwell (1998), giving the process a familial feel. Laureates for 2019 come from across North America and almost all are partnerships or collaboratives—capital letters feature prominently, too.  Colloqate will lecture at the Scholastic Auditorium at 130 Mercer Street, New York, New York, at 7:00 p.m. on March 28, as part of the Emerging Voices lecture series. Colloqate Design, a multidisciplinary, New Orleans–based “nonprofit design justice practice” founded in 2017 by Bryan Lee Jr.—Sue Mobley came on in 2018—with the goal of “building power through the design of public, civic, and cultural spaces,” is setting a different path relative to other design offices. For one, Colloqate spends quite a bit of time doing the arduous work of educating and training communities, institutions, and municipal agencies through initiatives like its Design as Protest and Design Justice Summit events to “build practices around design justice,” according to Lee. Buildings are not an afterthought for the practice, but Lee and Mobley’s view of how designers and design justice intersect is firmly rooted in grappling with everything that exists beyond and around their particular projects. According to the duo, this “syntax of built environment”—including but not limited to the social mores we keep, the design of streetscapes and infrastructure, and the impact of political policies—has as direct an impact on how people use spaces as any one design element might. So a key goal of their practice involves making others aware of how these overlapping and sometimes competing languages operate so that when they do building-oriented design work in a given space, they can “intentionally organize, advocate, and design spaces of racial, social, and cultural equity.” The practice started off as an outgrowth of the Claiborne Corridor Cultural Innovation District, a visionary urban plan that would transform a 19-block area below an elevated highway in New Orleans into a “culture-based economic driver” for the Claiborne Corridor neighborhood. The plan, envisioned for an area that was once a social and economic core of New Orleans’s black community but was cleared to make room for the highway, aims to articulate a socially guided vision for bringing a public market, classrooms, exhibition spaces, and health, environmental, and social services to the area. Another project, Paper Monuments, brought a flurry of posters to sites across the city to “create new narratives and symbols of [New Orleans]…and to honor the erased histories of the people, events, movements, and places that have made up the past three hundred years” of history. The citizen-led project sought to use public art as a way to further Colloqate’s core aim of “dismantling the privilege and power structures that use the design professions to maintain systems of injustice.” Lee explained that as a nonprofit entity (Colloqate’s growing board includes urban planners, architects, and other design professionals), Colloqate must necessarily take an unorthodox and provocative approach. As the practice expands, completes projects, and envisions its future, however, Lee hopes to apply Colloqate’s ethos more directly to bricks and mortar. “We want to be the most radical design firm out there,” Lee said, “and we need to build buildings to do that.”