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Mirror, Mirror

A glowing crystal lands on the waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia
New York–based practice SOFTlab recently completed an interactive installation on the waterfront of Alexandria, Virginia. Titled Mirror, Mirror, the eight-foot-tall circular construction features a faceted surface made of acrylic lined with one-way mirror film. During the day, the acrylic is opaque, creating a crystalline mirrored exterior and a brightly-colored rainbow interior. At night, however, when LED lights behind the acrylic turn on, the construction becomes a lively lighthouse. Microphones pick up ambient noise and translate it into a flashing light show. When the area is quiet, the lights pulse with a wave-like flow. The work, not from the banks of the Potomac River, took inspiration from Alexandria's historic Jones Point Lighthouse, which used advanced lens technology in the 1800s to guide mariners to safety. Mirror, Mirror opened on March 30 and will be up through November, 2019. It is the first artwork in Site/See: New Views in Old Town, a program run by Alexandria’s Office of the Arts to bring attention to the city's historic core.
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Prefab Post-Quake

Escobedo Soliz designs two prefab schools in rural Mexico
Mexican practice Escobedo Soliz recently completed two schools in Mexico's Puebla region, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2017. According to the architects, over 200 public schools were destroyed in the region, which spurred a group of private investors to commission the firm to create two primary schools in the town of Santa Isabel Cholula. The team had only nine months to design and build both structures, leading to the selection of a modular, prefabricated system. The two schools use repetitive, single-story, barn-like modules with skylights along their ridges and red-pigmented precast concrete panels on their exteriors. The modules are arranged along covered porticos that act as outdoor hallways.
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New UFO

Artist and designer Leeroy New brings his aliens to New York City
Filipino artist and designer Leeroy New has created a fluorescent installation in Pintô International's new gallery space in New York City's East Village. After a two-week residency in February 2019, New created the sculptures along with multi-colored costumes that performers have donned while traipsing around Lower Manhattan. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony has a sort of psychedelic, fungal look, as though prosaic objects had somehow mutated into funky new lifeforms. Both the sculptures and the costumes are made of cheap plastic home goods and fabrication supplies like zip ties and fiberglass strips. The photos of performers on the street are part of the artist's broader Aliens of Manila project that "speaks to the wider experience of cultural displacement but is profoundly informed by the artist’s own familial experience with the phenomenon of what he refers to as 'OFW'—Overseas Filipino Workers." The photos show people in the costumes popping against the backdrop of day-to-day activity in New York City. Pintô International is the new space from the Phillippines-based Pintô Art Museum, a museum that collects and exhibits the work of many prominent local artists. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony marks the launch of a quarterly exhibition schedule, an artist residency, and a monthly Pintô Sessions event series. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony Pintô International 431 East 12th Street, New York, New York Through May 27, 2019
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Shine On

6a architects recalls Milton Keynes’s utopian vision with a shiny new gallery
Milton Keynes: Britain’s youngest, technically unofficial, "city" has a habit of making headlines for all the wrong reasons—routinely being laughed at for having fields populated with concrete cows and being a mecca for roundabouts. Yet the New Town was regarded with its grid road system as the avant-garde of planning upon its birth in 1968. Heroic ambitions cast aside, it has since been derided for embodying all the faults of top-down planning and for later becoming a developer-friendly business park. In 1999, a new cultural establishment, the MK Gallery, opened on the edges of Midsummer Boulevard, but it was never quite able to latch onto the spirit of a new Millennium. Milton Keynesians’ search for something new to shout about went on. And so arrives the extension and re-jig of the MK Gallery from British architects, 6a. It’s a box, much like most of the area’s buildings, but the gallery’s glimmering facade emerging from the surrounding greenery hints at something much more tantalizing. “We wanted to make a building that was utterly Milton Keynesian,” Tom Emerson, founding director of 6a architects, told The Architect’s Newspaper. “The prototypical building of Milton Keynes—from the shopping center to the [Milton Keynes Development Corporation] design offices—is the steel frame shed and its variations.” 6a employed polished steel to clad the new structure, folding it incrementally to reflect literally and metaphorically Milton Keynes’s grid plan. “Sometimes it kind of radiates light and color from the most unlikely sources. It is very much alive and dynamic,” added Emerson. Already the gallery has been nicknamed the "tumble dryer" by locals—such is the British predilection for giving new buildings colloquial monikers. The gallery hasn’t even opened yet, but the nickname suggests residents are warming to it already, eager to embrace it as an MK building. The nickname derives from a circular motif in the facade, which has been split horizontally to form a giant, semi-circular window. “The circle is the most explicit form used in the design of Campbell Park, which the gallery overlooks. There are circles and cones everywhere,” said Emerson. “As the gallery is the last building along Midsummer Boulevard, we wanted to make it a simple meeting of the two forms; the grid of the city meets the circle in the landscape.” Retaining the original structure, the architects have more than doubled the gallery’s initial size. Inside this becomes apparent through five new double-height galleries, the first reaching 30 feet high, the rest 20 feet, all coming together to provide more than 5,300 square feet of exhibition space. The new, re-energized MK Gallery, however, posits itself as more than just a space for hanging art. A new auditorium, known as the “Sky Room” will offer views over Campbell Park and double-up as an independent cinema. A new foyer, café, and garden have also been added. "The aim of the new gallery is essentially to appeal to a larger and wider audience," Emerson explained. "We realigned all the openings of the old gallery with the new ones in a continuous ‘enfilade.' The long axis through the building (with windows to the outside on either end) reflects within the building the spatial structure of the city itself." While it shimmers externally, inside, MK Gallery plunges visitors 30 years into the past with a color palette from a 1978 Habitat catalog. This is all thanks to artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman, who worked with 6a on the scheme. It’s a bold move but one that emphatically pays off. Bands of greens, yellow, and browns form a lavish curtain lining, which partially engulfs the plywood-clad Sky Room; a fire escape spiral staircase has been painted bright red; internal stairs are yellow—minus the cigarette smoke stains from the ‘70s; bathrooms have been doused with maroon, brown, and emerald; and the white-walled café features a happy menagerie of hanging light spheres, red beams, yellow chairs, and pipework—a literal throwback to Milton Keynes’s now-defunct architecture department, once nicknamed the “Custard Factory” due to Norman Foster’s design. Nostalgic recollections of the past can often be saccharine, but not here. MK Gallery is an example of how to work with the recent past, celebrating it visually and marrying it with an exciting program, all of which has been packed into an architecture that reflects Milton Keynes today, while also priming it for tomorrow. MK Gallery opens to the public on Saturday, March 16.
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Brant Building

New York's East Village gets a new prestigious art space
In New York’s East Village, Gluckman Tang Architects has transformed a century-old Con Edison substation-cum-home to artist Walter De Maria (Lightning Field, Earth Room, Broken Kilometer) into the Brant Foundation Art Study Center. The 16,000-square-foot building with 7,000 square feet of exhibition space across four floors, a roof deck, and gardens by Madison Cox Associates has been impeccably rendered, retaining original features such as metal stairwells. The foundation was started by publishing executive Peter Brant (Interview, Art in America, ARTnews), and is directed by his daughter Allison, and opened with the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat. Upon entering the foyer, one sees a trap-door metal slide on the ceiling, part of a floor-door system that can open to hoist artworks heavier than the 8,000 pounds the elevator can accommodate. Floor materials are used on the ceiling; oak on level four, and cast concrete floors set against coffered concrete ceilings mottled by unseen LED uplights. Fenestration is notable. On the East 6th Street side the original windows are updated, whereas the 7th Street side sports nearly full-height spans. Clerestories adorn the double-height second floor. An original cranked window opener unlocks the top row. On the top floor, an acrylic skylight is the base of a rooftop reflecting pool, emitting rippling light. The double-height space has a hoist gantry, a sliding metal strut suspending two large hooks, that can glide across the span on metal studs embedded into blonde brick walls. The Brant Foundation is reminiscent of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Studio (Ryall Sheridan Architects) on Eldridge Street less than a mile away. Both are converted former residences, here from a power substation, there a former synagogue, which have been turned into free public art spaces integrated into their neighborhoods. Brant Foundation Study Center 421 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10009
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Rural Excellence

New school ties together Nebraska towns torn apart by tornados
On June 16, 2014, a tornado tore through the small agricultural community of Pilger, Nebraska, causing catastrophic damage to the village 85 miles northwest of Omaha. The tornado, one of two that hit Pilger on the same day, was part of a multi-day storm that produced more than 100 tornados across the Great Plains. The EF-4 grade storm generated winds of up to 200 miles an hour, left two people dead and sixteen critically injured, and caused the destruction of over half of the village’s buildings. As it spiraled its way from Pilger’s main street, the storm took out the clerk’s office, post office, a Lutheran church, a convenience store, and half of Pilger’s homes. Grain bins belonging to the local farmers’ co-op blew away, leaving behind mountains of soybeans and corn. The Wisner-Pilger Middle School, the only school in Pilger, also sustained heavy damage. Built in 1909, the school served K-12 students from the village until 1969, when the Pilger School District consolidated with the neighboring community of Wisner. At the time the storm hit, the Wisner-Pilger Middle School served approximately seventy-five 5th and 6th grade students, while an elementary-through-fourth grade school and a high school were located in Wisner, ten miles east. The condition of the school left the Wisner-Pilger Board of Education with contentious choices that weighed on both communities: rebuild the destroyed middle school; bring all three schools to a new building in Pilger; or combine all three schools on one campus in Wisner. “Educationally, a single-site school was the best solution,” said Darin Hanigan, project coordinator at BVH Architecture, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. BVH visited Pilger within days of the tornado hitting to explore restoration of the 1909 Wisner-Pilger Middle School but found that the damage was too extensive to repair. The decision was made to create an addition to the high school in Wisner for pre-K through 6th grade. The new school needed to be an object of pride for both Wisner and Pilger. “Rural communities get a new building once every five years—if they are lucky” said Hanigan. “They want to make a statement.” For BVH, making a statement started from the inside out. This included omitting rooms that cater to only one use and taking a look at opportunities for the structure to complement the school’s unique educational model. In the school, students spend only 20 percent of their time in their assigned classrooms—the rest is spent in flexible, sometimes multiuse spaces; the commons, located just inside the school’s entrance, serves as a gathering place but also as a lunchroom. With all students learning under the same roof, grades are able to collaborate, creating more opportunities for students to learn at different levels, and spaces needed to accommodate that. Moving throughout the building, students pass through a tactile environment with ample room to display their work. Laser-cut metal panels with designs inspired by math, language, the solar system, and local topography adorn the school. Surfaces are kickable, trackable, writable, and often magnetic. Windows are carefully placed to support educational activities, with low windows located inside reading nooks, and high windows placed in resource spaces and hallways. High windows are kept away from teaching walls to minimize glare. Windows are arranged throughout the school to accommodate views at a range of heights, whether the students are walking through the school or seated at their desks. “Students spend their time inside versus outside, so that’s where the money should go,” Hanigan said. Spaces abound with diffuse light, courtesy of a cost-effective metal screening system. BVH Architecture remained ever-mindful of the destructive potential that precipitated the need for the new school. The roof system of the band room has a hollow core integrated into the precast wall, with the band room itself set inside the school’s center. The band room has the ability to shelter every student and educator on the campus if a tornado were to pass through again.
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Staying in the Loop

Space p11 adds to Chicago's underground art and architecture scene
“The pedway is an exquisite corpse,” said Space p11 director Jonathan Solomon of the assembly of underground spaces that make up Chicago’s Pedway, the subterranean home of the new design and architecture-focused gallery. “We are looking to encourage the many institutions above to take ownership and make the pedway a space for culture.” That notion of ownership, or perceived lack thereof, along with substandard signage, uneven maintenance and concentration of urban odors causes many Chicagoans to shame the pedway. Space p11 (‘p’ for Pedway, ‘space 11’ on the leasing plan) offers an emollient in the form of a formerly anonymous space filled with work dedicated to shared agency. This commitment to shared agency brought a series of actions to the Pedway coinciding with the debut of Space p11, which Solomon directs alongside David L. Hays. The Chicago Loop Alliance partnered with artists to work in and with the Pedway through a series of pop-up experiences, dubbed Short-Cuts, activating elements like walls and abandoned phone booths with performance, drawing, and audio installations. Space p11 opened on December 3 with Phytovision by Lindsey French, an experiment in the hierarchy of perception between humans and plants. Within Space p11, French created a space full of vegetative (not creature) comforts, including a digital video slowed to plant time and shown to a plant audience. The plants watch underneath lights in their preferred colors, red and blue, which combine to flush the gallery in magenta. “People actually think it’s a weed shop,” joked Solomon. The Chicago Pedway is a five-mile network of formal and informal underground pedestrian routes connecting forty city blocks and almost fifty buildings in the Loop. Included are both public and private along with the occasional building lobby and basement. In addition to Space p11, the Pedway houses a mix of services and amenities, including salons, dry cleaners, and a number of idiosyncratic underground bars and restaurants. The Pedway began in 1951 as a tunnel connecting the State Street Subway to the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, joining together what are now the Red and Blue lines of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) system. Subsequent phases occurred in 1966, connecting the Civic Center to the Brunswick Building at 69 West Washington, through the late 1980s, and in 2005, when Millennium Station was completed. An additional extension was created in 2010 to connect the portion north of Lake Street to Aqua Tower, located at 225 North Columbus Drive. While the City of Chicago manages and cleans general areas of the Pedway, it is not responsible for privately owned sections, or those managed by the CTA. The system is not tended evenly, and signage does not remain consistent, confusing infrequent users and discouraging its use altogether for some. Those looking for consistency in the architecture of the Pedway are hard pressed to do so. While the Pedway portion of an individual building often captures what’s going on above, it doesn’t often give it sublime qualities. While there is terrazzo and marble, there are also portions of the system with as much personality as a jet bridge. Like the city above, the Pedway is not perfect. Space p11 is a project of Acute Angles, Inc., the publishers of the design journal Forty-Five. The gallery is designed by Future Firm, which has subtly improved the space by adding materiality to existing elements, along with lifting the language of retail through window framing and customary signage. “p11” is scripted in neon tube above a felted black letterboard announcing the bill of fare. A custom steel sandwich board in white and chrome auto paint is displayed outside the gallery during open hours. Through March 5, Space p11 presents Coalescence, a video installation by Rosemary Hall and Alberto Ortega that seeks to stretch our engagement with the biological and social world. Space p11 55 E. Randolph Street Pedway Level Chicago Chicago, Illinois
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New Twist on History

nARCHITECTS' Equal Rights Heritage Center frames the history around it
The first new civic building in Auburn, New York, in 40 years lets visitors explore the city’s place in the history of civil rights movements. The nARCHITECTS-designed Equal Rights Heritage Center, now open to the public, frames views of surrounding landmarks to expand the reach of the center to the building's historic context. What began as a request for proposal from the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation and the City of Auburn for a Finger Lakes–region welcome center in 2017 quickly snowballed in importance, according to nARCHITECTS principal Eric Bunge. In light of the rapidly changing national political climate, the governor’s office reoriented the project to focus on New York’s progressive history as a leader in promoting equal rights.  The center specifically focuses on women's rights, the abolition of slavery, civil rights, and the more recent efforts for LGBTQ rights. The 7,500-square-foot, $10 million Heritage Center opened to the public on November 13, 2018, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, local officials, and Pauline Copes Johnson, the great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman. A statue of the historic abolitionist and activist stands to the south of the new building. The single-story Heritage Center sits smack-dab between several historic landmarks; the building is directly across the street from the Memorial City Hall, is next to the William H. Seward House Museum, and is in the city’s South Street National Register District. A corbelled, pink brick facade was used to better blend the building into the mainly federal-style neighborhood. Inside, the building’s structure was left exposed. Board-formed concrete walls and glulam beams (which appear to continue past the confines of the center thanks to clever mirror placement) were left exposed to open up the interior as much as possible. Radiant geothermal heating emanates up through the terrazzo flooring, eliminating the need for a bulky overhead HVAC system. Double, sometimes triple, height windows frame views of the surrounding city, and the building’s three main interconnected volumes were each rotated to maximize the range of views. Graphic design studio MTWTF worked with nARCHITECTS to co-design the exhibition and wayfinding across the building’s figure-8 circulation path, and the nARCHITECTS-led team pulled double duty as the Heritage Center’s curator. Zones are organized by medium rather than topic, and the center uses posters, videos, recordings, games, a large interactive map, portraits, and other materials to chart the history of equal rights in New York State. But the center will hopefully become the first stop in a broader historical tour of the region for visitors, said Bunge, including the local landmarks visible from the building, and that the “context is content.” Siting the Heritage Center was also an issue for the design team, as the building rose on what was formerly a municipal parking lot. Although there’s a parking garage directly across the street, the community raised concerns over the potential loss of parking at the site. Ultimately, nARCHITECTS chose to exclude any on-site parking to encourage a pedestrian-friendly scheme and included a new public plaza to the center’s east. Construction took only nine months and the project team was able to come in 20 percent under budget. Interested in visiting? Admission is free, and the center is open from 10:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. daily.
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Pop-Up Arch

Spaceus pops up in East Cambridge, Massachusetts
The pop-up, temporary store phenomena, began a dozen years ago when local, community-based associations attempted to deal quickly with unwelcome empty storefronts on struggling main streets. They have now become a cliché of contemporary corporate branding and a quick, inexpensive way to make a product seem "cool." But Spaceus, a temporary floating workshop in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, is trying to put the local back into pop-up. The creation of two MIT graduate students Ellen Shakespear and Stephanie Lee, Spaceus takes empty storefronts and turns them into temporary workspaces and information centers for artists. The architects created a membership structure that lets users determine the function of Spaceus, and then the designers used their skills to create a simple, inexpensive, and handsome walk-in space. The initial pop-up was located in an empty shop in Faneuil Hall, then the Roslindale neighborhood, then Harvard Square, and now on February 2, they launched their latest “hybrid workspace” at 11 First Street in East Cambridge. Shakespear and Lee think that “many young architects are frustrated by the traditional mode of practice” and “are looking toward new models of funding.” Instead of having to jump into top-down design practices as young professionals they went out and found a design problem to solve, organized their own client base, and created a space to make it work. It’s not an entirely new idea that architects can take control of their agency, particularly at MIT, which has long supported "Participatory Action Research," but it is one that needs to be brought back into the architecture studio. Spaceus is the current generation's attempt to reinvigorate the model. If you’re in the Boston area, drop into the latest Spaceus in East Cambridge.
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A New Look

OMA updates Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) has upgraded its visual identity with a reorganized interior and a new facade by OMA’s Chris van Duijn. Since opening its doors 11 years ago, UCCA has become a center of the 798 Art District in Beijing, a cultural area that receives 5 million visitors per year but has long suffered from a lack of organization and an overall masterplan. Architects Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Qingyun Ma completed a full-scale renovation of the industrial spaces in 2007, but over the years, new architectural elements and patchwork renovations changed the original vision. OMA’s redesign is aimed at helping the museum recover its roots and create a distinctive sense of place.   To do this, the design team focused on first revealing the three mid-century factories in which the artwork was housed. They demolished later additions and then restructured the internal program.  Two major interventions were then made to enhance the museum’s transparency and engagement with the public. OMA created an informal auditorium that stretches from the inside to the exterior plaza and designed a thin glass veil facade. The wall lightly undulates and wraps around the auditorium, resembling a plastic sheath. According to OMA, the new “wrinkled geometries complement the formal appearance” of the original building, which is clad in red clay. “UCCA initially started as a pioneer in promoting Chinese contemporary art and has in the 11 years since become one of China’s leading institutes with a strong public relevance,” said Chris van Duijn, parter-in-charge of the project. “This current status is reflected in the new design through the public and dynamic character.” The project’s opening comes on the heels of OPEN Architecture’s recently-completed design for the UCCA Dune Art Museum, a satellite campus on China’s Gold Coast.
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Dare to be Square

Sebastian ErraZuriz breaks the box at R & Company Gallery
Opening today, Breaking the Box is Sebastian ErraZuriz’s inaugural exhibition at New York collectible design gallery R & Company. On view until March 9, the show presents a curated selection of the Chilean-born, New York–based designer’s functional sculptures, as well as new works from his Mechanical Cabinet series. ErraZuriz's approach transcends disciplinary boundaries. His projects range from public art to interior architecture, experimental furniture, and product design. Whether it's a large video installation in Time Square, women’s shoes, or a shelving unit held up by 3-D-printed reproductions of ancient Greek and Roman busts, ErraZuriz’s designs always contain an element of surprise. The multifaceted talent employs a diverse set of technical skills, material knowledge, and aesthetic styles to produce works that challenge the standards of function. ErraZuriz’s Mechanical Cabinet furniture series is an ongoing project reimagining how people perceive and interact with this type of object. For the latest additions to the series—debuting as part of the Breaking the Box exhibition—the designer utilized traditional woodworking techniques and hidden spinning mechanisms. Though they appear to be simplistic boxes at first glance, the new works can be transformed into modular credenzas and cabinets. While the Fan Cabinet's flexible slat surface opens into concentric patterns, the Grand Complication piece unravels like a Russian nesting doll. Fan Cabinet by Sebastian ErraZuriz, 2018 from R & Company on Vimeo. The Grand Complication by Sebastian ErraZuriz from R & Company on Vimeo. “We tend to understand reality by constraining meaning into closed and simplified boxes defined by previous cultural conventions. We live within these pre-established cognitive borders, where we only tend to see, recognize and accept as true, that which has been previously ordered and defined,” said ErraZuriz. "In Breaking the Box, I use art, design, and craft to break open our relationship to objects, beauty, and time, in order to reconsider conventions."
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The Library is Open

SOM designs first public library for Chicago's West Loop
In an old Harpo Productions building in Chicago's West Loop, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has designed a new branch for the Chicago Public Library, the first outpost of the system in the neighborhood. The two-story, 16,500-square-foot building unites two older structures into a single cultural center for the area. The interior design takes its cues from the neighborhood's historic warehouses and stripped back existing partitions and finishes to reveal the brick and timber structure. Shelves were kept low so that spaces could feel and sight lines could be maintained. Brian Lee, design partner at SOM said in a statement: "The unique architecture and scale of the West Loop reflects a vital part of Chicago’s industrial history, while the growing residential and mixed-use character of the neighborhood points to an exciting vision of the city’s future." A sweeping graphic runs along the library's walls representing "story lines" from classic children's books and novels that visitors are invited to follow. Coloring throughout is golden and warm, playing off the reddish tones in the exposed brick and wood. Wall text highlights the words of global poets and authors that the designers selected.