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Black Imagination Matters

Robots and poetry come alive at Black Imagination conference
On a humid, gray morning at Princeton in a cubic glass pavilion in a robot arm–equipped garage, architect Mario Gooden sat on a stool silently while discordant sounds emanated from two televisions flanking him that played images, barely visible under the sun streaming in through the translucent walls. Us viewers sat on the benches wrapping the room. Gooden moved his stool and sat again. Finally, he began speaking. Reading from a black folder he talked about space-time, general relativity, and black holes, and about the Black Panthers, being age 13, being American, cinema’s star-crossed lovers, the “image-city,” being in the wake, or being the wake. So began the second day of Black Imagination Matters (BIM, so named to “scramble” the usual meaning of the acronym in architecture), a two day conference organized by V. Mitch McEwen, which was the culmination of a month of workshops this past March and April which included prototyping fictive technologies from W.E.B. Du Bois’s recently-discovered short story “The Princess Steel” as well as choreography workshops with drones. This past weekend's events showcased numerous architects, theorists, writers, and artists thinking about “architechnipoetics,” or the intersections between the ways we make our world in bricks and circuits and words and movement. “You’re composing images with your body,” Gooden incanted over syncopated, and at times, dissonant sounds. Eventually he fell back to silence, though the soundtrack continued. At the end of Gooden’s silence, McEwen asked for our own. The sky cleared. Then, a slightly more usual panel with Jenn Nkiru, beth coleman, and Jerome Haferd. coleman began by asking one of the most difficult questions of all: “What would it be to be free?” Many others joined in during the conversation. In response to discourse on the spiritual and celestial, author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, who presented later and then spoke in a panel alongside artist Mario Moore, offered that the many ways of telling and documenting time in various African traditions is something that, to some extent, can be known, and that the archive of such traditions, no matter how troubled, perhaps offers some grounding. The BIM Incubator was incredibly capacious for an event organized by an architecture school, bringing together poets, dancers, filmmakers, scholars, technologists, architects, and others who presented and celebrated inter- and antidisciplinary approaches to thinking about space, building, the future of the city, and the power of Blackness within it. Collaborative and open, BIM was modeled on Donna Haraway’s use of the notion of "sympoiesis," a process of collective making and knowledge production. Science fictions and science presents were blended throughout the event's discussions, most especially by Haferd, whose presentation on his projects in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park began with Ursula K. Le Guin; Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, and Sun Ra all got namedropped throughout the day. Saturday’s events took place between Princeton’s Architecture Laboratory and the robot-outfitted Embodied Computation Lab. Rhythm; the water; terrestrial freedom; celestial freedom; the archive; the body; time; telling time; telling times; (im)permanence; the traps and powers, the uses and uselessness of representation; visibility and its transgression (what is secrecy and sacredness in an era of mass surveillance and documentation?, probed Nkiru); the meaning of “practice”; the problem of authenticity— these all were themes that were returned to throughout the day. The convening of so many people itself was a sort of architectural act, making a space through a day of ongoing interactions of speech, sound, images, and movement. And there was so much movement, especially for a university workshop, not only in Gooden’s multimedia performance but also in poet Douglas Kearney’s listening workshop during which he permitted participants to be as still or move as much as they felt to the music and sound he had created. Amina Blacksher next presented her double Dutch robots, two robot coordinated robot arms, that with the help of a human being, became semi-automated jump ropes. After Blacksher went first, people took turns trying to show off their skills. Despite their supposed “precision,” the robots have difficulty being as accurate, synchronized, and quick as young Black girls who jump rope, showing the incredible complexity of embodied and kinetic intelligence that is so often devalued and overlooked. Also working with robots, Lauren Vasey demonstrated the early stages of robots that used facial recognition to behave differently based on people's features, raising questions about the built-in algorithmic biases in new AI technologies. Then came an especially energetic three-person dance piece choreographed by Olivier Tarpaga titled WHEN BIRDS REFUSED TO FLY. All this motion suggested that perhaps architecture doesn’t stand, but rather, and more accurately, buildings balance. The day ended with sunset as Kyp Malone played his guitar and sang, accompanied by projections he’d designed.
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Crítica de Choque

“Pan Americas” conference looks at architectural relationships across a hemisphere
Earlier this month a dozen or so Latin American architects gathered at The City College of New York (CCNY) Spitzer School of Architecture for a “Pan Americas” conference. A few colleagues from New York joined them, including CCNY professor Michael Sorkin, who gave an impassioned speech about the poorly compensated resource extractions imposed on Central and South America by “el norte,” from oil to sugar, and about how Latin American architecture is “a polymorphous tradition that continues with enormous vitality.” There were two thematic pulls in the conference: the realities of the region’s economic and political conditions, and the vital and witty Latin American architecture that manages to emerge out of them anyway. One of the first slides of the conference showed Le Corbusier’s Modulor. It was barely recognizable as it had acquired a domestic environment, and was now found reclining on sofas, in poses other than the familiar one with the outstretched arm. The presenter, Mónica Bertolino, an architect and professor in Córdoba, Argentina, was making the point that when modern architecture arrived in Latin America it had to be tempered with local materials. But this is not to say that the architecture is any less modern, albeit less known. Hans Ibelings and Mauricio Quiros rightly pointed out the lack of coverage of Latin American work in books about modern architecture. They hope to address this with their upcoming publication about Central American architecture, but they also argued that what they call a peripheral condition (relative to Europe and the United States) could be a source of creative strength and encouraged Latin American architects to revel in it. The landscape architect Maria Villalobos, who gave the most impassioned lecture of the conference, is doing just that. She studied at Versailles and Harvard before returning to Venezuela to design the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo and it was this designer, one so deeply knowledgeable on French gardens, who resisted the cliched formal garden approach and came up with something inspired by the diverse Venezuelan habitats. Two other young designers presented outstanding work, Dana Víquez Azofeifa, from Costa Rica, and Inés Guzmán from Guatemala. Víquez Azofeifa uses the native biodiversity of Costa Rica to ameliorate the urban problems of its capital city San José. She grew up in Costa Rica, went north to study and work, and then returned home to start the firm PPAR with her partner Jose Vargas Hidalgo. “El norte” may have in the past robbed its southern neighbors of their raw resources, but now these designers traveling north are bringing home professional experience and intellectual insights. Guzmán was perhaps more aware of the complexity of her geographical allegiance and called herself “a Guatemalan citizen of the world.” She presented several projects by her firm Taller KEN, which she founded in 2013 with Gregory Melitonov. Her stint abroad included working on Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, but it was James Wines of SITE (in the audience and also a presenter), whom she credited as her inspiration. Then, when she showed Madero Café in Guatemala City, one couldn’t help but think of SITE’s Ghost Parking Lot project from the 1970s. In that project Wines buried cars under asphalt in a shopping center in Hamden, Connecticut, while Taller KEN impaled them on a forty-five-foot-high red cube. James Wines’s own presentation was a plea for more work like this. He showed images of t-shirts with various calls for social justice written on them—is this what activism looks like today, he asked the audience? He would like to see that activism make its way into built design work, and Taller KEN’s Madero Café is an example of this. The big red box calls attention to itself among undifferentiated stretches of trafficky roads and low-rise commercial strips. Then, inside, the only daylight comes from the top, completely isolating the cafe patrons from the surrounding context. Taller KEN critically responded to the wanton deforestation of Guatemala’s rainforest by putting a piece of it, albeit symbolically, inside the box, like the precious thing that it is. If there’s one insight from this conference that is applicable to the discipline of architecture in general it is that socio-cultural concerns in architecture are not only compatible with exciting design, but can even be the motivators. The last discussion of the conference revolved around the imaging of architecture. What are the possible effects of social media on what gets designed? The best answer came from Fredy Massad, Argentinian by birth but living and working in Barcelona and writing on architecture for the Spanish newspaper ABC. His most recent book of architecture criticism is Crítica de Choque (Shock Criticism), which places recent developments in architecture in the context of major political events—the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the financial collapse of 2008, etc. Massad is critical of the lack of discourse in an image-driven culture of architecture promotion. He rebukes the uncritical production of images of architecture in a book entirely devoid of images, and we readers find respite in this sea of words. With this book, we feel like characters in a Wim Wenders film who, overwhelmed by the bombardment of images, turn to words for redemption. Massad’s lecture did include some images, and notable among them was the portrait of Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Massad argues, and others at the conference agreed, that Aravena aestheticized low-income housing in a way that was not beneficial to those the architecture was meant to serve. Massad has termed what Aravena does a kind of “Adamismo,” as in making himself the “Adam,” the person at the beginning of all things socio-political, and in the process erasing all the efforts that came before him. The future of Latin American architecture depends on its multifariousness, not in the singularity of a star. Perhaps the best moment of the conference was when Álvaro Rojas, co-organizer of the event with Guillermo Honles, started his presentation by playing a song, Ojalá que llueva café (I hope it rains coffee) by the popular Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra. The students around me looked up from their phones and laptops and broke into roaring laughter. Is this the “shock” that Massad argues is needed in architecture today? For about four minutes an auditorium full of people accustomed to always be doing something did absolutely nothing except listen to a song. Perhaps this is the point of this and any conference, to take time out from the daily grind and just listen.
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Giddy for Giedion

Sigfried Giedion gets a fresh look in new book
Giedion and America: Repositioning the History of Modern Architecture Reto Geiser GTA Verlag $85.00

Was it an ironic coincidence or part of the modern movement’s DNA that the heroic architectural avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s was accompanied, promoted, and memorialized by historians even as protagonists like Walter Gropius vaunted breaking the shackles of history? Despite protests to the contrary, the key 19th-century concept of historicism—the idea of the spirit of the age as form-giver—was inherited by a generation of historians and polemicists. Gropius found the first of his genealogically inclined historian champions in the German art historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who published Pioneers of the Modern Movement: From William Morris to Walter Gropius in English in 1936 with the Museum of Modern Art.

By then, Le Corbusier had already found his James Boswell in art historian Sigfried Giedion, a fellow Swiss. Giedion collaged Le Corbusier’s work in the form of both images and paraphrased slogans into his first historical manifesto in 1928 with Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton. The book took the tradition of Wöfflinian art history into a millenarian manifesto mode with its use of startling transhistorical photographic juxtapositions.

For decades, Giedion would serve as secretary and scribe of CIAM, the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, founded the same year that Bauen in Frankreich was published—even as he continued to lecture, publish, and compose novel illustrated volumes in which he inscribed the present in an ever lengthening historical trajectory that ultimately took him back to the prehistoric. It has always been held, however, that his most lasting and influential work, Space, Time, and Architecture, published in 1941, derived as the concrete result of the first of his many trips to the United States to give public lectures at Harvard between 1938 and 1939, the very years the Bauhaus masters were settling into teaching positions in Cambridge and Chicago. Like Pevsner’s Pioneers, Giedion’s book, which was also originally published in English, has remained continuously in print for over 75 years, exerting an enormous influence even as it has transitioned from being read as a source for the history of modern architecture to being analyzed over and over again as an artifact of the modern movement in the historiographic turn in architectural history of the last 20 years. But Reto Geiser’s book demands that we take a longer look at the historian himself.     

Giedion has indeed now found his own historians. In 1989, soon after his papers were organized and opened to researchers in Zurich, a first intellectual biography—simply titled Sigfried Giedion—was published by the collection’s then-curator, Sokratis Georgiadis. Now Reto Geiser’s Giedion in America is both an homage to a fellow Swiss historian’s mastery of integrating images and text and a subtle reflection on the important role that America—as a place, idea, and culture—played in the formation of one of the most influential intellectual projects in 20th-century architectural history.

Geiser organizes his analysis less in a strict chronological fashion than as a series of four extended essays on different interpretations on the theme of Geidion as a figure “in between” countries and cultures. In the process, he weaves together cultural influences that go far beyond any previous analyses of Giedion’s involvement with American intellectual life, while also underscoring a number of paradoxes and ironies of his career. The first of these is language, since Giedion’s less than perfect command of spoken English contributed to the innovations of his visual layouts, first in slide lectures and then in the meticulous care with which he worked on the mock-ups of his page layouts—many of which are illustrated in Geiser’s book—in collaboration with book designers like Herbert Bayer and Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, the handmaiden to the readability of his text.

No less does it set the stage for the chapter “In Between Approaches,” which analyzes Giedion’s engagement with the published works of established figures of American thought such as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and cultural historian Lewis Mumford. Indeed, the dialogue between Mumford and Giedion in establishing the American contribution to the development of modern architecture is the subject of some of the most consequential passages in a book that zigzags between a rich orchestration of information about this “art historian’s central role in a global network of modern architects” and astute analysis of his evolution as a historical thinker. This is one of the chief contributions of Geiser’s study.

On the Swiss side, the most interesting revelations concern Giedion’s frustration with failing to ever find a position in the academic establishment in Zurich, despite the prestige he held at Harvard. This plagued Giedion throughout his career.

Geiser is the first biographer of Giedion to give full attention to the genesis and impact of his fascination with the art and architectural expressions of prehistoric and pre-Hellenic cultures, from the cave paintings discovered at Lascaux in 1940 to Sumerian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids. These fascinations were first honed and presented for the general audience attending his 1957 Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and then expanded into The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Art, a two-volume work. But Giedion scarcely lost himself in the dawn of time—even if his ever-patient art historian wife Carola Giedion-Welcker claimed that it took him for a time away from “all architectural problems.”

One of the most fascinating relationships that Geiser takes up is Giedion’s relationship to Marshall McLuhan, an earlier admirer of the historian, who understood from the outset the relationship of the medium of the book (or the slide lecture) to a message about the historical dimension of even the present moment. Appropriately enough, Giedion’s relationship to McLuhan, to György Kepes and the early years of the MIT Media Lab, and the creation of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard—for which Le Corbusier would supply his only building on American soil—come together in Geiser’s final chapter, “In Between Disciplines.” Not only does this expand our understanding of Giedion’s role into the postwar period, but equally of Giedion as a historian protagonist as important to the evolution of media studies as he was to modern architecture and its history. Despite the numerous chronological backtrackings and the repetition of salient quotes that mar the text, Geiser has shed light on facets of Giedion’s long trajectory that recast a figure whose books were perhaps too long ago moved to an upper shelf with other college texts.

Barry Bergdoll is a professor of art history at Columbia University and recipient of the 2019 Cattedra Borromini professorship at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

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Saving Grace

Here’s what saved the Notre Dame Cathedral from total destruction
The world watched in total shock on Monday evening as a devastating fire ravaged parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For a moment it looked like the French landmark might be lost completely, but firefighters acted quickly to save the 850-year-old Gothic church. Though a battered version of its former self, Notre Dame still stands today largely because its 226-foot twin bell towers were kept from ruin. “The bell towers are actually like bookends,” noted Thomas Leslie, a Gothic structures specialist and the Morrill Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. “They keep the last vaults from toppling over or spreading out. A lot of people know that flying buttresses are supporting the vaults in one direction from the exterior, but those vaults also want to collapse along the nave. If stone bell towers, which have wooden structures inside them, had ignited and had collapsed, the whole cathedral could have come down in an instant.” In other words, at some point the Paris Fire Brigade made the decision to stop focusing on the expansive roof fire, and spend its resources on the stone bell towers, both of which date back to the mid-13th century. “The roof was a lost cause and they knew it wasn’t going to lead to the collapse of the building’s skeleton,” asserted Leslie. When the fire began around 6:50 p.m. on Monday, panic spread throughout the world about the Notre Dame’s potential downfall. A roof fire, by most standards, is catastrophic. But what much of the media didn’t realize at first, Leslie argued, was that the wooden roof was detached from the structure itself and couldn’t trigger the building's total collapse. Enough heat, however, could melt the masonry over the nave—the stonework on the structure was already under close watch. For the past few years, Notre Dame has been undergoing an extensive, $6.8 million restoration. A piece of medieval construction, it’s been renovated and added onto several times in its history. The 315-foot-tall oak spire that fell in the fire was designed by French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and installed in 1860 after the French Revolution and the elements had damaged the structure. Luckily, the 16 copper statues of the 12 apostles and four evangelists that sat at the spire’s base were removed for cleaning just last week and thus spared from the fire. Along with the stone bell towers, the famed trio of round stained-glass windows survived the fire, including the famous South Rose window, which was donated by King St. Louis in 1260. The deputy mayor of Paris said Notre Dame’s 8,000-pipe Great Organ also sustained the event though it did suffer repairable damages. Several news outlets have reported the church’s irreplaceable art and artifacts were rescued and transferred to the Louvre Museum for safe keeping. While these elements were saved, there’s a gaping hole left now in the nave less than 48 hours after the fire, exposing the interior of the cathedral. For Leslie, it’s the water damage done by the fire squad that’s even more concerning. “When you walk into a cathedral, what you see on the inside is the stone vaulting, there for structural and spatial reasons,” he said. “The timber roof above it essentially for weatherproofing. It keeps rain, snow, and ice off the limestone vaults. I noticed through images that water had pretty clearly penetrated the mortar joints in the surviving vaults. Limestone and lime mortar are both vulnerable to fire in the sense that they don’t burn, they turn into powder.” Securing the existing stonework within Notre Dame and protecting it from weather-damage in the near future are undoubtedly top of mind for the temporary restoration effort moving forward. For the long term, President Emmanuel Macron has promised a rebuild and people have already pledged over $900 million towards the planned reconstruction. Even an international competition to redesign the spire ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris has already been launched. Lisa Ackerman, interim CEO for the New York–based World Monument Fund, noted the energy of the moment. “The good thing about all this is that we live in a world where you find out about tragedies instantly and we’ve found both the outpouring of financial support for Notre Dame to be tremendous, as well as the outpouring of assistance from experts who can help rebuild." For example, the late art historian Andrew Tallon from Vassar College had scanned the entire cathedral with an accuracy within five millimeters. His detailed work is laid out in a stunning 3D laser map of Notre Dame, a piece of pivotal documentation that will likely be used in the restoration efforts. Even the popular video game Assassin’s Creed Unity, which is set in Paris, could be helpful. It’s publisher, Ubisoft, has offered expertise. Collecting global documentation of Notre Dame will help in the upcoming work to stabilize the building for centuries to come. Integrating fire-safe products in the reconstruction, said Ackerman, will help ensure a catastrophic disaster like this doesn’t happen again. “Preservation is always an act of negotiating the past with the present and the visual aesthetic qualities of the structure with new knowledge we have about materials,” she said. “The greatest danger to a historic building is when people think its issues are permanently resolved. Hopefully this was a reminder that many of the sites we take for granted actually have needs and must be continually repaired and investigated for their own wellbeing. If we defer maintenance, we endanger buildings in ways that are clearly unimaginable.”
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From Rice to Riches

Sarah Whiting chosen as next dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design
Sarah Whiting, dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, has been named the next permanent dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Whiting, an educator and practicing architect through her firm WW Architecture, will take over for Mohsen Mostafavi on July 1 of this year. Whiting has served as the dean at Rice’s School of Architecture since 2010, but previously served as a design critic, and an assistant, then associate professor at the GSD Department of Architecture from 1999 to 2005. “The GSD has long been a center of gravity for my thinking and actions, and I’m thrilled to be returning,” said Whiting in a press release. “It is altogether tantalizing to look across the School’s three departments, with their individual and collective capacities to shape new horizons within Gund Hall. And it’s even more enticing to envision working with the GSD’s remarkable faculty, students, staff, and alumni to help imagine and create new futures for the world, not just at Harvard but beyond.” Whiting’s work and areas of education are frequently interdisciplinary, placing architecture within a holistic urban context. “Sarah Whiting is an exemplary academic leader and colleague. Her intellectual commitment to design education has enhanced the future of practice,” said Mostafavi, who had previously served as dean for 11 years. “I am delighted that she will be returning to the GSD to help shape the next phase of this incredible school’s journey.”
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Gangland

Jeanne Gang makes the 2019 TIME 100 list
TIME magazine has released its list of 2019’s most influential people, and Studio Gang founder and 2011 MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang was the only architect to be included. “Jeanne Gang has the WOW factor,” wrote actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who nominated Gang to the list. “Her stunning Aqua, in Chicago, is the tallest building ever built by a woman…Referring to the growing socioeconomic divides in our cities, Jeanne has warned her profession against ‘sorting ourselves into architects of the rich and architects of the poor,’ and focuses instead on discovering ‘new possibilities for the discipline and beyond.’ And it all started with playing in the dirt and making ice castles. Wow.” The Chicago-based Gang was named in the “Titans” category, where TIME honors those at the top of their respective fields, placing Gang shoulder-to-shoulder with golfer Tiger Woods, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It appears that the magazine is recognizing one architect every year; in 2018 it was Elizabeth Diller, David Adjaye in 2017, and Bjarke Ingels before that. The only other design professionals singled out this year? Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame, who were nominated by former quarterback (and current Mets player) Tim Tebow.
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Olde Towne Booming

Facades+ Boston will dive into the trends reshaping the city
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On June 25, Facades+ is returning to Boston for the fourth year in a row. The conference, organized by The Architect's Newspaper, is a full-day event split between a morning symposium and an afternoon of workshops led by top AEC practitioners. Leers Weinzapfel Associates (LWA), a Boston-based firm with projects nationwide, is co-chairing the conference. Panels for the conference will focus on the changes underway in Boston, ranging from new educational structures, the city's new tallest residential building, and historic preservation projects. Participants for the conference's symposium and workshops include Behnisch Architekten, Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Bruner / Cott, Arrowstreet, Consigli Construction, Walter P. Moore, Autodesk, Atelier Ten, Harvard GSD, the Wyss Institute, and Okalux. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, LWA's designer and business development representative Zhanina Boyadzhieva and associate Kevin Bell, the conference co-chairs, discuss their firm's growing body of work and the developmental trends within the city of Boston. The Architect's Newspaper: Boston is known as a relatively quiet city with a predominantly low-slung skyline. How is current development reshaping that identity and what does it mean for the future? Zhanina Boyadzhieva: Boston is indeed a “quiet” city, but it is also a hub of innovation and creative thinking. In the past few years, we have observed dynamic design work, largely by local firms, on several fronts: 1) creative re-envisioning of historical landmarks through readaptations and additions such as Smith Center at Harvard University and Congress Square in downtown Boston 2) careful insertions of new landmarks in the skyline such as One Dalton 3) fast development and growth of existing or new resilient neighborhoods such as Harvard’s Allston campus. Each design solution addresses unique urban conditions and entails holistic thinking about city planning, resilience, and sustainability, coupled with a sense of function, form, materiality, and human experience. Naturally, facades combine all of these considerations and become dominant players in the reshaping of cities. The diversity of approaches we observe—controlled material juxtapositions of old and new, sculptural form-making, and playful screening strategies—are testaments to ongoing design experimentations here. There is a search for new methods to address creative reuse, high performance, material fabrication, and user experience.  AN: The city possesses one of America's largest concentrations of brutalist buildings, as well as large historic districts. How can Boston embrace its heritage while moving forward? Kevin Bell: The rich building history of Boston, including modern landmarks like City Hall, and its brutalist companions make for wonderful urban fabric for intervention and a great place for an architect to practice. This history should serve to elevate our expectations for new buildings and major renovations in the city. The recent warming to Boston’s brutalism, its strong geometry and bare materials, is welcome, encouraging designers to consider rather ignore these local icons. It presents the opportunity to consider adaptation and re-envisioning through sustainability’s lenses, the human experience, and materiality. If we can dramatically improve the energy efficiency and human use in these sensitive historic buildings, we can achieve the same in new construction and create a model for continued improvement. AN: What innovative enclosure practices is LWA currently executing? KB: As a firm, we have a legacy of designing efficiently in an urban context. Often, our site is an existing historic building or a tightly constrained sliver of land, or sometimes, there's no site at all. This fosters a sensibility within the studio toward compact volumes, materially efficient, with taut fitted skins, a practice that serves us well as we work to make evermore energy efficient and sustainable buildings. We're also redefining our performance expectations around our clients' commitments to energy efficiency, many of whom have established operational carbon neutrality as their aim by mid-century. The enclosures we design today will be part of that efficiency equation. They must be considered to be part of a carbon neutral organizational environment as a performance baseline above simple compliance with today's codes or target certifications. Envelope performance, especially the use of innovative glazing materials, is a logical extension of the way we think about reactive, efficient space and energy efficiency targets in building enclosure design. Our Dartmouth Dana Hall renovation and addition, under construction now, is an example of this process and practice. We worked closely with the college to define a program for building reuse around its energy use reduction targets that dramatically improved envelope efficiency. Through the design process, we worked with our design and construction partners to continually refine the design while holding to incremental improvement in energy efficiency at each step; our modeled efficiency improved even as we moved through cost reduction exercises. The result is a highly insulated building, triple glazed throughout, with a thermally improved, south-facing glass curtainwall system combining vacuum insulated high-performance glass modules with integrally solar shaded, triple glazed vision glass as part of a building with a predicted energy use index (pEUI) in the middle twenties before the introduction of site renewables. AN: Which materials do you believe are reshaping facade practices? ZB: Materials are the agents of larger design strategies shaping the practice such as resilience, sustainability, and human experience. The aim to rethink and cherish historical buildings, for example, leads to a careful layering of existing and new materials that contrast and simultaneously enhance each other. Heavy textured concrete at the Smith Center is supplemented by light and open transparent glass, green walls and warm wood. Traditional brick block at Congress Square is juxtaposed with a floating glass box on top of sculptural fiber-reinforced plastic panels. On the other hand, the vision to create new landmarks that celebrate and reshape the Boston skyline result in the careful sculpting of distinctive volumes as in One Dalton, a tall glass skyscraper with careful incisions of exterior carved spaces for human use. Finally, the goal to produce energy efficient but playful envelopes leads to a game of patterns composed of an inner insulated layer with an outer wrapper of perforated metal screens or angled aluminum fins. Each choice of material and its manipulation reflects a larger vision to create a unique experience in the city. Further information regarding Facades+ Boston can be found here.
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Building a Spire to Heaven

France launches an international competition to rebuild Notre Dame’s spire
After the Notre Dame Cathedral tragically caught fire earlier this week, it seemed that work to rebuild what was lost could take decades. However, in a televised address last night, French president Emmanuel Macron declared that he would be pushing an ambitious five-year schedule and would be reopening the cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Additionally, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that France would be holding an international design competition to rebuild the cathedral’s downed spire. “This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility,” said Philippe, adding that the new design should be “adapted to technologies and challenges of our times.” Rather than strictly recreating Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s original barbed spire from the mid-1800s (itself an invention added after the French Revolution and wind damage left the cathedral in shambles), Philippe questioned if it was time to modernize the building. Philippe reportedly asked, "whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc…or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre-Dame with a new spire." No timetable or cost for the spire competition has been announced as of yet, but funding likely won’t be an issue. At the time of writing, $900 million has been pledged for Notre Dame’s reconstruction as hundred-million-Euro donations from some of the world’s wealthiest people and corporations continue to flow towards the project.
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Mapping the Amazon

Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere
For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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Where There's a Willis

Hank Willis Thomas creates 25-foot-tall Afro pick for 5th Avenue
A new 25-foot-tall statue of an Afro pick now stands outside The Africa Center in East Harlem, New York. All Power to All People, created by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, was erected last Friday in its temporary location on 5th Avenue. Designed in collaboration with the Kindred Arts cultural equity initiative, the steel sculpture is intended to honor and celebrate cultural identities of the African diaspora. Thomas worked with fabricator Jeff Schomberg to imagine the larger-than-life Afro pick, which sits at an angle on a black podium and features a handle in the outline of a clenched fist. The design is an iteration of Thomas's 2017 sculpture made with Monument Lab in Philadelphia for Thomas Paine Plaza. In connection with the Afro pick’s distinct cultural and political identity, the piece symbolizes the strength, comradery, and perseverance of the African-American community, as well as the ongoing pursuit for equal rights, justice, and belonging.  Marsha Reid, executive director of Kindred Arts and producer of the project, noted the important location of the installation. “Representation matters,” she said, “and this monumental art is placed here at The Africa Center in the heart of the community, with the purpose of inspiring conversation and facilitating a space where communities might affirm cultural citizenship and freely express identity.” All Power to All People will be on display through July 7, 2019, in the public plaza outside The Africa Center at 1280 Fifth Avenue in New York City. A slew of public programs will coincide with the monumental installation. For more information, visit The Africa Center’s website.
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OMA Heads West

Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu plot inventive works across California

Although the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has been in business for decades and keeps a steadily growing constellation of offices around the globe, the firm has, until recently, had a relatively modest profile on the American West Coast.

But things are changing. As West Coast cities pursue new building efforts—including new neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive public parks, and experiments in multiuse complexes—OMA’s brand of frank intellectualism has slowly found a preliminary foothold in California.

The firm’s expanding Golden State presence includes a recently completed urban master plan for Facebook’s Willowbrook campus in Menlo Park, a residential condominium tower in San Francisco, as well as a trio of inventive projects in Los Angeles. Over the next few years, these projects are poised to join the Seattle Central Library and the Prada Epicenter Los Angeles, both from 2004, OMA’s only completed West Coast projects to date.

The latest westward push represents an ascendant energy emanating from the firm’s New York office, where OMA partners Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu lead many dynamic projects taking shape across the continent and in Japan. When asked if a new California outpost was in the works for OMA, Shigematsu replied, “It’s always been a dream of ours,” before adding that current conditions were favorable but not exactly right for a potential OMA West branch. “Maybe if we get more projects out here.”

First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)

Also created in collaboration with Studio-MLA, the new First and Broadway Park in Los Angeles is set to contain a playful 100,000-square-foot retail, food, and cultural programming pavilion that anchors the ecologically sensitive park. The pavilion will be capped with an edible rooftop garden and a dining terrace that overlooks L.A.’s City Hall.

Along the ground, the park will be wrapped with ribbons of bench seating, elements fashioned to create interlocking outdoor rooms and plazas surrounded by native oak and sycamore trees. Water-absorbing landscapes around the seating areas are designed to harvest and retain rainwater while solar collection and a “Golden California” landscape lend the project its ecological bona fides.

The Avery (Transbay Block 8)

Related California’s crenelated 575-foot tower, known as The Avery, is part of a larger development created in conjunction with Fougeron Architecture for a blank site in downtown San Francisco’s bustling Transbay District.

For the project, the designers have carved a generous paseo through the buildable envelope for the site, creating a new retail and amenity plaza while also lending a tapered look to the 55-story tower. The gesture animates views for a collection of condominiums, market-rate apartments, and affordable housing units while also bringing sunlight down into the paseo and to the mid-rise block designed by Fougeron. Currently under construction, the tower is expected to open in 2019.

Audrey Irmas Pavilion

The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is the firm’s first cultural and religious project in the region. The trapezoidal building shares a site with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and is made up of three interlocking volumes that connect to the outdoors via a sunken rooftop garden designed by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA. An arched portal connects to a shared breezeway between the pavilion and the temple, which is framed by the leaning pavilion. The latter was designed with a pronounced slant both out of deference to historical structure and to illuminate the courtyard.

Referencing unbuilt proposals for Universal City and the L.A. County Museum of Art, Rem Koolhaas, OMA cofounder, said, “[The Pavilion] is part of a very consistent effort to do things here. It’s exciting if one thing happens to succeed, because architecture is a very complex profession where maybe a quarter of all attempts get anywhere.”

The Plaza at Santa Monica

Shigematsu explains that one concern driving the firm’s California projects involves delving into the region’s rich history of indoor-outdoor living. The approach is fully on display in The Plaza at Santa Monica, a 500,000-square-foot staggered mass of interlocking buildings intended to create a new mix of public outdoor spaces.

With a cultural venue embedded in the heart of the complex and ancillary indoor and outdoor public spaces laid out across building terraces, the complex aims for a unique take on the regional indoor-outdoor typology. The building is set to contain offices, a 225-suite hotel, as well as a market hall and public ice-skating rink.

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Kidney Beans

Chinese blogger pays penalty after claiming ZHA complex has bad feng shui
Chinese real estate developer SOHO China has won a 200,000 yuan—nearly $30,000—libel case against a blogger who wrote that the Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)-designed Wangjing SOHO was bringing bad luck to its tenants. In November of last year, a blog run by Zhuhai Shengun Network Technology wrote that the triple-building office complex in Beijing had bad feng shui. Among the article’s many claims is that the pebble-shaped buildings looked like “pig kidneys” and that they were a “Waterloo” for the companies working within. The post, which was viewed over 100,000 times before being deleted from messaging platform WeChat, went on to say that larger companies should flee the Wangjing SOHO unless they wanted their growth to slow. On April 10, a Beijing district court ordered that the blog operator pay $29,796 and apologize to SOHO China. In its verdict, the court ruled that the article “applies superstition to Wangjing Soho building, which institutes defamation,” according to the South China Morning Post. The blog itself, S Shengunju S, was deleted in November along with 9,800 other accounts as part of a larger social media post and blog purge by the Chinese government. Feng shui is an ancient practice of precisely orienting buildings and their interiors to invite in energy, wealth, and prosperity that still has many modern adherents all over the world. However, regardless of whether the feng shui of the 5.4 million-square-foot Wangjing SOHO is off or not, the complex has been a success by more than one measure; after the complex’s design was “stolen” in 2013, it went on to win several awards and has a 98 percent occupancy rate.