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The Renegades

Bruce Goff’s imaginative teaching lives on in Oklahoma
Most architecture students study design precedents or build upon knowledge gained in history courses, but one mid-century educator repeatedly told young minds instead: 
Do not try to remember.
Bruce Goff, a self-trained architect and long-time mentee of Frank Lloyd Wright, instilled this idea in his students at the University of Oklahoma (OU) during his tenure as chairman there from 1947 to 1955. Instead of copying the popular Beaux Arts and Bauhaus styles of the recent past, Goff wanted architects in training to express their own creativity and views of the world through designs that avoided architectural stereotypes and instead presented a radical future. This era of educational exploration and disruption became known as the American School of architecture. Historian and OU Visiting Associate Professor Dr. Luca Guido is the curator behind the exhibition, Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell. Now on view in OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library, it details the widespread influence of Goff’s personal teaching style and the program he built, which attracted students to the American Midwest from as far as Japan and South America. The exhibit features large-scale drawings by alumni, as well as uncovered models and writings from Goff’s students and colleagues like Herb Greene, Elizabeth Bauer Mock, Bart Prince, Mendel Glickman, and Jim Gardner, and Bob Bowlby, among others. Built from the school’s expansive American School archives, the show unveils former students' work that’s been so pristinely preserved and restored, it all looks like it was completed yesterday. Goff, who seemed to have encouraged serious attention to presentation, penmanship, and shading, left behind what Guido considers a “gold mine” of materials. Every framed assignment on view is a piece of art in and of itself—a testament to the architectural educator’s guidance. “Bruce Goff introduced a new architectural pedagogy,” Guido said, “and the School of Architecture at OU endeavored to develop the creative skills of the students as individuals rather than followers of any particular trend. The drawings represent the evidence of an extraordinary and, at the same time, little known page of the history of American contemporary architecture.” That history is one that OU is now trying more heavily to build upon. As one of just two architecture schools in Oklahoma, OU lures students from across the state, nearby Texas, and around the globe to the small town of Norman. It was considered a world-class institution during Goff’s years and still seeks to live up to that legacy today. Since becoming head of the school three years ago, Dean Hans E. Butzer has worked to re-elevate its status. “Our discussions over the past few years prove a symmetry between those defining aspects of the American School and the overarching strategic priorities of the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture,” he said. “The work of the American School of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s may be described as contextual, resourceful, and experimental. Today, we have set the goal of graduating entrepreneurial students who design resilient cities, towns, and landscapes through the lens of social equity and environmental sustainability.” This idea is evident in the success of last year’s graduating class. As of fall 2018, one hundred percent of architecture students secured a full-time position within six months of graduation, according to Butzer. Only two, the faculty jokes, didn’t get hired. They instead went on to begin master’s degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. When asked why OU graduates are so attractive to firms across the country, Butzer noted the work ethic and creative problem-solving skills they learned as students. Teaching students to speak up, stand out, and work hard can be traced back to Goff’s presence at the school and his own career as an eccentric architect who always put the client first and aimed to “go the extra mile,” according to Guido. His modus operandi was to first connect deeply with the client, ensuring the end result was strictly their vision. His objective was to never design a building he personally wanted to live in. Some of Goff’s most famous structures, the Ledbetter House in Norman, the ill-fated Bavinger House that was demolished in 2016, as well as the Bachman House in Chicago, took on forms reminiscent of Wright’s residential work—low-lying residential homes with surprisingly large interiors, cantilevered carports, and large windows—but they all displayed a curious amount of flamboyancy that was signature to Goff himself. The architecture of his early years, such as the historic Tulsa Club and the Art Deco-designed Boston Avenue Methodist Church, are celebrated landmarks in Tulsa and reveal Goff’s visual personality. Goff was also a champion of sustainable and site-specific construction; he often utilized local materials for his projects. Fittingly, Goff rejected the idea of having a personal style of architecture. Some of Goff’s mid-century work and the sketches of his students from this time seem to be inspired by Atomic Age tropes. Viewing them now, they’re so futuristic they probably seemed structurally unbuildable at the time, but the geometries that came out of the American School were forward-thinking and technically-advanced. During Goff’s leadership, architectural courses fell within OU’s College of Engineering where students were taught how to complete construction drawings and to specify materials. But in Goff’s classes, it was all about creativity. “Bruce Goff didn’t believe in critiques,” said Guido. “He wanted them completely free to propose what they wanted. The assignments were structured around abstract themes that allowed the students to express themselves in the best possible way because for Goff, there would be no little Corbusier's, no little Mies's, and even no little Goff's. He didn’t want his students to become followers of someone. He wanted them to abandon all memory of what came before them.” Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at Bizzell is on view through July 29 and will turn into a comprehensive traveling exhibition this year with a stop at Texas A&M University in the fall. The OU Libraries also has plans to secure the preservation of the archives by making them part of the school's Western History Collection and digitizing select images for online research.
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America Last

“Great” construction projects in America? Starchitects say: look elsewhere

A strange thing has been happening at some public architecture talks lately, perhaps you’ve noticed. Over the course of otherwise hopeful and positive discussions covering amazing new projects from around the globe, at some point, usually toward the end of a talk, conversation turns to the current state of American building and infrastructure. And, it's safe to say, people are not happy. Sometimes, the presenter will rip off the bandaid, as Thom Mayne of Morphosis did at a recent Facades+  talk in Los Angeles, when he said, “I hate to be negative, but there’s not much going on in this country architecturally,” before adding, “[But] if you look at architecture around the world, it’s startling…It’s unbelievable, the research [taking place]—I just came back from Shenzhen [China] and I’m looking around [at the skyline] there wondering ‘is there anything left for me to do?’” Other times, a perplexed-sounding audience member will ask what it seems many in attendance had been pondering privately: “Why can’t we build like this here?” 

 It’s a debilitating question that really only has one answer. And although, even when speaking bluntly, everyone tries their best to truth-tell without offending, but the writing is right on the projection screen—building big in America simply isn’t what it used to be, and we don’t know what to do about it.

 “The United States is falling behind,” architect Moshe Safdie explained to a packed room during a recent keynote talk at Palm Springs Modernism Week when asked why the inventive array of projects he had just presented are mostly located outside the United States. “Around the world, the competition [for bold infrastructure] doesn’t stop,” he said, half-jokingly, “until you land at Kennedy or LAX.” 

 To prove his point, Safdie pointed out further that although the Hudson Yards development in New York City is the largest privately-led construction project in the country by square footage, it is easily dwarfed in terms of vision by countless projects around the globe of a similar or larger size. 

 He’s right. Hudson Yards is a dime a dozen as far as global mega-projects are concerned. Safdie’s own Raffles City development in Chongqing, China, for example, might be roughly two-thirds the size of Hudson Yards, but it is going up in less than one-third the time and is almost entirely designed by a single architecture firm—Safdie Architects—with P&T Group International Ltd. serving as architect of record. Safdie’s own portfolio of recent work shows that while New York occasionally will build an elevated billionaire citadel, Chongqing, Singapore, and other cities have tasked his office with erecting bold new structures designed for working people and the public at large, all without sacrificing design quality. 

 Safdie explained that one possible reason why American projects no longer lead the world in terms of size or scale might be due to a “lack of urban initiative,” the type of sustained and calculated political and managerial energy necessary for bringing to life the types of large-scale and lasting projects that have transformed other countries around the world in recent decades. 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Rem Koolhaas, who, when recently asked about the prevalence of NIMBYism in America, explained, “I think you can divide the world into one part that is eager to change and doesn’t have hesitations about things changing, and another part that is totally nervous about change and actually aspires to a kind of stability.” Koolhaas added, “As an architect, every one of your efforts is impacted by this. In the end, however, architecture is always controversial because it proposes to make things different than they are.”

 Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the realm of high-speed rail (HSR), where American decision makers across all levels of government have persisted in remaining tethered to auto-centric planning, condemning the nation to antiquated transportation for at least another generation. A recent article in The New York Times covering the ongoing debacle with California’s tragic HSR project, for example, brings this condition into sharp relief with the following line: “California’s High-Speed Rail Authority…was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail.”

 America has built none. But America’s last-place finish doesn’t end with rail or with deteriorating airports; it includes city-building, too, as Safdie pointed out. Much of America is suffering from some form of housing crisis, whether it’s so-called Rust Belt cities struggling to retain residents or coastal cities that can’t figure out how and where to build new housing fast enough. While American cities have doubled-down on onerous building restrictions and lengthy bureaucratic reviews, politically polarized state and federal governments have worked at cross purposes, too, failing to enact bold plans and avoiding future-oriented thinking at almost all costs. The overarching legacy of redlining, racial segregation, and income inequality has placed a stranglehold over American cities, as well, contributing to intense gentrification when development does occur and debilitating displacement when it doesn’t. Over the last decade, it has become clear that America's public health, land-use, and transportation policies are all woefully out of whack, and the result is stifling the abilities of a generation of well-trained architects and engineers eager to build a better nation. Meanwhile, the world’s urbanizing areas have embraced building vertically, have expanded transit of all sorts, and have worked to enact bold planning initiatives that over a generation have remade the face of global urbanism in the name of interconnectedness, density, and place-making.

 In Europe, for example, France is currently enacting its “Le Grand Paris” plan, a vision that will stitch together the Paris city center with its inner and outer ring suburbs to bring together an urban region of 10 million inhabitants. The plan includes a €30 billion public transit expansion initiative that will create a network of regional transit routes connecting suburbs with one another as well as sizable new investments in social housing, parks, and other equity-minded initiatives.

 But it’s not just Europe. 

 Cairo, Egypt, is building a new $45 billion capital city that, when completed, will become the largest purpose-built capital city by population in the world.

 In India, the country’s largest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, aims to connect the nation’s political and economic capitals with a 900-mile long conurbation made up of 24 urban “nodes.” The plan aims to urbanize 14 percent of India’s population—180 million people—over the next 30 years and will take $100 billion in investment to realize.

 In South America, Argentina’s so-called Belgrano Plan will bring $16 billion in rail expansion to 10 of the country’s neglected northern provinces and will create up to 250,000 new housing units and 1,100 childhood education centers. 

 Saudi Arabia is building new mega cities from scratch, as are China, Singapore, Nigeria, Mauritius, and countless others. 

 None of these projects are perfect socially or environmentally-speaking, to be sure, but one thing they do not lack is vision.

 If it feels like the most impressive work is taking place in other countries, that’s because in many ways, it is, and international architects know perhaps better than anyone else the truth of that reality. Even more, the hesitation, hedging, and hand-wringing that accompanies talk of the current state of American infrastructure and urban vision indicate that the problem runs deeper than a mere lack of funding or risk-averse clients. 

Whether it’s California’s flailing HSR project, the nation’s intractable housing crises, or even, the sad, dispirited political discourse surrounding the Green New Deal—a potentially transformative plan that is barely supported by the party that conceived it—it is clear that America has a crisis of vision, a failure of political will, and perhaps most alarmingly, no real interest in solving its own problems. Look at the Salesforce Transit Center debacle in San Francisco, Elon Musk’s substandard and retrograde transit ideas in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the steady stream of failing bridges and tunnels across the country for further proof. Even Amazon’s HQ2 extravaganza, a year-long publicity stunt by the world’s richest company that wrung billions in incentives from some of the most desperate cities around the country, rightfully withered on the vine. What’s going on here?

 As Safdie quipped, “We were promised infrastructure!” But the truth is that it’s just not happening in America anymore.
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Little Dubai

Welcome to Little Dubai, New York City’s newest neighborhood
In a recent review titled “The Case Against Hudson Yards Diningon Eater, the inimitable food critic Ryan Sutton examined the food and beverage options at the mirage-like, instant Hudson Yards (henceforth Little Dubai), New York City’s newest neighborhood. The dining scene is not a pretty picture, and the food options are just part of the bigger picture, dovetailing with the urbanism to expose the ugliness of 21st-century development culture. As Sutton notes, Little Dubai “is a taxpayer-subsidized development that solidifies Manhattan’s slow transformation from one of the world’s most distinctive urban centers into a nondescript international mall for the wealthy.” His biggest gripe? Rather than representing the wonderful melange of cultures that thrive in New York, the food and beverage programming is a cynical commercialized selection that has no roots in the place it resides. “The only place for pizza—New York’s quintessentially affordable street food—will be a D.C.-based chain where a lunchtime Margherita starts at $11.50. The only Chinese-leaning restaurant will be an ‘East meets West’ spot run by a Dutch guy known for his competent Continental spots in airports, concert halls, and museums,” he laments. The condition Sutton describes could easily be in a number of cities around the world, where international flavors are imported wholesale and in no particular fashion or relationship to the place they now inhabit. This cultural importation is a new ideology: In an era where financial markets and soft power makes national borders less and less important, it makes sense that a new type of immigrant cultural exchange would begin to take hold—one that no longer even requires physical, transnational immigration. Cultural exchange can now take place on airplanes, waves of capital, and wires of data in an age of nearly frictionless globalization. That is how New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai, got its character. As much as Little Dubai’s food selections should shock us, so should the art and architecture. The art follows a similar path as the food with superstar curators—ubercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist is a senior advisor—brought in to inject the place with some kind of pop-up world-class culture, much like what the UAE did at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the name and collection were rubber-clone-stamped from the old world of Europe to the open expanses of the 21st-century Gulf, where anything goes. Or consider Rain Room, the phenomenon that had lines around the block at MoMA in 2013. The Sharjah Art Foundation has not only acquired Rain Room for its permanent collection, but they built an entire new building to house it. This kind of cultural exchange—that of international consultants—relies on enormous amounts of capital to lubricate its mechanisms. No longer does it require, however, actual immigration or imperialism to carry culture from one place to the next, as was the case in the 19th and 20th centuries when neighborhoods like Little Italy’s, Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and Little Ethiopias naturally popped up around the world. Rather than streets of mom-and-pop shops, entire campus-like neighborhoods are instantly animated as breathing lungs of cultural import-export, with nothing to stop them. Which brings us to the architecture of Little Dubai. There are several similarities to Dubai at Hudson Yards. The most obvious is that the towers themselves look like those non-descript condos and offices that make up most of the building stock in Dubai. Moreover, the neighborhood was master planned by KPF, who also crank out towers in the Gulf and Asia more generally. The similarities run deeper, from the food to the development patterns to the urban experience. Like any good enclave, the mechanisms that have produced Little Dubai look a lot like those that produced the original Dubai and its urban environment. This is not to say that Little Dubai necessarily comes from Dubai itself. It is not that simple. In fact, New York and developing nations such as the UAE and China are in a constant feedback loop, where the West exports ideas about managerial production systems such as large architecture firms and the corresponding banal corporate aesthetics. As Michel Foucault once noted,
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.
“Firms like KPF and Foster take on these projects overseas where they can grow and practice working as larger firms,” said Todd Reisz, assistant professor at Yale, “Once they get big and good enough, they can bring these ideas about—how to make a city from the ground up—back home.” This is how New York’s Little Dubai came to be. The original Dubai was opened up to private land ownership in 2002 in an attempt to become a stable place post-9/11 for foreigners—especially Middle Easterners, Africans, and South Asians—to park their money. Special economic zones were established that allowed business and development to operate without the strict controls of Shariah that governed the rest of the UAE. In these economic zones, international trade was encouraged by specially crafted civil legal code geared specifically toward port businesses (foreign investment.) For example, a team of international consultants from mega-firm McKinsey advised the Dubai government in 2002 to draft a set of UK-style regulations for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone, a “state within a state” that would operate with a different official currency—the U.S. dollar— and a different official language—English—than the rest of the UAE. It was designed by none other than architectural behemoth Gensler. This international managerial complex was the logical conclusion of some 300 years of colonial urbanization of developing nations around the world, perfected by the UAE government. Companies like Emaar and Dubai Holdings buy and develop enormous plots of land that serve as self-sustaining neighborhoods that don’t need to have much connection to their surroundings. Because of their sheer size, and the scale of the projects they oversee, these massive companies also obscure the relationship between public and private. In New York’s Little Dubai, a similar situation exists. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) acts a bit like the real estate state of the UAE, doing large rezonings and tax incentives to foster these big developments. Nearly 1 billion dollars in tax abatements were given to Related Cos., Little Dubai’s developer, in addition to nearly 4.6 million in infrastructure improvements and other incentives. And often, because of the private nature, DCP has little authority to begin with. Because the development is on state-owned land, there was no oversight from community boards. The parcel became part of a larger economic development strategy that usurps local regulation, leaving the citizens of New York City more-or-less out of the conversation. Little Dubai is regulated by a network of rules and capital that transcends physical territory, just like the “Old World” Dubai in UAE (this model is also being pursued by ultimate cloud-based dark-power-mongers Google in Toronto). This has led to a sort of Free Economic Zone, where Stephen M. Ross, Related’s chairman, is a sort of urban autocrat, pushing through what he wants when he wants. For example, in Little Dubai, Thomas Heatherwick’s 154-staircase monument Vessel was simply ordered for $200 million, shipped from Italy, and fastened together in about 18 months, with little in the way of design review or public process. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises important questions. At 28 acres (0.042 sq miles, or 11 hectares), Little Dubai has the characteristics of an entire neighborhood, with its own circulation paths, central public space, and complete set of programmatic functions from retail, residential, commercial, “cultural,” and leisure/hospitality spaces carefully orchestrated in both plan and section. Dubai is a place where these large private developments have happened so fast that they do not relate to one another on the street-level. The piecemeal nature leaves hotels and malls and gated communities difficult to access because nothing was planned to connect at the street. While Dubai’s infrastructure haphazardly connects these megadevelopments with curls of spaghetti-like roads and onramps, Hudson Yards has similarly managed to bend New York’s infrastructure to its will—the 7 subway line was extended to the northern entrance to Little Dubai’s main plaza. Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.) The process of globalization and the complete control of technocratic consultants has crystallized in spectacular fashion before our eyes in New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai. What remains to be seen is how the local context will absorb this pseudo-neighborhood. What is scary for New Yorkers is that it seems like it is going to fit right into its place at the apex of the Highline.
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Ceramically Inclined

From research to practice: Catching up with Jenny Sabin
Being able to translate research finds into practical applications on a construction site is never a sure thing, but having a lab-to-studio pipeline definitely helps. For Jenny Sabin, that means a close integration between her lab at the Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), and her eponymous studio in Ithaca, New York. Sabin wears three hats: A teacher with a focus on emerging technologies at Cornell, principal investigator of Cornell’s Sabin Design Lab, and principal of Jenny Sabin Studio. The overlap between the lab and the studio means that Sabin has an incubator for fundamental research that can that can be refined and integrated into real-world projects. When AN last toured the Sabin Design Lab, researchers were hard at work using robot arms for novel 3D printing solutions and were looking at sunflowers for inspiration for designing the next generation of photovoltaics. The projects stemming from fundamental research have been realized in projects ranging from the ethereal canopy over MoMA PS1’s courtyard in 2017 to a refinement of the studio’s woven forms for a traveling Peroni pop-up. Rather than directly referencing nature in the biomimetic sense, Sabin’s projects instead draw inspiration from, and converge with, natural processes and forms. Here are a few examples of what Sabin, her team, and collaborators are working on. PolyBrick Brick and tile have been standardized construction materials for hundreds of years, but Sabin Design Lab’s PolyBrick pushes nonstandard ceramics into the future. The first iteration of PolyBrick imagined an interlocking, component-based “brick” that could twist, turn, and eliminate the need for mortar. PolyBrick 1.0 used additive 3D printing to create hollow, fired, and glazed ceramic blocks that could one day be low-cost brick alternatives that would enable the creation of complex forms. PolyBrick 2.0 took the concept even further by emulating human bone growth, creating porous, curvilinear components that Sabin and her team of researchers and students hope to scale up to wall and pavilion size. PolyBrick 3.0 is even more advanced. The 3D-printed blocks contain microscopic divots and are glazed with DNA hydrogel; the polymer coating can react to a variety of situations. Imagine a bioengineered facade glaze that can change color based on air pollution levels or temperature changes, or a component “stamped” with a unique DNA profile for easy supply chain tracking. Responsive textiles As Sabin notes, knitting is an ancient craft, but one that laid the foundation for the digital age; the punch cards used in early computers were originally designed for looms. As material requirements evolve, so too must the material itself, and Jenny Sabin Studio has been experimenting with lightweight, cellular structures woven into self-supporting forms. Sabin’s most famous such installations are gossamer canopies of digitally knit, tubular structures that absorb, store, and re-emit sunlight at night to illuminate repurposed spool chairs. MoMA PS1’s Lumen for YAP 2017, House of Peroni’s Luster, and the 2016 Beauty-Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial installation PolyThread have all pushed textile science forward. As opposed to rigidly defined stonework or stalwart glass, woven architecture takes on ambiguous forms. As GSAPP’s Christoph Kumpusch pointed out while in conversation with Sabin at the House of Peroni opening in NYC last October, these tensile canopies proudly display their boundary conditions instead of hiding them like more traditional forms. The dangling, sometimes-expanded, sometimes-flaccid fabric cones extrude from the cells of the woven canopy and naturally delineate the programming of the area below. These stalactites create the feeling of wandering through a natural formation and encourage a playful, tactile exploration of the space. Kirigami Origami and kirigami (a form of paper folding that requires cutting) are traditional practices that, like other techniques previously mentioned, have seen a modern resurgence in everything from solar sails to airbags. The Sabin Lab has taken an interest in kirigami, particularly its ability to expand two-dimensional representations into three-dimensional forms. The lab’s transdisciplinary research has blended material science, architecture, and electrical engineering to create rapidly deployable, responsive, and scalable architecture that can unpack at a moment’s notice. Two projects, ColorFolds and UniFolds, were made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation. ColorFolds was realized as a canopy of tessellated “blossoms,” each made from polycarbonate panels covered in dichroic film. The modules open or close in response to the density of the crowd below, creating a shimmering exploration of structural color—3M’s dichroic film produces color by scattering and diffusing light through nanoscale structures rather than using pigments. Visitors below the ColorFolds installation were treated to chromatic, shifting displays of light as the flock-like piece rearranged itself. UniFolds reimagined the Unisphere in Queens’s Flushing Meadow Park as part of the Storefront for Art and Architecture show Souvenirs: New New York Icon, which asked architects and artists to produce objects inspired by New York City icons. The 140-foot-tall, 120-foot-diameter landmarked Unisphere was the centerpiece of the 1964 World’s Fair, and Sabin Design Lab’s UniFolds piece references the utopian aspirations of the sphere and domed architecture more broadly. By using holes, folds, and strategic cuts, Sabin Labs has envisioned a modular dome system that’s quick to unfold and can be replicated at any scale, which is part of the “Interact Locally, Fold Globally,” methodology used to guide both kirigami projects.
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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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Labiomista

Mario Botta’s sanctuary for cosmopolitan super chickens rises in Belgium
In a giant cage-conservatory in Genk, Belgium, a toucan is making eyes at me. It has flown onto a nearby perch from a giant nest emblazoned with the neon words “fertility comes from outside” to get closer to a bowl of grapes on my table. After a small, not-so-gracious jump, the bird trots over the table and takes its prize. “They’re confident, aren’t they!” says Koen Vanmechelen proudly, also tucking into the grapes. The already surreal environment is further heightened when the Belgian artist tells me that we're in a studio—something he calls “The Battery”—which is part of his "Cosmopolitan Chicken Project." We're in the Labiomista—a 60-acre complex, the 53,000-square-foot main building and entranceway of which has been designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Labiomista, in Vanmechelen’s terms, translates to “mixture of life” and that’s exactly what the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) is attempting to make. The 20-year-old crossbreeding program samples chickens from across the world and naturally breeds them, creating a more diverse and subsequently stronger gene pool. As a result, places like Zimbabwe and Ethiopia where Vanmechelen has farms have access to chickens that can live longer in harsh conditions and produce more to benefit communities in need. In Genk, Labiomista showcases this work with flamboyant aplomb. The space is filled with huge chicken portraits alongside stuffed birds (that have died naturally). By the ground floor entrance, 40 stuffed chickens, native to countries across the world, reside neatly on shelves in a recessed alcove behind glass windows. Vanmechelen has found fame using naturally deceased animals as a medium, and more taxidermy with different animals, stretching beyond Genk’s typical fauna, can be found inside. The animal art is dotted around the Botta-designed “Battery”—a steel-framed building with polished concrete floors and a series of 20-foot-high windows that provides an open, flexible space for Vanmechelen. The Battery is split in two and is composed of three floors: At the western end, which is raised, is ground level storage space primed for pick-ups and drop-offs; the second floor showcases Vanmechelen’s art; the third, a mezzanine level that has an interior perimeter balcony hosts an office and more storage space. To the east, visitors will find an open-air gallery where stuffed chickens can be found and there will soon be an enclosure for (live) red junglefowl, the bird from which most domestic chickens descend. “Genk is a wounded place,” said Vanmechelen on a walk around the premises. The small city, which has a population of 65,000, was once home to a successful coal mine, but after that and a zoo that Vanmechelen visited as a child closed, there has been “20 years of nothing.” Botta has taken the site’s history and Vanmechelen’s investment as his cue. The architect has employed black, coal-like, brick to skin the building and cages, which sit on top and on the western side of The Battery, emulate the tectonics of the defunct Winterslag Colliery nearby. As for the rest of the site, Vanmechelen’s plans are edging closer to completion. The "Cosmopolitan Culture Park" will be a zoo of sorts, home to domesticated alpacas, nandus, llamas, emus, camels, dromedaries, and ostriches as well as a breeding area for chickens. The animals will be enclosed by natural elements such as a small lake, a moat, and ha-ha walls designed by Belgian landscaping firm Buro Landschap, keeping them from getting too close to visitors and vice-versa. Vanmechelen has curated a journey through the park; a one-mile-long serpentine concrete pathway traverses the park’s topography from the Botta-designed entrance (Vanmechelen calls it the “Ark”) round to The Battery. The park also accommodates large-scale sculptures from Vanmechelen and an amphitheater that will be used as a venue for talks by locals, artists, and scientists. A significant proportion of the park will also be left untouched per an agreement with Belgium’s National Parks Department and will be used to bring back wolves to the area. “People, when they come here, need to understand that it’s a place about human rights and a sustainable society,” said Vanmechelen. “The evolution of the chicken is part of human culture and everyone should be able to see that here.” Labiomista is scheduled to be open to visitors this summer.
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Smart Design

Archive of modernist residential architecture thrives in North Carolina
All of the back issues of The Architect’s Newspaper have recently become available online as the publication has joined a digital archive of virtually all of the major U.S. architecture and design magazines of the 20th century: the US Modernist Library. This free, searchable database is the work of George Smart, founder and director of USModernist, a non-profit based in Raleigh, North Carolina, whose mission is to document, preserve, and promote mid-century and modernist residential architecture. Smart refers to himself as an accidental archivist, which turns out to be an accurate description. First: What Smart is not. He’s not an architect, a student of art history, architecture, or architectural history. For most of his life, his primary professional identity has been as a management consultant. But in January 2007, Smart's life changed when he visited Fallingwater. Entirely overcome, he returned home, purchased Styrofoam and model material, designed what eventually became his own modernist home, and started researching local North Carolina modernist architecture. It turns out he had a lot close to home: he found over 2,400 houses in the state. This is largely because of the efforts of Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of the School of Architecture at North Carolina State from 1948 to 1973. But online, there was little to be found beyond the greatest hits of the most famous architects. As Smart spoke with friends and neighbors, he realized that many were interested in modernist architecture, in part because so many had grown up in modernist homes. He started a website, then organized local tours, then dinners, then movie nights, then Modernist House networking happy hours. The launch of a podcast about modernist architecture, US Modernist Radio, took Smart’s work beyond the state. At around the same time, a local realtor dumped off a huge trove of old architecture magazines to Smart’s garage. He started to scan them and to add them to his website. The periodicals date to the late 19th century, including Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architecture, and others including the entirety of The Architect’s Newspaper. The magazines complement a second database of photos and records documenting the residential work of all major mid-century U.S. architects. Volunteers around the country now regularly send in photos of these homes, and a bevy of researchers help to fill in gaps where information is missing. This little project has become possibly the largest online digital archive about residential modernist design in the world. With more than two and a half million pages, the site is enjoyed by up to a million people annually. Obviously, this is more than a casual side gig. Smart speaks to communities all over the United States, teaching them how to start a local organization that will document, preserve, and promote these houses, which are being torn down at an alarming rate. He has found that the enemy of preservation is almost always vacancy, which leads to a domino-effect of neglect and, often, to demolition. As the writer, academic, and architectural historian Alan Hess noted, “When we tear down buildings it’s like we’re committing cultural amnesia; we’re destroying part of our memory. And no person can survive with amnesia.”
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Structural Surprises

Atlanta's nature-filled Serenbe community allows residential architecture to pop
Set deep within the Chattahoochee Hills of northwestern Georgia are four carefully-curated, close-knit communities each designed to emulate architectural styles that could be found around the world. Serenbe, a 1,000-acre neighborhood housing over 350 homes outside Atlanta, offers its residents vastly different aesthetic experiences from hamlet—as they call them—to hamlet via the power of placemaking. Conceived over 15 years ago by Atlanta restauranteur Steve Nygren, Serenbe is designed around a quartet of individual hamlets—Selbourne, Grange, Mado, and the upcoming Mado West—all connected by a few roads and miles of nature trails. The entire site has become a sprawling live and play destination that attracts a diverse group of young families, part-time residents from Atlanta’s core, as well as retirees. Since opening, some have called it a New Urbanist enclave, while others see it as an oasis that provides both access to ample greenery and comforts of city life like walkable downtowns and unique cultural opportunities. For the design-minded, what’s most curious about Serenbe are the various building types packed within each hamlet. From straight-laced Southern homes to metal-clad boxes and Scandinavian-inspired apartment complexes, Serenbe’s architecture is an education in the field of residential design itself. According to Nygren, each hamlet’s architecture is largely influenced by the purpose it serves. For example, Selborne, the first hamlet completed, serves as Serenbe's culture and arts sector. Its Main Street resembles an American downtown with touches of Italian influence found on the building ornamentations. The structures in Grange, which houses Serenbe’s agrarian efforts, evoke both a farmhouse and agro-industrial feel. Mado, a two-part hamlet that’s now under construction, is Serenbe’s sector for health and well-being where the architecture takes on more minimalist designs inspired by Copenhagen and cities in Sweden. Though it may sound like Serenbe is a cookie-cutter community full of non-site-specific architecture, and, if you go there, the whole community will look practically pristine in every way and almost too idyllic, the reality is that the build-out of Serenbe has been meticulously planned to maximize authenticity. Dictated by the Nygren family and the new architecture firm, Serenbe Planning and Design, led by Steve Dray and Cecilia Winston, every adjustment made to an existing home, as well as every new structure built, goes through an extensive design review process where the site, architectural language, floor plan, and other community guidelines are considered before a design decision is made. All the materials used for construction must be original, sustainable, and in keeping with the style found throughout each hamlet. What’s more is that Serenbe’s architecture, much like the popular outposts of Atlanta restaurants on site, is actually an eclectic mix of Serenbe’s strict style and that of other outside architects. Collaborators have included Bill Ingram Architect, J Ryan Duffey Architect, Peter Block Architects, Kemp Hall Studio, and Smith Hanes Studio. AN toured Serenbe during the Nygren Placemaking Conference where the Nygren family annually spells out the story of Serenbe and how it functions as both a business and living destination. Part of what attracts people to Serenbe, according to its residents, is the collection of surprising structures populating the hamlets and how, architecturally, they express the personalities of the people living there.
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A Rolling Stone…

Design legend Murray Moss discusses the future of "anti-disciplinarity"
As the semester closes out, select Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students are likely reflecting on one of the fall’s more atypical visiting teachers. Murray Moss, the figure behind the eponymous Moss, one of the 21st century’s most iconic design galleries and stores, has been taking his knowledge of art and design to RISD, where he delivered two lectures that were followed by graduate workshops at the RISD Museum. When I met with Moss in the lobby of his hotel, he was in a genial mood, sort of unabashedly prepared in his self-professed unpreparedness (a fib; he had quite a bit of material to riff on) for his lecture later that night, titled “Interdisciplinary Design Becomes the Norm.” “I'm not a lecturer,” he admitted, “but I thought, well, at this point I could try anything. What do I have to lose?” The first lecture, delivered this past October, was titled “In Search of a Narrative.” In it, Moss asked design students to consider the narratives and histories objects embody and tell. Sort of. “An object can't tell you anything,” Moss told me in the lobby of his hotel, speaking of his own approach as a curator of design and about what he enjoys about working with students, “but a person can. They can share the way they see what they've done...If what they start to say to me is interesting, then I start to like the thing.” He has, he claims, “never in [his] life seen a trend.” I asked Moss about the increasingly blurry boundary between art, architecture, and design—something that has come to define young gallerists like Jay Ezra Nayssan of Annex LA or Benoît Wolfrom and Javier Peres of Functional Art. “My question would be, why do you ask?” Moss responded. “It's like, what is interdisciplinarity? Why do you care? Who told you that's something you were supposed to waste five minutes on.” I pointed out he was about to “waste” an hour on it. “I know. But I didn't know what it was. I always get in this mess. I pick a topic, because I think it's going to be good, and then five minutes after I agree to do it, it turns out, I read something and I'm like, ‘This is a horrible subject.’ And I'm stuck with it.” His talk, which opened with winking self-deprecation, was, however, decidedly not horrible. He used his subject and its title, which he admitted he picked before he wrote the lecture, as a launching pad to undo the expectations built into the title. If interdisciplinarity is already the norm, then what’s next? “What’s emerging,” Moss told students “is much more radical.” He suggests that “we must pass through, it seems, interdisciplinarity in order to attain anti-disciplinarity.” He suggests that instead of being siloed into fields and disciplines and their correspondent singular methodologies, or even working together with other disciplines, thus still acknowledging those disciplines, we must work in the spaces between disciplines or after them all together that is, anti-disciplinarity—increasingly relevant today. Speaking to students he told them to “check [their] opinion bags at the door,” before exploring the possibilities of learning and creating beyond disciplines and without the confines of taken-for-granted foreknowledge. He then showed off the work of designers, artists, and mathematicians who he says work in the spaces between disciplines, including Ingo Maurer, Maarten Baas, Cathy McClure, and Haresh Lalvani. Although Moss professed disgust at the idea he might have any legacy as a “motivational speaker,” he still has a deep belief in learning and in encouraging new generations to think widely and chase new ideas, part of his motivation for teaching with a radical ethos that looks at the personal and looks for thoughts that exceed and even destroy traditionally held boundaries. “I think that we owe it to the younger people to encourage them to soar.”
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WeWork Hard, WePlay Hard

WeWork is using user data to chart their meteoric expansion
With a quarter million members in 283 buildings across 75 different cities (and another 183 locations in the pipeline), WeWork is on an expansion tear that’s grown to include retail, education, and maybe even full neighborhoods somewhere down the line. With the company’s first ground-up building, Dock 72, nearly complete in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, AN spoke with the designers and researchers who are making WeWork’s growth possible and tried to divine where the company is going next. In a conversation on the future of data and workplace design at the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, Devin Vermeulen, creative director, and Daniel Davis, director of fundamental research, discussed how WeWork is “refining the future of the open office.” Most architecture firms design offices as one-off projects and rarely collect feedback once the spaces are occupied, but because WeWork both designs and manages their co-working spaces, the company can collect post-occupancy data. Through the collection of data via user feedback and integrated sensors, the company has created a massive pool of information from which to build its design guidelines. Planning a floor layout within the constraints of existing buildings can prove challenging, and WeWork is constantly tweaking and updating its offices based on tenant feedback. Every WeWork location outputs a massive amount of what Davis calls “data exhaust,” the information collected as a byproduct of tenants going about their day. Davis points out that data is just a proxy for user interaction, and the feedback collected through WeWork’s room booking app or surveys is just one metric of how their occupants feel. The design of each location changes accordingly based on a user’s needs. Underutilized conference rooms can either be reconfigured to make them more appealing—cramped rooms can be reorganized, and dark rooms can be lit differently—or repurposed into different uses entirely. There’s no reason that a lesser-used conference room can’t be turned into a lounge if it draws tenants. Feedback is aggregated and forms the core of WeWork’s design guidelines worldwide. The key to translating those guidelines across 22 countries is that, as the senior vice president and head of design at WeWork, Federico Negro, describes, only 90 percent of the guidelines are used across all offices. The remaining ten percent varies to adapt to local markets. When WeWork expands into a new city or state, it hires local architects to adapt its traditional model. This might mean a long communal table in Scandinavian offices as everyone gathers to eat lunch together, or larger meeting rooms in China, where one-on-one meetings are eschewed for team gatherings. The local architectural team is vertically integrated with the maintenance staff and utilizes feedback on trash routes, the ease of changing light bulbs, and other practical considerations when creating a layout. As hyped as the bromance between Bjarke Ingels and WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann has been, the Danish architect won’t be contributing much to the company’s day-to-day architecture work; the first “chief architect” will be focusing his attention on marquee projects like the WeGrow pilot school. The ultimate goal of the collaboration is to help WeWork expand into neighborhood planning, something outside of their current design scope. WeWork’s furniture and lighting solutions may appear similar to what's used in other spaces, but everything at WeWork is designed and fabricated by in-house teams. The resultant pieces are tested in WeWork offices, tweaked, and rolled out as kits-of-parts for designers to mix and match as they see fit. On a recent visit to WeWork’s New York City headquarters in Chelsea, the sixth-floor lounge had recently been revamped with plants, technicolor couches, and custom lighting fixtures. The airy palette might have seemed novel to those familiar with the company’s darker coworking spaces of five years ago, but as WeWork grows and matures its aesthetic, what works in the headquarters will ultimately trickle down to its older locations. Negro describes the process as rolling out design like “software updates." Circulation has been given special emphasis in the company’s design considerations, according to Davis. While his team’s algorithmically-generated desk layouts may optimize the number of seats in a WeWork office, guiding people to navigate those spaces in a certain way helps encourage face-to-face interactions. The most obvious intervention is the staircase; at the Chelsea location, the stairs have been relocated to the center of the floor and connect to floating “sky lobbies." Each floor is anchored by its stair, and circulation flows around it out of necessity. That circulation can help guide and divide the energy of the floor, keeping raucous lounge get-togethers distinct from the more subdued private call booths or conference rooms. The company is continuing to expand into both new industries and client groups. During the time of writing this story the company announced that it would be jumping into the real estate brokerage game with WeWork Space Services. Enterprise clients like IBM now compose 25 percent of WeWork’s tenants and represent a new design challenge for the company, but having core information from its prior tenants is helping the design team navigate the transition, said Negro. As open offices continue to evolve, architects and interior designers have tweaked layouts and materials to optimize worker comfort and balance privacy concerns. Will the increasing availability of data help designers refine their solutions in the same way WeWork has done?
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Boom or Bust for Phoenix's Warehouse District?
According to a recent article on azcentral.com, Phoenix’s Warehouse District is in the midst of a renaissance. Or is it? The man behind several adaptive reuse projects in the neighborhood says not so fast. “It’s like every five years someone gets excited about it and writes the same article,” said developer Michael Levine. While he admits there’s been an uptick in interest in the mid-century industrial buildings, he doubts his fellow landowners’ motives. “If you give them enough money...they’d have the [buildings] demolished,” he said. Levine grew up in Brooklyn and attended Parsons, where he considered becoming an architectural designer before a retrospective on the work of Gordon Matta Clark convinced him to switch to art. “I wanted to get my hands dirty,” said Levine. After college, Levine moved to Phoenix, doing all kinds of work, from residential contracting to building visual displays and starting an art gallery. When he began manufacturing for multinational companies, he needed a larger workspace, and moved into his first warehouse. “Basically the buildings are like big three-dimensional sculptures,” said Levine. Eventually, the buildings themselves became Levine’s subjects. He renovated his first warehouse in 1992, his second in 1999. Phoenix, it turns out, is a particularly difficult place to be a champion for adaptive reuse. For one thing, the city didn’t have that many warehouses to begin with. “The best warehouse in Phoenix would be the worst in Detroit,” observed Levine. In addition, said Levine, the city’s reluctance to embrace the International Building Code combined with its early adoption of ADA standards to make it “almost impossible to save a building.” Even a recent preservation program hasn’t done as much as advocates might have hoped for the Warehouse District. In 2006, the city, aware that its pre–World War II building stock was rapidly dwindling, launched a special category of grants (funded through the city’s bond program) specifically for preserving warehouses. “It hasn’t been quite as successful as we’d hoped, but it hasn’t been a complete failure,” said Kevin Weight of the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office. The office had hoped there might be another bond issue, but then the recession hit. “We really don’t have the incentives to offer that we did before, so that’s part of why it’s not moving as quickly as we’d like,” said Weight. According to Levine, the problem is that would-be renovators have to compete with new construction. “The real story of the Warehouse District is it’s the cheapest land in town,” he said. Preservationists have scored a few big wins, as in 2007, when a lawsuit spared the Sun Mercantile Building (an E.W. Bacon-designed warehouse built in 1929) from a  condo project. But the trend still seems to favor new over old. “They demolish 10, 13 buildings, then save one building,” said Levine. “It’s been like tokenism.” There are a few bright spots in the Warehouse District’s recent history, including several of Levine’s projects: 605 E. Grant Street (1917), originally owned by the Southwest Cotton Company; The Duce (525 S. Central Ave, 1928), built for Anchor Manufacturing Company; and Bentley Projects (215 E. Grant Street, 1918), first occupied by Bell Laundry. Then there’s 22 E. Jackson Street, the 1930 Arizona Hardware Supply Company building renovated by Dudley Ventures. A number of additional warehouse buildings have been listed on the city’s register of historic buildings. Levine cites the recent relocation of several of Arizona State University School of Art graduate student buildings to his 605 E. Grant Street. “The fine artists get it...ASU has finally gotten it,” said Levine, though he went on to express dismay at an ASU urban planning professor’s embrace of a nearby luxury-apartments project. That said, the Warehouse District renaissance doesn’t yet seem to have reached the tipping point. The city’s out of money to assist preservationists, at least for now. And Levine thinks that some of the recent interest in the neighborhood may be a passing craze. “However much they love it, unfortunately it’s a fashion thing to these people,” said Levine. “It’s really cool to be in a brick building...For me, I really want these buildings to be around for another 100 years.”
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Q+A> Daniel Libeskind on Cosentino's Dekton, Architecture, and Music
At Cosentino’s launch of Dekton, AN had an opportunity to sit down with Daniel Libeskind. The world-renowned architect designed an outdoor sculpture, Off the Wall, made from the new material that weathers like stone but has manufactured advantages of specialized color, texture, and form, thanks to Cosentino’s particle sintering technology (PST) that simulates metamorphic rock formation at a highly accelerated rate. It originally debuted this spring at Salone del Mobile in Milan. AN: You studied music in Israel. Do you find any of your classical music training to inform your design and architecture work? Daniel Libeskind: Totally. Even though I was a virtuoso performer I continue to use that sense of my relationship to music very deeply in my work. Architecture and music are closely related in many ways. They’re both very precise: In music, even a vibration cannot be off by a single half note. And it’s the same with architecture; the geometry, the spatial character of a building must be accurate. And in the end, they’re very similar in the sense that despite their scientific basis and precision, they have to register emotionally. In other words, we don’t think about the music, or an atmosphere that affects us spiritually. From the way a score is written and has to be performed by an orchestra, an architect doesn’t build his building. Sometimes he is not apparently there; the architect is more like a conductor of a concerto. It’s full of closeness for me. To continue the musical analogy, would you say the style of your work is more traditional and evenly phrased like Mozart, or neoclassically experimental like Stravinsky? Music to me is not really in categories of classical or rap or rock or medieval or Gregorian. Really, it’s a universal language of rhythm, sound, and tempo. I would say each of my projects has its own musical quality. Acoustics themselves are so important in my work. In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, I designed an entire void for the acoustics. And let’s not also forget that our sense of balance isn’t in our eye but in our inner ear. All of these things converge on my set of interests. What are your impressions of the acoustic and/or technical qualities of Dekton? I think Dekton is a great material. First, it’s not just reusing old materials. It brings qualities of porcelain, glass, and quartz together through a new technique of creating the material. Which I think has a lot of incredible characteristics, both acoustical, visual, and also tactile. The sculpture you designed in Dekton for Cosentino has a spiral quality with intersecting corners that suggest an indoor/outdoor application. It’s a spiral, that organically grows but also uses the tectonic means of planes to ascend through movement toward light. Each face has a different quality of light and movement because of where it’s placed, so it is a sculpture but its also an architectural microcosm that suggests an ability to create spaces that are really fluid and very tectonic. Beyond-the-Wall-Dekton-Cosentino-archpaper Any ideal applications for Dekton, not just for your practice but for architects in general? I think in large-scale walls—because, you know, architecture contains walls—to create a beautiful sense of light and resilience with the material. It has great technical qualities—rigidity and imperviousness to water—and also aesthetically in terms of color, texture, and materiality. And for exteriors, because I’m working on buildings in mega scales, I think it’s a very good material because if you think of other cladding materials, you can’t really compete with this technical ability. The interior/exterior possibilities are also exceptional. Most of my buildings have a sculptural form. They’re never just a box; they’re spatial forms that most often have never been seen before. In that sense, the question of inside/outside is very important because in my work there’s no division like a cube where its very clear. Those buildings, like that spiral I’ve created for Cosentino, are both inside and outside simultaneously. It can be used in floors that merge into walls that merge into soffits and Dekton can achieve that seamlessly in large scales. Do you foresee Dekton playing a role in any of your future projects? Oh definitely. We’re working on a number of large-scale building projects around the world and I’m determined to use it because I love the material. For example we have a very large project in Sao Paolo that hasn’t been made public yet. We also have some creative opportunities in China and Singapore. Back to music, do you have a favorite band or album you’re currently listening to? I’m from the era of CDs—not records!—but not yet MP3s. On my table lays music that spans millennia: ancient Greece, the latest rap recordings, Helmut Lachenmann, one of the great composers from Germany. Music is always fantastic. A model of Libeskind's Off the Wall is on view at the Center for Architecture in New York, as part of the Surface Innovation exhibition that runs through the end of October.