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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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Literal Jewel-Box

Safdie Architects completes world's largest indoor waterfall
After six years, the first phase of Safdie Architects’ monumental Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore will open to the public on April 17. That not only includes an indoor “rain forest” with walking trails, but also the world’s largest indoor waterfall. The 1.4-million-square-foot doughnut-shaped building is a greenhouse ensconced within a steel diagrid frame engineered by BuroHappold. The five-story toroid stretches another five levels underground as well and is designed to connect the Changi Airport’s terminals 1, 2, and 3, and to public transit. Jewel was conceived of as an amenity hub for the airport and contains over 280 retail stores, galleries, and restaurants, a 130-room hotel, and operations space for the airport, including a lounge and check-in area. To mitigate the noise from the aircraft taking off around it, the triangular window sections were installed with a .6-inch-thick air gap between the two glass panes. Jewel's crowning feature is its seven-story indoor waterfall, the “Rain Vortex,” which dramatically pours down from a central oculus and into a circular catch below. The waterfall is, appropriately enough, fed by water collected during Singapore’s constant thunderstorms, and the recirculated rainwater diffuses throughout the Jewel to passively cool the interior. All of that humidity also helps maintain the thousands of plants, including 2,000 trees, found within. Other than the Forest Valley, which includes terraced vegetation and “forest walks” around the waterfall, the 150,000-square-foot Canopy Park on the fifth floor further enhances then garden feel. Glass bottomed bridges, topiary mazes, sky nets (suspended net paths), mirrored “discovery slides” that will open on June 10, and a gathering space for up to 1,000 guests can all be found on the Jewel’s top floor. Such an enormous undertaking was a collaborative effort, and Safdie led a multidisciplinary group of designers and engineers. Atelier Ten was responsible for the building’s climate control systems; Singapore’s RSP Architects Planners & Engineers was the project’s executive architect; the Berkeley, California-based Peter Walker and Partners was responsible for the landscape design and plant selection; and Los Angeles’s WET engineered the Rain Vortex and developed a 360-degree light and sound show to play against the waterfall at night.
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The High Road

Trail wends through the tree canopy in Michigan's Dow Gardens
In central Michigan, a new walkway is snaking its way through a forest canopy. The elevated trail was designed by Philadelphia-based firm Metcalfe for the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens, a historic public garden established by Herbert H. Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, in 1899. The 1,400-foot-long catwalk snakes through the canopy 40 feet above the floor of the 54-acre forest. At various points, trail's solid floor turns into mesh netting that visitors can sit on, floating among the tree trunks. Structures built along the trail create other spaces for reflection and observation to complement other structures on the site, including a playground, visitors' center, café, and educational spaces.
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Move It Move It

The Shed opens this Friday—take a sneak peek now
After 11 years and two mayoral administrations, The Shed (now just the name of the administering arts center, with the physical structure housing the organization having been renamed The Bloomberg Building) is nearly ready to open. On April 5, this Friday, the public will finally get to venture inside Manhattan’s newest, and largest, cultural institution. As Hudson Yards welcomes the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group–designed multidisciplinary arts center, much has been written about the building’s central, inescapable feature. The 120-foot-tall outer shell, clad in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) “pillows,” can extend out from the base building when needed for larger performances, covering the public plaza and creating the 17,000-square-foot, climate-controlled McCourt space. When the shell is rolled back, the 20,000-square-foot outdoor plaza can be used for open-air performances. Art is even part of the very ground below, as artist Lawrence Weiner has embedded IN FRONT OF ITSELF in 12-foot-high letters using colored pavers throughout the plaza. As Elizabeth Diller and David Rockwell have repeatedly described, The Shed was conceived with maximum flexibility in mind. The comparisons and claims of inspiration from Cedric Price’s unrealized, constantly changing 1964 Fun Palace have been overt, whether rightly or wrongly. Either way, there’s no contesting that the space represents a blank space for artists to call their own. “I see the building as an ‘architecture of infrastructure,’ all muscle, no fat,” said Diller, “and responsive to the ever-changing needs of artists into a future we cannot predict. Success for me would mean that the building would stand up to challenges presented by artists, while challenging them back in a fruitful dialogue.” Four stories of programming live inside the eight-level base building. Floors two and four hold a combined 25,000 square feet of gallery spaces without columns and with 19-foot-tall ceilings. From April 6 through June 2, the second level gallery will display Reich Richter Pärt, a combination of choir songs from composer Steve Reich set against tapestries and wallpaper, some of them room-spanning, from artist Gerhard Richter. Swinging glass doors on the eastern walls of each gallery can open them up to the McCourt, allowing the venue to add additional seating when necessary. The sixth floor holds the Kenneth C. Griffin Theater, an 11,700-square-foot black box space with a 500-seat capacity. The theater can also be split in two to host smaller shows. On the top floor are the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights, a wide, multipurpose section that affords one of the few views towards the rest of Hudson Yards, including a prominent view of Vessel. The open area features 9,500-square-feet of flexible event space, the 1,700-square-foot Tisch Lab for local artists, and a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space. The two namesake skylights provide the entire floor with plenty of natural light, making up for the difference in ceiling heights found throughout the rest of the building—the eighth floor’s ceiling is noticeably lower. Hints of the building’s superstructure and its transforming shell are ever-present. The Bloomberg Building’s central set of scissoring escalators run parallel with the glass curtain wall and affords ample views of the shell, and the bent seam where the shell meets the adjoining tower. Inside the McCourt, the steel diagrid underpinning the ETFE facade reveals itself, creating a vastly different experience than viewing the building from outside. The High Line runs level with the windows on the second floor, reinforcing the connection to the park, strangely minimizing the feeling that the building is part of Hudson Yards proper. The Shed opens on April 5 with Soundtrack of America, a five-night concert series conceived and directed by Steve McQueen that celebrates the worldwide impact of African American music. The full lineup is available on The Shed’s website, here.
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Mirror, Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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