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A Seat at the Table

American Roundtable will shine a spotlight on 10 overlooked communities across the country
The ten commissioned reports that will comprise American Roundtable, a new initiative headed by the Architectural League of New York, have been announced. Earlier in the year, AN put out a call on social media for editors who were interested to apply for the program. Selected by a special committee from a pool of nearly 125 total submissions covering 40 states and territories, each report, spearheaded by an editor or editorial team, will focus on an overlooked small or mid-sized American community and its unique set of struggles, strengths, needs, and wants. Geographically, economically, and culturally diverse, these are places that to many Americans are just obscure points on a map, but in actually have untold stories to tell. Through essays, mapping, video, photography, graphics, and other forms of media gleaned from on-the-ground reportage, American Roundtable will tell these stories and give voice to places that have been largely left silent and unnoticed. “The hope for American Roundtable is to highlight, in all their complexity and nuance, communities too often overlooked and to provide platforms for individuals and organizations to share their stories and work imagining, understanding, and improving their local built environments,” reads a press statement, which also pointed out that these are the type of communities “often reduced to caricature and oversimplification.” The commissioned reports will be published online and in print this coming November and be followed by a series of thematic conversations (exact timing is pending due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The focus in each will revolve around five key topic areas: public space, health, work and economy, infrastructure, and environment. “Now, it is even more of an imperative to give voice to local places to envision a better, collective future,” said Paul Lewis, president of the Architectural League and Selection Committee member. The 10 communities to be profiled as part of the American Roundtable project are: Africatown, a historically rich yet underserved neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama; the oft-forgotten Appalachian communities of West Virginia; Brownsville, Texas’s poverty-stricken southernmost border city; South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Lakota people and the fourth largest Indian reservation by land in the United States; the small city of Clarksdale, Mississippi, often credited as the birthplace of the Delta Blues; New Mexico’s Lower Rio Grande Valley; Maine’s working-class, natural resource-rich River Valley region; the climate change-vulnerable South Beach communities of Washington’s Pacific coast; North Carolina’s agriculture-dependent Southeast Good Food Corridor that spans Robeson and Scotland counties, and Ohio’s Youngstown-Warren-Lordstown metropolitan area, a former industrial hotbed that has experienced stark population and job losses since the 1970s. “The proposals reflected the tremendous richness and diversity of America’s small cities, towns, and rural regions, so often collapsed into stereotype or dismissed altogether in our national narratives, said Sue Mobley, a New Orleans-based urbanist and activist and member of the American Roundtable Selection Committee member, in a statement. “For every proposal we received there were dozens of stories contained in it: of natural spaces, economic histories, unique cultures, and incredible people that I wanted to hear more about.”
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Anything but LAC-luster

Finalists in the LACMA Not LackMA protest design competition unveiled
The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA, an activist group riled by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s revamp of the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (LACMA) and the “catastrophic impact” it poses on the 110-year-old institution and L.A. culture at large, has unveiled the six finalists in its LACMA not LACKma international design competition. A juried protest competition of sorts, launched last month in search of alternative proposals to Zumthor’s highly contentious $750 million plan, the proposals solicited by the Citizens’ Brigade—28 in total were submitted—were required to imagine corrective “solutions that would expand gallery space rather than shrink it, and use less rather than more land, while providing a home for the collections and services needed for their care.” To be clear, the Citizens’ Brigade, a collection of design professionals, art experts, and the general public, isn’t staunchly opposed to demolishing some buildings on LACMA’s 1960s-era Wilshire Boulevard campus to make way for a new one. It is, however, concerned about the overall diminishing, growth-prohibiting effect that the redesign will have on the museum’s collections. “The design fails the collections, which will be stored or dispersed to other locations,” explained the group, noting that Zumthor’s vision also “consumes too much land and costs an extravagant price per square foot” while doing away with curator services and the on-site library. Proposals submitted to the competition fall under two categories; the adaptive reuse-focused Existing Buildings and Ground Up, which entails entirely new and more appropriate designs. Three finalists were chosen from each category. As the competition website states: “We are not proposing that any one of them be built as is, but simply suggesting that the public, the museum board, and the County Board of Supervisors view them as possible starting points for developing alternatives that truly capture people’s eyes, hearts, and minds, and showcase LACMA's collections in a practical and architecturally stimulating environment.” The six finalists, which will each receive $1,500 in prize money provided by an anonymous backer, were selected by a jury that included Aaron Betsky, architecture critic and newly instated director of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design; author, critic, and co-chair of the Citizens’ Brigade, Greg Goldin; Joseph Giovannini, an architect who also serves as architecture critic for the Los Angeles Review of Books and co-chair of the Citizens’ Brigade; William Pedersen of New York-based firm Kohn Pedersen Fox; educator and architect Winka Dubbeldam; Los Angeles-based architect and activist Barton Phelps, and former LACMA curator J. Patrice Marandel. “We at The Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA are impressed with the creativity, sensitivity, and passion these international architects brought to their ideas, as well as the generosity of their considerable time and effort,” said Giovannini in a statement. It’s now in the hands of the public to select an overall winner from each category via online voting. Each winner will receive an additional $500 prize. Voting is open until May 15. An additional nine submitted proposals considered as “Ideas of Merit” will also be shared on the competition website in the coming days. HILLACMA: TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic), Hong Kong (Ground Up)
“TheeAe (The Evolved Architectural Eclectic) considers Los Angeles’ diversity when proposing the museum as ‘a new cultural platform that connects people from different walks of life,’ by simultaeneously offering enclosed cultural spaces and an open, sculpted, outdoor landscape. The tall building (five levels plus garden roof) combines an undulating facade along Wilshire Boulevard to the south with ‘hill’ element sloping into the park on the property’s north side. The jury remarked that the dramatic hybrid design would make it a ‘destination building’ cleverly designed to sustain the urbanity of Wilshire on one side while extending the bucolic nature of the park on the other. ‘The Wilshire facade becomes a kinetic wall, imparting a strong urban experience that changes as you drive by, which is how most Angelenos experience the city,’ noted the jury. ‘The back facade, a built hillside, is a landscape event that adds a surprising new participatory dimension to Hancock Park. This will be a hill you want to climb.’”
LACMA Wing: Coop Himmelb(I)au, Vienna (Ground Up)
“Emphasizing ‘an architecture that combines functionality with aspiration,’ Coop Himmelb(l)au designed three main elements: landscape plinth and two, three-level ‘floating’ gallery wings. Public circulation on ramps connecting the volumes would be encased by expressive amorphous forms whose openness to the outside refreshes the museum visiting experience. These public spaces are accessible without a ticket to the museum, but windows into the galleries are meant to entice people inside. The jury appreciated the curatorial flexibility of generous gallery spaces, with 22-foot floor-to-ceiling heights, the possibility of mezzanines and intimate galleries, and open floor plates. ‘This entry combines issues of great efficiency with moments of drama,’ noted the jury. ‘The ‘bubbles’ offer exciting spaces that celebrate the public realm while connecting to straightforward, practical, functional galleries in the wings.’”
Reimagining/Restructuring: Saffet Kaya Design, London (Existing Buildings)
“Replacing the 1986 building, Kaya Design proposes ‘to preserve the best elements of the past while creating a more contemporary, multi-use alternative space.’ An elevated volume that respects the scale of the existing structures has solid walls on three sides for curatorial flexibility, then opens to the north with an all-glass façade. Circulation into the entrance is through a gentle ramp/walkway leading into the lobby that directs visitors to the other buildings on other floors—the ramps equalizing the importance of all adjacent floors. The new structure is reserved for exhibition space on six above-grade levels, including the interior of the spiral element. ‘This design achieves a considerable service to the campus, making the east campus more coherent than it’s ever been,” said the jury. ‘The biological form of the spiral—as ancient as seashells and hurricanes—gives value to the floors it connects.’”
Re(in)novating LACMA: RUR Architecture, Reiser + Umemoto, New York City (Existing Buildings)
“Reiser + Umemoto’s aim was ‘to create a coherent, retroactive masterplan that builds off the campus’ prior successes and seeks to engage and reinvigorate the full breadth of LACMA’s collection.’ The three-pronged approach includes adding new elements in and around the original 1965 buildings, binding them into a new whole. The Cone sits within and atop the Ahmanson; The Bar, an elevated gallery building, transects the campus from north to south, offering an appropriately scaled Wilshire entrance and new gallery space; The Cluster replaces the 1986 building with a series of interior pod-shaped galleries, as well as exterior exhibition space on a reimagined plaza level. ‘The architects found a way to make the plaza into a connective tissue and strategically make the existing buildings work as an ensemble,’ said the jury, which also commended the clear circulation that employed new interstitial spaces to move people through the building’s interior spaces.”
Tabula LACMA: Barkow Leibinger, Berlin, with Lillian Montalvo Landscape Design (Existing Buildings)
“This ‘reconstitution’ is an unusual hybrid of old and new, as it maintains the scale and context of the original LACMA buildings by reconstructing them with modern, sustainable materials, then interconnecting them with a new plinth form punctured by courtyards. Barkow Leibinger—working with landscape designer Lillian Montalvo—stresses this would ‘provide spaces for art, delight, and public encounter.’ The jury thought this flexible, spacious design addressed the changing role of museums by including a good amount of shopping, cafés, and event venues that urbanize the spaces and engender a lively environment. ‘There’s a powerful idea of using the area around the pavilions to create a whole new programmed space,’ according to the jurors. They enjoyed the rediscovery of the inner plaza and could ‘imagine these would be great spaces to be in, as well as fun to discover.’”
Unified Campus: Paul Murdoch Architects, Los Angeles (Ground Up)
“To create greater institutional cohesion, Paul Murdoch Architects took a holistic approach to the entire LACMA campus and its relationship to the cultural institutions flanking it. The design, according to the architects, is ‘expressive of LA in its openness, multiplicity of urban, natural, and cultural connections, and abundant use of controlled natural light.’ The jury noted how this horizontal skyscraper—an on-axis version of the neighboring tower across Wilshire—corresponds to the urbanism of the area. ‘It restores the continuity of the Wilshire Boulevard streetfront with a respectful attitude by placing the narrow part of the building facing the street and the broad side framing the park.’ The east glass façade offers a strong, complementary visual connection to Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, and the west ̧facade forms a long public plaza bordered by BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion, uniting the two campuses.”
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Drop the Bomb

Architecture Billings Index bottoms out to historic lows
In a somewhat unsurprising turn of events, especially given the special report the AIA released on April 10, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) for March 2020 is painting a dire portrait of the state of architectural services demand. Whereas the ABI in February 2020 painted a rosy picture of demand at 53.4 (50 is the baseline and represents no change, higher numbers represent an increase and lower numbers a decrease), March billings came in 33.3. This 20.1 swing is, according to the AIA, the largest downturn ever recorded in the ABI’s 25-year history. Even the 2001 recession only pushed demand down by 9.4 points, while the housing crash in 2008 decreased billings by 8.3 points. Inquiries into new design contracts didn’t fare much better, falling from 52.0 in February to 27.1 in March. Also unsurprising were the regional breakdowns; the Northeast was obviously hit the hardest—falling to 38.4—thanks to construction freezes in New York, Boston, and other major cities. The Midwest and South both fell to 44.2, while the Western states saw the lowest drop, with billings only dropping to 45.3. Industry-wise, contrary to what one would first assume given the dour predictions on the housing market from last month’s HDTS Special Report, residential design demand, falling to 43.3, didn’t actually fare the worst. Institutional projects, typically where firms gravitate towards during times of uncertainty due to their long timescales and stability of their clients, fell to 46.9, while commercial and industrial projects fell to 41.9. The firms surveyed by the AIA painted accordingly less-than-optimistic pictures of their future operations. Most of them are cutting back on expenses to deal with the slowdown in work and uncertainty about the global economy: 53 percent of firms have put a hiring freeze in place, while an additional 15 percent are thinking about one, while 32 percent reported freezing staff salaries, and another 12 percent has cut them. According to the AIA, on average, firms expect revenue to drop 17 percent over the next three months. Overall, 36 percent of the firms surveyed “predict that it will have a serious to devastating impact,” which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. We’ll have to wait for the April ABI to be released for a more detailed prognosis, but in the meantime, the AIA has assembled a business continuity guide to help firms navigate the post-COVID-19 landscape.
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We’ll Cross That Bridge ... Sooner

Washington, D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park gets blessing from National Capital Planning Commission
The 11th Street Bridge Park, a vaguely High Line-y elevated park that’s eternally been in the works for Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia river-severed southeastern quadrant, has passed a major milestone by receiving the green light from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). The good news was shared by the New York office of OMA, one of two firms—the other being Philadelphia-based landscape design studio OLIN—behind the design of the programming-packed, 1.45-mile-long recreational park will span the Anacostia River along the revitalized bones of an old 1960s-era vehicular bridge. In addition to being granted approval from the NCPC, OMA noted in a press statement that the long-awaited project, which kicked off in earnest in 2014 when the two firms won an international competition calling for a neighborhood-linking public green space in the form of a pedestrian converted into an elevated park, also received “positive feedback” from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and will present the project to the full Commission this coming fall. “At a time when we are paradoxically isolated from one another but united in a common cause, public spaces that we all share and that benefit health have become more important than ever,” said OMA partner Jason Long. “Our work has focused on creating a new civic space that engages with the Anacostia River and refining the program for the park to ensure it will be a place for everyone in D.C.” With construction now slated to kick off in 2021, a key reason why the 11th Street Bridge Park has been such a long time coming—aside from the usual bureaucratic hurdles and fundraising—is the sheer numbers of private and public entities that are working alongside OMA and OLIN to help realize this first-of-its-kind-for-D.C. undertaking. Simply, there are a lot of disparate yet vital cooks in the proverbial kitchen. As OMA details, just some of these project partners, public agencies, and stakeholders include the District Department of Transportation (a key funder), the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, structural engineering firms WRA and Delon Hampton, and the Anacostia Watershed Society. And because the 11th Street Bridge Park, described by the NCPC in its eight-page report as a place that will “increase community connectivity and create welcoming and vibrant spaces that enhance the user experience and foster civic and local uses,” was designed expressly for the residents of and visitors to Southeast Washington, D.C., community stakeholders have played a major role in how the project has evolved over the past six years. “This project would not have been possible without the efforts of key stakeholders and the community,” said OMA associate Yusef Ali Dennis. “Their comments and feedback truly shaped the bridge, from its overall design to its specific programs and features. It’s only fitting that a project of this size and importance has required such broad cooperation and collaboration.” With an eye toward community equity, 11th Street Bridge Park will serve as a pedestrian link between the Navy Yard and the historic Anacostia neighborhood in D.C.'s eighth ward and, as mentioned, will be jam-packed with features including a hammock grove, public plaza, cafe, amphitheater, public art installations, community gardens, play spaces, and river access for additional recreational pursuits. A somewhat newly added feature is the 11,000-square-foot, solar-powered Exelon Environmental Education Center, an asset made possible by a $5 million donation by the local utility company of the same name. As of late last year, the total estimated cost to construct the bridge-park stood at $74 million. The project is still slated to open in 2023.
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COVID’s Creative Outpouring

Check out the speculative design concepts that have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic
While there are scant upsides to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, there has been a flurry of speculative solution-oriented design concepts that implore us to think a bit outside of the proverbial box and reconsider how we live, work, play, and interact with the built environment. When this is all behind us, things will likely never quite be the same. These speculative designs, as quixotic as some might seem, give us a glimpse into that altered future where public health and imaginative design are even more closely intertwined. Below are a few such design proposals to emerge in recent weeks from a range of international firms large and small. All of these concepts tackle unique topics and concerns: A more prudent use of public green space, contagion-safe produce shopping, the adaptive reuse of unorthodox spaces, and working where you live for the long-haul, to name a few. And while some might seem unconventional or outright implausible, these concepts all imagine a world where we are all safe, comfortable, healthy, productive, and able to get the help that we need.

Parc de la Distance, Studio Precht

Reminiscent of a particularly panic-inducing hedge maze, Parc de la Distance is more a pandemic-appropriate riff on a Japanese Zen garden, where park-goers would be able to enjoy a contemplative and orderly constitutional without worrying about hordes of fellow fresh air-seekers coming from every which way. Studio Precht, a small Austrian firm based in a secluded, mountainous area outside of Salzburg, elaborated on the concept, which is geared toward a vacant lot in Vienna but can be replicated on any unused patch of urban land:
“Although our ‘Park de la Distance’ encourages physical distance, the design is shaped by the human touch: a fingerprint. Like a fingerprint, parallel lanes guide visitors through the undulating landscape. Every lane has a gateway on the entrance and exit, which indicates if the path is occupied or free to stroll. The lanes are distanced 240cm [8 foot] from each other and have a 90cm [3 foot] wide hedge as a division. Along their path, people walk on reddish granite gravel. Although people are visually separated most of the time, they might hear footsteps on the pebbles from the neighbouring paths. Each individual journey is about 600m [1,968 foot] long. The height of the planters varies along this journey and gives different levels to the hedges throughout the park. Sometimes visitors are fully immersed by nature, other times they emerge over the hedge and can see across the garden. But at all times, they keep a safe physical distance to each other.”
Studio Precht envisions the concept as being a useful feature for green space-starved cities in the post-COVID era as it “offers something very unique for bustling urban areas: A brief time of solitude. A temporary seclusion from the public. A moment to think, to meditate or just to walk alone through nature.”

Hyperlocal Markets for Shutdown Realities, Shift Architecture Urbanism

Described by Rotterdam-based studio Shift Architecture Urbanism as a “self-initiated research-by-design project,” the aim of this concept is twofold: To keep fresh, nutritious, and locally grown food flowing into local produce markets while reducing the risk of spreading the virus among shoppers at said markets, which are frequently prone to overcrowding but are also often lower cost than supermarkets in many areas.
“Shift’s proposal is to keep the vital function of the fresh produce markets fully intact, even strengthening it, while at the same time minimizing its potential role in spreading the virus. For this, the large markets have to continue in a different form, place and time. Its former model of concentration has to be replaced by a model of dispersion, both in space and time. This is done by breaking down the large markets into so-called micro markets that are spread over the city and opening them up for a longer time. Instead of you going to the market, the market is coming to your neighborhood. These hyper-local markets are open at least 5 days a week instead of twice a week to further reduce the concentration of people. “The micro market’s standard spatial setup consists of a 16 square grid, aligned with three market stalls, each selling a different kind of fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products or meat. The grid is taped on the pavement and fenced off with standard crush barriers. It has one entrance and 2 exits. In order to maintain social distancing each cell can only hold one person. In order to permit movement, the grid can only hold a maximum of 6 people. These rules are made clear at the entrance of the micro market, that has a waiting line taped on the pavement. The stalls will offer packages instead of separate products, to limit the time customers spend in the grid.”
Shift added that current restrictions on open-air produce markets vary wildly in the Netherlands from location-to-location and region-to-region.

Airport Superhospital, Opposite Office

Everything from convention centers to soccer stadiums have been transformed into temporary medical hubs during the coronavirus pandemic. Benedikt Hartl of the Munich-based Opposite Office, the same firm that pitched transforming Buckingham Palace into a co-living complex, envisioned this form of emergency adaptive reuse as also being extended to incomplete airport terminals. Under construction since 2006 with a potential completion date of 2021, Hartl sees promise in the delay-plagued Berlin Brandenburg Airport—or other underserved and non-operational airports, really—during the crisis (although said crisis in Germany has now largely passed). Hartl’s concept involves populating the uncompleted airport’s vast floor space with round modular steel cabins that serve as self-contained treatment units for patients.

“Flying was no longer in vogue even before the outbreak of COVID-19 and now the avenge of shame has given way to a deadly risk of infection. We agree that we will certainly not need this new airport in the near future,” read a press release from Opposite Office. “An advantage would be that infected people would be completely isolated at the airport area and would not come into contact with other patients. The main building alone, with an area of ​​220,000m2 [2.4 million square feet], offers plenty of space for medical (emergency) care. The existing airport offers untapped potential.”

Container Ship Hospitals, Weston Williamson + Partners

While converting seafaring vessels into floating hospitals is far from something new, a concept from London-headquartered architecture firm Weston Williamson+ Partners proposes the specific repurposing of container ships to serve a similar purpose. Well, kind of. Ideally, the containers would be unloaded at different ports in hard-hit regions and then used as makeshift intensive care units on land. “The idea came to us because we work around the world and wanted to try to encourage a global response,” firm co-founder Chris Williamson told AN in an email of the scheme, which is somewhat similar to an initiative underway in India with modified rail cars. “Many countries do not have an exhibition centre waiting to be fitted out as a hospital as we have done in Manchester and London.” “The speed at which Excel in London and GMex in Manchester have been repurposed suggest that the idea is possible and the container module is ideal for an intensive care bed and equipment for the benefit of emerging economies,” Willamson elaborated. “We have ascertained from the shipping companies that there is an available capacity of around 1,000 ships with around 3,500 containers per vessel.” Williams goes on to make clear that “patients would not stay on the ship except in circumstances where there is no place to deploy the containers” and that the container-based care units would have one of the steel doors removed and a transparent Perspex door installed in its place. The modules would also include built-in air conditioning units. “All we need is the political will to make this work and we are working with a few influential people to that aim,” Williamson said. It should be noted that, as with many shipping container-based projects, the feedback online hasn't been entirely positive.

Mobile PPS (Personal Protective Space), Plastique Fantastique

Plastique Fantastique, a Berlin-founded art collective known for eye-popping inflated installations, has created a PPS (personal protective space) for healthcare workers that can be swiftly deployed to a wide array of environments. As Plastique Fantastique explained, this “pneumatic space where doctors can treat patients in transparent protective space. It has constant overpressure, which means, the air flows only toward [the] outside of the space, not letting the virus coming inside. The clean air supply is guaranteed by a ventilator located outside or in an extra decontaminated space.” The bubbly blow-up Care Units, made from transparent polyurethane, can be attached to each to form larger contiguous spaces, and are accessed through special airlock chambers that maintain air pressure and provides medical workers with a space to prepare and disinfect before entering.

AD-APT, Woods Bagot 

With offices shuttered across the globe and workforces now operating in domestic trappings without any clear end in sight, global architecture firm Woods Bagot has envisioned a super-versatile living modular system dubbed AD-APT that “supports a range of activities throughout people’s days” while more easily accommodating “spaces for exercise, entertainment, digital collaboration, connection, and focus (without becoming isolated), alongside the traditional activities of eating, sleeping, and washing.” “While this trend has been on the rise over recent years the immediate, en masse shift to WFH exposes the benefits (and challenges) to a far wider range of the population than ever before,” explained the firm. “This will lead to significant change in people’s work habits and expectations. As more people become comfortable with working remotely, they will expect to be able to do so more often. This will change the way we design and use our workplaces, schools, and homes.” In response to this quickly changing dynamic, AD-APT enables WFH-ers to modify open-plan apartments to suit their needs whether they're in a so-called “split-shift” residence where working parents tag-team childcare responsibilities and job-related tasks or a “double desk” living environment where roommates rotate to different work-friendly spaces throughout the day. “Creating a spine of the fixed needs of a home (bathroom, entry, storage etc.) allows us to create an open and flexible apartment that can adapt to varying needs across modes, ” elaborated Woods Bagot. “The AD-APT includes a range of consistent elements which support the mode switching of the main spaces. AD-APT includes an entry porch which provides both an opportunity to meet and stay in touch with your neighbours and additional storage for bikes, coats and shoes. Beyond the entry porch the spine includes a bathroom and two flexi-booths. Around the entire apartment extensive storage is provided to allow for filing/appliance and other materials needed to blend living, working, and learning.”
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Lucky Seven

URBAN-X holds first-ever virtual Demo Day for seventh startup cohort
This afternoon, city-reimagining startup accelerator URBAN-X hosted its first Demo Day of 2020 a bit differently. In lieu of a live event—typically a sort of graduation ceremony-cum-formal group pitch session followed by a lively evening party—as normal at its Greenpoint, Brooklyn-based headquarters within the (temporarily closed) A/D/O creative hub, the MINI-founded accelerator is unveiling the work of the seven startups that participated in URBAN-X's seventh-to-date cohort group to date via an online presentation program. Like with Demo Days past, the virtual event gave each of the seven Cohort 07 companies, all fresh off of URBAN-X’s immersive 20-week accelerator program, an opportunity to publicly debut a range of “hardware and software solutions to combat the world’s climate emergency and other emerging challenges impacting cities” to potential investors, public sector leaders, and the general public. You can watch the entirety of Demo Day 07, which includes pitches from all seven Cohort 07 companies starting at 1:00 p.m. EST followed by a Q&A session. In addition to showcasing scalable and distinctly urban tech solutions to the climate crisis (an emphasis theme tied into the 50th anniversary of Earth Day), Demo Day 07 paid special mind to how nascent tech companies can respond—and are already responding—to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. And as it turns out, a handful of URBAN-X startups past and present are directly involved in pandemic response. For example, EVA, a Cohort 07 company specializing in infrastructure and airborne logistics for healthcare- and emergency-related drone operations, has already begun working with partners in Europe and New York State to deploy large modular drone docking stations that help to curb supply chain disruptions and aid in the delivery of essential supplies to pharmacies, healthcare facilities, and homebound populations. URBAN-X alumni aiding cities in their response to the pandemic include AO Air, Circuit, Food For All, GreenQ, Near Space Labs, Numina, Thrilling, and Upshift. In addition to EVA, the six other URBAN-X companies that presented during Demo Day 07 were:
  • Therma, a startup with offices in San Francisco and the Philippines that’s also currently playing a role in pandemic response, showcased its “IoT-based, 24/7 equipment monitoring solution that eliminates product loss, improves food safety, and provides data-driven refrigeration management.”
  • Toronto-based ChargeLab pitched its open software platform for electric vehicle charging that makes the process smarter, more precise, and less onerous. Per the company, the proprietary management system “enables key features like billing and energy management, ensuring more EV drivers can charge without disrupting the grid.”
  • Based in Tel-Aviv, Firmus will presented its AI-based error-curbing technology for the construction industry—an industry where, as the firm points out, companies have “increasing difficulty learning from past mistakes.” The solution “provides real-time alerts on potential errors, constructability issues and risks, based on industry's historical data and experience.”
  • Nodding to the god of the underworld, Swiss startup Hades elaborated on its automated assessment system for sewage infrastructure. Per the company: “Using deep learning, Hades automatically identifies defects in sewer inspection videos and tells engineers when and how to repair the sewers, saving time and money while protecting the environment.”
  • Metalmark, a Boston-based nanotechnology startup, presented a highly innovative solution to sometimes lethal urban air pollution in the form of “nanoarchitectured materials for highly efficient catalytic destruction of air pollutants, making clean air globally accessible and affordable.”
  • Last but not least, Brooklyn-based Unety pitched a sustainability-minded real estate financing platform that “empowers building owners and contractors with new capabilities, enabling them to make complex financial decisions and to match with the best capital providers.”
“Building creative solutions for a brighter urban life is in our DNA,” said Micah Kotch, managing director of URBAN-X . “As the need for solutions for local resilience has come into clearer focus across the world over the past weeks, we could not be more proud of the dedication Cohort 07 has shown in addressing large-scale challenges to improve city life.” Despite the challenges presented by running a hands-on startup accelerator during a global pandemic, URBAN-X will launch Cohort 08 as planned in June with a fresh batch of urban solution-oriented startups seeking to make the next big step. It will be the first cohort held completely online. “URBAN-X looks for the brightest startups creating disruptive and scalable solutions across sectors such as public health and safety, food, water, energy, construction, mobility, and more,” read a statement announcing Cohort 08. “With an existing portfolio of companies in public health and safety, paired with the unprecedented health and economic challenges resulting from COVID-19, this also includes new companies that can aid in COVID-19 response efforts and related impacts, such as solutions for first responders and those on the frontlines of the pandemic; those that support elderly, vulnerable and isolated populations; and those that ease pressures on government services.” Founded in 2016 by BMW Group-owned automobile company MINI and backed by venture firm Urban Us, each individual startup company selected to participate in an URBAN-X cohort—up to 10 companies per five-month “class” in total—is awarded up to $150,000 in seed money while being provided with invaluable in-house resources and expertise to help them further suss out and then secure funding for disruptive, problem-solving solutions for the urban built environment.
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Corona Column

What architects need to know about coronavirus small business relief programs
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. It’s been three weeks since President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion relief effort meant to bring the United States economy back from the brink of disaster. Much of that measure was meant to help the country’s millions of small businesses, architecture firms among them, but the rollout of the act’s programs has been rocky and confusing, and at least one of the new programs has already run out of money. While the relief programs don’t target architecture firms specifically, many may be helpful for the many small studios impacted by the crisis, so I thought it might be helpful to write a brief introduction to the programs. There are many resources linked throughout the article, and because so much of this information is changing so quickly, we may update this article as needed. Obviously, many architects in the U.S. don’t run their own firms, but this article will focus on new resources now available for small business owners, and AN will look at options for other professionals in future articles. The two biggest programs architects running small firms need to know are the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Both define small businesses as having 500 or fewer employees and are also available for independent contractors. The PPP has reportedly run out of money for now, though it may be replenished if the federal government can pass more legislation. The EIDL also ran out of money and has stopped accepting applications, and may have been rationing what was left. Both programs had experienced long delays as the government was swamped with applications, so if you’re interested in them, it may be helpful to prep application materials to apply as quickly as possible should more funds open up.

Payroll Protection Program (PPP)

The PPP created forgivable loans that come with the following stipulations:
  • The loans cover 8 weeks of payroll and “most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs,” according to the Treasury Department
  • Companies can borrow up to $10 million, though the loan will only cover $100,000 of payroll per employee. 
  • Only about 25 percent of the loan can cover non-payroll costs. 
  • Companies have to keep or rehire employees laid off or furloughed since February 15, 2020, in order for the loans to be fully forgiven, though partial forgiveness will also be offered.
  • The loans have a 0.5 percent fixed rate, and payments are automatically deferred for six months.
  • The loans do not require collateral.
  • Applications are available and are being received now, and they need to be processed by June 30, 2020.
PPP loans are administered through commercial lenders, so the easiest way to apply may be through a bank with which you already have a relationship. However, if you’re not having luck with your bank or don’t have one, financial tech companies like PayPal and Intuit’s Quickbooks are authorized to offer PPP loans and are open to new customers. The New York Times and other outlets have reported that applicants are seeing long delays both in getting the applications processed and getting their money, and the architects I have talked to have seen the same. Politico reported yesterday that the program is out of money unless the government approves more funding, but it might be possible to join a sort of waitlist for future loans. More information about PPP loans is available on a Treasury Department fact sheet, and a basic application shows what information lenders will require. Construction specialists at Pierce Atwood, a law firm, published a succinct guide to PPP in The National Law Review with more information.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)

The EIDL is not a new program, but the CARES Act gave it more money and took away some restrictions. It’s run through the federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA), and is meant to support businesses in areas that have declared emergencies (all 50 states have active states of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic). The EIDL provides low-interest loans that do not have to be completely paid back. The EIDL has run out of money and is not currently accepting applications, but the government may expand the program in the future. Application information should be available here if the program reopens. Part of what was new about the EIDL program is that the first $10,000 of the loan was supposed to be available within three days of applying and was offered as a grant called the EIDL Emergency Advance. Here are the basics about EIDL:
  • Borrowers apply directly through the SBA, not a third-party lender.
  • Applications were open through December 30, 2020.
  • Loans were typically available in amounts up to $2 million, although…
  • The New York Times reported that loan amounts may be capped at just $15,000 because of a lack of funding.
Finance reporter Stacy Cowley has written a great guide to the new small business relief programs at The New York Times that breaks down the above programs in an informative and easy to read format. Two other SBA programs offering $25,000 bridge loans for borrowers with an existing relationship with an SBA Express Lender and debt relief for borrowers with existing SBA disaster loans are also available. The SBA website has more information on those. But what should architects do with the relief funds if they get them? Esther Sperber, founder of New York-based firm Studio ST Architects, suggested that architects who do receive relief funds use that support “to do something good,” she said. “Since we have little architectural work that we can do [right now] but [may] nevertheless be paid, I would like to use this time to pay forward and help others.” Sperber applied for a PPP loan on April 6, but, as of this article’s publication, had not heard about the status of the application. She suggested that relief recipients do pro bono design work for nonprofits or offer to help related businesses apply for relief of their own. In other pandemic-related news this week, events continue to move online, including Burning Man, although the AIA completely canceled its 2020 national conference. In a sign of what may be in store for the rest of the country, New York City has stopped all public design work, not just construction. To cope with the crisis, companies and organizations are developing new technologies to monitor the state of construction and the behavior of construction workers. French officials announced that they still expect the Notre Dame Cathedral to reopen in 2024 despite interruptions to site work, and San Francisco announced last week that the city is planning on renting thousands more hotel rooms for homeless people. Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji also died this week from COVID-19 complications at the age of 93. In news not related to the pandemic, this past week we also lost Bill Menking, AN’s cofounder and editor in chief. There is a tribute page online now, and there will be an online memorial service in the coming weeks. More information will be available soon. Be well!
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Corona Column

How architecture is exacerbating the coronavirus crisis for minorities and Black Americans
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here.  While the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the entire country, it is hitting certain populations harder than others, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American people. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the CDC released its first national data tracking race among COVID-19 patients, which showed that in March, “the percentage of Black [hospitalized COVID-19] patients (33 percent) was much higher than the percentage of African-Americans in the population as a whole.” Local data from cities and states tracking race among COVID-19 patients showed that the health disparity is even worse in certain areas: In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are Black, though only a third of that state’s population is; “African-Americans account for…72 percent of virus-related fatalities in Chicago, even though they make up a little less than a third of the population,” according to the Times; the virus has killed more people in the Navajo nation than in the much larger state of New Mexico; and, as of Thursday, all the people who have died in St. Louis so far from COVID-19 complications have been Black Why is this the case? The answer could have something to do with architecture, particularly housing. According to public health experts, while other factors, like implicit bias in healthcare and higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, certainly play a role in the racial coronavirus disparities, crowded housing in low-income neighborhoods could be facilitating the spread of the disease and increasing “weathering,” or the wear and tear of environmental stresses on the body, which increases the severity of coronavirus cases. Urban design inequities also almost certainly play a role in transmission—even with social distancing rules in full effect, subway stations in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx in New York City are packed with commuting essential workers. “COVID-19 has been a magnifying glass on the weaknesses in our systems,” said Kimberly Dowdell, principal at HOK and president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA). Though racialized housing disparities are nothing new, the stark death toll of the pandemic is harshly illustrating those disparities’ effects. “There’s a saying that when America sneezes, the Black community catches a cold,” Dowdell said, pointing to an enormous wealth gap between Black and White Americans as one of the main reasons why Black people in the U.S. suffer more acutely during crises like the current one. The Brookings Institution recently reported that in 2016, the net worth of a typical white American family ($171,000) was nearly ten times greater than that of a typical Black American family ($17,150). While a variety of discriminatory policies have sowed the seeds for the current imbalance, racist urban planning has played an enormous part. Redlining, which started in the early 20th century and often continues in some form today, is a term for the once-legal practice of denying investments and bank loans to predominantly Black neighborhoods—banks would outline such areas in red on maps. The practice discouraged investment in Black-owned homes and businesses, which lost value over generations, resulting in not only a racial wealth gap but spatial disparities, as well. Many predominantly Black neighborhoods have fewer grocery stores, are closer to polluting industries, and lack high-quality affordable homes. Even after the pandemic subsides, vulnerable populations will still be at risk from the next crisis and will potentially be in even a weaker state. One answer, Dowdell said, is for communities to invest in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods to decrease the wealth gap and increase resiliency. That kind of recovery will require a mix of policy, development, and design professionals working together, ideally with teams that reflect the communities they’re serving. “Diverse teams are really important,” Dowdell said. “Architecture should reflect the communities that they serve form a racial perspective.” Dowdell pointed to Chicago, where she lives, and where Mayor Lori Lightfoot has focused on the city’s racialized spatial inequality in her mission to eliminate endemic poverty within a generation. “If there’s a team that goes into certain communities, it would be great if there were certain people who were from that community or at least have some level of familiarity with the culture and of the community,” Dowdell said. “For example, if we’re looking at the South Side of Chicago [which is over 90 percent African American], and you don't have African-African team members, that’s a missed opportunity.” Building teams that reflect underserved neighborhoods could be more difficult after the pandemic, as the economic downturn may be harder on architects who come from those areas. “I do think that Black communities are going to have a harder time recovering,” Dowdell said. “It’s going to be a challenge for everyone, but I think that given the wealth gaps, architects of color will probably struggle to get back to where they were.” As jobs, internships, and salaries decline, even if only temporarily, as a result of the pandemic, those without a cushion of family money or who financially support loved ones could have to leave the profession for greener pastures. The racial wealth gap means that Black and other minority architects may flee in greater numbers, damaging diversity in a profession that is already overwhelmingly white. As of 2019, only 2 percent of NCARB certificate holders identify as Black or African American, and less than 1 percent identify as Latino. What can architects do? Dowdell touted NOMA’s national network as a way for architects of color to support each other and find opportunities, including the group’s new NOMA Foundation Fellowship, which offers a stipend and internship for architecture students. NOMA is launching a new weekly web series, “Stay All In for NOMA,” which will help members stay informed during the pandemic. Dowdell also suggested that architects get involved with local NOMA chapters to organize and advocate for city and state planning policies that invest in underserved neighborhoods. For those already working on projects advancing social justice, NOMA is partnering with the NAACP and the SEED Network advocacy group on the Design Awards for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI), which will recognize excellence in those categories. “No matter what,” Dowdell said, “an architect can do something.”  In other corona news from this week, AN covered new hospitals and healthcare spaces deployed for the pandemic, and the AIA’s new assessment tool for adapting existing buildings into coronavirus treatment sites. The crisis continues to demand innovative thinking, and in Florida, autonomous vehicles are delivering medical supplies. For the housebound, we also highlighted many exhibitions you can check out from home, including robot-assisted gallery tours, a French show exploring AI and architecture, virtual Frank Lloyd Wright tours, and a virtual exhibit on a balmy shore. We picked some books to catch up on, too. Enjoy, and be well!
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Sunken Fare

CRÈME serves up some Bangkok street culture at New York’s latest Thai haunt
For the design of Wayla, a new eatery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood, local practice CRÈME took its cues from the lively street markets that rope across Bangkok. Jun Aizaki, the founding principal of the Brooklyn-based studio, worked with a close-knit team of restaurateurs and investors to develop this multifaceted project. His infusion of objet d'art sourced from Thailand’s famous flea markets is an ode to the bustling metropolis.  Reminiscing on the design of the space, Aizaki recalls a time before social distancing, when he conjured up a unique combination of architectural elements that encourage gathering. “It’s everything we can’t do right now.” With a limited budget, he opted to play up the tenement building’s vernacular characteristics—the deliberately visible water pipes; raw, unpainted brick walls, and monolithic concrete floors. “These elements became unwittingly part of the environment, a surprise that we intentionally emphasized to distinguish the space and tie it all together.” These motifs recur throughout as an overarching aesthetic framing a myriad of community spaces. Read the full profile on our interiors and design website,  
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Speaking Up

Innovation in Arkansas shouldn’t be overlooked
A powerful combination of natural resources and local initiative is pushing one southern state to the forefront of architectural innovation in the country. In Arkansas, a place that’s far from the profession’s traditional epicenters in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, big things are happening. In Bentonville, Wheeler Kearns Architects just repurposed a defunct Kraft cheese factory into The Momentary, the contemporary offshoot of the Moshe Safdie–designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Over two hundred miles south in Little Rock, Studio Gang and SCAPE Landscape Architecture are working together to renovate and extend the Arkansas Arts Center, a 104-year-old cultural institution attached to MacArthur Park. Construction on the 127,000-square-foot project broke ground last fall. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a massive research complex, the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation is slated to come online in 2022 courtesy of Grafton Architects, and last year the school finished the country’s largest mass timber building, Adohi Hall, a 202,027-square-foot dormitory designed by a team led by Leers Weinzapfel Associates. Topographically, Arkansas varies widely from its forested and rocky northwest corner to the eastern wetlands that follow the Mississippi River. Fifty-six percent of the state is covered in forestland. From the mountainous Ozarks region in the northwest to the deep-soil Delta in the southeast, the state’s diverse wood basket supplies yield high-quality forest products, along with 27,000 jobs in paper production and wood-related manufacturing. According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, some of the state’s largest employers include Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Weyerhaeuser, and WestRock Corporation, each owning at least two manufacturing facilities or more within the borders of Arkansas. The timber industry is one of the state’s biggest economic drivers. The Walton family, a.k.a. the founders of Walmart, Inc., is another. The Walton Family Foundation has made it its mission to develop high-design public buildings and community gathering spaces for the state’s Benton and Washington counties, home of Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville. Since Walmart made the latter its home base in 1971, it’s required all collaborators and retailers to set up shop in the area as well, thereby forcefully growing the population of the city year after year. The ripple effects of Walmart’s investment are already being felt around the state. While Adohi Hall might hold the title of America’s biggest mass timber building now, Gensler’s design for Walmart’s new timber-structured Home Office in nearby Bentonville will surpass it with 2.5 million square feet of mid-rise office space and amenity buildings. Canadian manufacturer Structurlam announced in December that it had bought an existing building in Conway, Arkansas, for $90 million and will retrofit it into a mass timber facility so that it can, in part, supply Walmart with the 1.1 million cubic feet of timber products needed for the project. Hardy Wentzel, CEO of Structurlam, said that latching onto a large-scale construction project at the start of a new site investment is a dream come true. “It really helped solidify our desire to move to Arkansas in our first U.S. expansion. I wanted to anchor my investment with a large contract and Walmart was the perfect opportunity.” Structurlam isn’t the only timber manufacturer expanding into the state. Texas CLT recently reopened a defunct laminating mill in the southwest city of Magnolia where it produces CLT products from southern pine and Douglas fir. Walmart, however, doesn’t compete with hardly anyone—especially in Arkansas. For the last six years since 2015, the Foundation has utilized its burgeoning Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program to get major firms working to reshape the region such as Ross Barney Architects and de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Other firms slated to do future work include Architecture Research Office, Deborah Berke Partners, MASS Design Group, Trahan Architects, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects. Last summer, LTL Architects completed an early childhood education center in Bentonville and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects was chosen to create a 50-acre cultural arts corridor in Fayetteville. The latter project will thread through downtown near the city’s recently-opened performing arts center, TheatreSquared, designed by Marvel Architects. When asked about her first impression of Arkansas and the Design Excellence Program’s work to fabricate these places with consistent new construction, Lissa So, founding partner of Marvel, said the initiative, which “seeks to preserve a sense of place by encouraging quality design of public spaces,” according its website, doesn't feel contrived. “Arkansas feels like home to me,” So told AN. “I grew up in Upstate New York and I love the close-knit community and emphasis on connecting with nature.” So sees the 50,0000-square-foot TheatreSquared—which has attracted much buzz since opening in August—as part of a cultural renaissance in Northwest Arkansas. The project embodies Fayetteville’s desire to develop its arts-related offerings and get more people interested in downtown. In 2006, it adopted a citywide master plan with zoning updates and street enhancements that enabled these goals. “Arkansas thinks of itself as the epicenter of arts between Chicago and Miami and if you look around, it feels that way,” said Jonathan Marvel, principal of Marvel Architects. “When it comes to building the city of Fayetteville itself, there’s a significant amount of attention and pride devoted to craftsmanship and ownership here.” The local design community is also rife with regional pride and uses the state’s abundant resources like timber and stone to build structures that speak to local designers’ mission-driven ambition, according to Chris Baribeau. Baribeau is the design principal and cofounder of modus studio—one of the teams behind the $79 million Adohi Hall and the university’s new corrugated aluminum Sculpture Studio. Much of the firm’s work involves designing K-12 schools for Arkansas’ rural communities, which fulfills its bent toward helping underserved populations. “There’s a real opportunity here to do something that’s meaningful,” he said. “We can prove that our approach to design and construction is actually for the betterment of people, not just about making beautiful objects or celebrating ourselves. There’s certainly a strong contingent of architects in Arkansas that believe in that ethos and work hard to make a difference here.” To many young architects like Baribeau, Marlon Blackwell is at the heart of this approach to design. Blackwell has worked in Arkansas since 1992 and is the most recent recipient of the American Institute of Architect’s highest honor, the 2020 AIA Gold Medal. If anyone has observed and influenced the changes that Arkansas has experienced in the last 30 years, it’s him. His eponymous firm’s seminal projects, such as the Keenan TowerHouse, completed in 2000, and the St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church, finished just over a decade later, shaped what became a new vernacular in Arkansas, one that’s continually broken down preconceived notions of what buildings look like in the American South. To bridge the gap of recognition that the state deserves, Blackwell, like other area firms, promotes projects from other practices and preaches about the culture of working in the region. “Many of us are standing on the shoulders of great native architects like E. Fay Jones and Warren Dennis Segraves,” he said, “but the difference between our work and theirs is that we are now taking on the public realm. There are many younger firms out there willing to fight the good fight and push progressive thinking on major civic projects. It’s a continual battle, but much of our recent success has also come from an enlightened clientele.” Whether it’s the university or the Walton family providing opportunity in Northwest Arkansas or arts organizations, the public school system, or business development districts looking to invest in the state’s southern half, projects are aplenty. As part of the architectural profession, Blackwell said, it’s his responsibility to demonstrate that every one of those opportunities deserves good design. “Our mission is to provide alternative models that change the benchmark of reality for folks here,” he added. “The more examples you can point to, the more reality is improved.” Take the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation, the focus of a design competition facilitated by the University of Arkansas. Timber is a dominant focus of study at the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, where students get to work with a cast of high-profile professors like Blackwell, who shares his passion for sustainable materials, and Stephen Luoni, who directs the award-winning University of Arkansas Community Design Center. Since Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, came to Fayetteville from St. Louis in 2014, he’s been working to deepen the school’s timber research program. A major part of this is the Timberlands Center, which will expand the university’s ability to undertake research projects, MacKeith said. The school already operates out of its longtime home Vol Walker Hall and the Marlon Blackwell Architects–designed Steven L. Anderson Design Center. “So much of what we’re doing across the school is emphasizing the relationship of thinking to making and the ambitions of our students have become larger in scale, tools, and techniques,” MacKeith said. “We’ve outgrown the capacities of what we can do in our existing building.” In mid-March, Grafton Architects, led by 2020 Pritzker Prize winners Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won an international competition for the Timberlands Center, besting 68 other entries and five other shortlisted firms: WT/GO Architecture, Dorte Mandrup A/S, Shigeru Ban Architects, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, and Lever Architecture. The competition was partially funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. To MacKeith, the momentum that the university has built over the last five years is due in part, because Arkansas is a small state and the school’s reach of influence extends all the way to the top. “We saw an opportunity where design education could be a benefit to the state’s greatest natural resource and my approach has been to make sure that the governor, the state legislature, as well as investors, and people at companies in Arkansas, understand that we can be part of the forest ecosystem,” he said. “Generally speaking, our students are quite concerned about the world they are going to be practicing in and living in and they want to be able to act responsibly. As a public land grant university, that’s why we work so much with people outside the corners of our campus.” It’s this open-minded ambition that is pushing a distinctive architectural agenda in the state. Chris Baribeau added that there’s an undertone of respect across Arkansas for the critical thinking and people-first attitude that local architects are bringing to projects, though he acknowledged that it’s taking some work to get that same respect on a national stage. Arkansas is speaking up.
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Terreform, Berke, Wines, and more remember the late Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the second of a two-part series; the first can be read here Jie Gu, director, lead urban designer, Michael Sorkin Studio “Jie, can you wiggle these buildings and make them sexy?” “Jie, can you let me have some fun?” “Jie, I had a dream last night. I think we need to try something new.” “Jie, I will be in on Saturday, leave me something not boring.” Michael, I miss the dynamic “creatures” you directed me to model. Michael, I miss the tremendous beauty of your red-colored sketches. Michael, I miss your utopian dreams for sustainable cities. Michael, I wish I could have spent more time with you. “Jie, if I go, you must use our legacy to keep going in the direction that seems best.” These were his last words to me, and they will resonate with me forever. Makoto Okazaki, former partner, Michael Sorkin Studio Like Matsuo Bashō, the most famous haiku poet of Edo-period Japan, Michael was inspired by his many journeys. The last email I received from him—on February 5th, 2020—was about a hospital in Wuhan built in just ten days to treat those infected with COVID-19. It was located within the area where we had, in 2010, designed a masterplan, what we called Houguan Lake Ecological City. In the same email, Michael expressed his disappointment over having to cancel a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips, which took him all over the world. On one occasion, he joked to me that a secret of his happy marriage was traveling alone a lot. I took this as advice! Wherever he was, Michael would send his inspirations and sketches back to the studio in New York City. We would develop them into a design proposal—not without some miscommunication—then toss it over to him. Back and forth, until we landed on something both strange and fantastic. We were thrilled by the whole process. Michael, you’ve now left on another journey. We all miss you. Deen Sharp and Vyjayanthi Rao, co-directors, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research Michael fizzed with ideas, his energy always captivating and inspiring. You could walk into his office to talk about a book project that we at Terreform had underway and walk out with instructions to contact a dozen different people about three more. Somehow amid this frenzy of activity, Michael always managed to maintain a laser-like focus on the Terreform mission of producing research to achieve more just, beautiful, and equitable cities. Somehow in this flood of ideas and instructions, proposals and counterproposals, Michael would always get the project done and the book (it always ended in a book!) printed. Terreform was founded in 2005 as a place for connecting research, design, and critique on urgent urban questions and using that research in the public’s interest. UR (Urban Research), founded in 2015 as Terreform’s publishing imprint, was the vehicle to make ideas accessible and truly public. With Michael at the helm, both platforms produced an inordinate number of proposals, books, reports, articles, symposiums, and launches. All were self-initiated, and Michael, initiator that he was, has left all of us at Terreform with plenty more to do. Most urgent is completing his—and Terreform’s—flagship project, New York City (Steady) State. The project’s central proposition is that the city can take responsibility for its ecological footprint. With New York City as his laboratory, Michael led several designers and social scientists in formulating designs and policies that could catalyze metabolic changes to critical infrastructural systems. The aim was to achieve a “steady state” of self-sufficiency within the city’s political boundaries. Ever the contrarian, Michael turned to steady state economics—a radical approach in a world addicted to growth and wilfully blind to its toxic consequences—to fashion an equally radical political vision of cities as central units for ensuring social and ecological justice. NYC (Steady) State was conceived as a series of books focusing on food and waste systems, energy, and mobility as the four key systems drastically in need of redesigning. Just last month, Michael was making final edits to Homegrown, the first book in the series and one focusing on New York City’s food production, consumption cycles, and distribution systems. His devotion to the project was so fierce that even after being hospitalized he sent emails urging us to complete and publish the volume. Beyond New York, projects were incubating in and about practically every corner of the world, all guided by students, friends, and admirers of Michael's. Their ideas were seeded or sharpened in their encounters with Michael at Terreform's 180 Varick Street office, where practically every workday ended with a visitor dropping by to say hello, being introduced to the crew, and sharing ideas over drinks. Terreform’s research projects have taken us to many places and brokered many friendships. For instance, Terreform has a lively group of friends in Chicago hard at work on South Side Stories, a collective project that shines a light on activist groups in the South Side and their struggle to reposition the Obama Presidential Center from a magnet of gentrification to catalyst for equitable, evenly dispersed urban development. Set in another conflict zone, the Terreform/UR book Open Gaza will add to Michael’s already substantial contribution to the Palestinian struggle for social and spatial justice when it is published next month. Our research projects, along with UR’s many internationally focused book projects, are primarily vehicles for showing how critique and design can speak the same language. For Michael, Terreform’s unique mission lay in developing an interdisciplinary dialogue that could be embraced by theorists, practitioners, and activists alike, and enable them to share new ways of looking at and imagining the world. Even as it hewed close to the standards of the university, Terreform sought to democratize these forms of knowledge beyond it by creating an accessible platform to address urgent issues in a timely and nimble fashion. We know we can never fill the huge absence that Michael leaves us. We are nevertheless determined to carry on Michael’s enormous legacy, to complete the large number of projects that are already underway, and to continue the work of urban research for greater social justice, beauty, and equality in our cities. Click here to learn how you can support Terreform. UR books are available for purchase here. James Wines, artist and architect The tragic loss of Michael Sorkin, as both a dear friend and premier voice for urban design on the international architecture scene, is still impossible for me to accept. At 87, I thought I would have been long gone before this, and so never anticipated experiencing the shock and despair I am feeling right now. Michael’s work in design criticism, theory, history, and planning—particularly his efforts to shape the future of cityscapes—was inclusive and visionary; indeed, he was an indelible fixture in global thinking on these topics. He was one of those rare disciplinary figures whose voice was synonymous with the profession, so that it is impossible to think about the condition of architecture and urbanism today without Michael’s ideas as pivotal points of reference and beacons of wisdom. His absence is inconceivable. While the endless fruits of his creativity will remain in museum and university archives to nourish future generations, an enormous part of the communicative value of Michael’s work was his participation in public dialogues. In this sense, he was like a great musical performer who made wonderful recordings; but the full measure of his talents was best experienced in concert format. Michael played both the revolutionary thinker and the consummate public speaker, a performance unmatched in architecture. As friends, professional colleagues, and career-long skeptics concerning all manifestations of design orthodoxy, Michael and I had a bottomless reservoir of art and design issues to debate during our thirty-plus years of dialogue. In terms of primary emphasis, we were both committed to solutions for the public domain and how to best encourage interaction among people within cityscapes. I often used to comment, when introducing our appearances on symposia, that Michael took care of the larger issues in urban design while I followed up with solutions for the small stuff under people’s feet. As our discussions unfolded, this was invariably the scenario that played out: Michael would cover the master plans, civic strategies, economics, and infrastructure, and then I would insert ideas for the pedestrian amenities of walkways, seating, plazas, gardens, and play spaces. Whereas I could hold my own in the presentation of visual material, Michael’s verbal eloquence always stole the show. I can recall so many lectures and conferences where I would find myself so enthralled with Michael’s delivery that my own faculties failed when it came my turn to speak. He was the ultimate impossible-act-to-follow on any podium. Michael and I had that kind of nurturing friendship where we could meet in an explosion of discourse on some hot topic, or just sit quietly at dinner and experience the reinforcing comfort of saying nothing. Of all Michael’s many talents, the pinnacle was his acerbic wit, with which he skewered the pomposities of our profession and politics of the day. Not only was his trenchant humor invariably on target, it was always articulated in such a way that inspired the opposition to re-think an issue. It is especially ironic that Michael Sorkin—a major advocate of integrative cities and people interaction—passed away during a time of global pandemic, when millions of urban dwellers have retreated into protective isolation. For this reason, I want to end this tribute with a quote on his work from my 2000 book Green Architecture:
Michael Sorkin might appropriately be called a visionary with a heart. He has understood that, with the universal buzz about people living in cyberspace and communicating primarily through global wavelengths, this is already a reality and just another convenient set of tools that will soon be assimilated into the realm of routine. In this respect, computers are just like every other exotic technology that has nourished science fiction hyperbole and ended up as nostalgic curios in antique auctions. In designing for the future city, Sorkin has acknowledged that people are weary of looking at digital screens all day and sit-coms all night; so why on earth would they want their neighborhood to be another extension of virtual reality? The fact is that people need and value human interaction more than ever because of computer technology. In the Sorkin city, they walk, talk, sit on stoops, tend their gardens, and breathe cleaner air. Preserving this desirable reality is the basic goal of sustainability and the primary urban design challenge of the future.
Moshe Safdie, principal, Safdie Architects For several decades, Michael Sorkin has been a unique voice in architecture. In a period of competing schools of thoughts, transitioning from one “-ism” to another, his critical voice was clear and constant, unwavering, with a focus on the impact of architecture on peoples’ lives and well-being; on the principles that must sustain urban life. He spoke about morals, values and ethics as others reviewed architecture as an ongoing fashion parade. Michael’s commitment to the idea that architecture must be in the service of those for whom we build, led him to strip the discourse of architecture from jargon and private lingo; expressing ideas clearly and articulately to the general public. As a critic at The Village Voice, he reached many outside the profession. He became propagandist for architecture, both within the profession and to the public at large, expanding horizons of the impact of our built environment has on our planet. Michael was a great and passionate teacher. I vividly remember his attendance at design reviews at the GSD, where sometimes faculty comments verge on the esoteric. Michael responded with surgical precision, getting to the essence of a design, and doing so in plain-talk. In his practice, both in Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform, he was a prolific provocateur, embracing scales from small neighborhood parks to entire cities. The studio produced numerous proposals. Alas, not enough were realized, but the impact on the current generation is profound. It is not often that we find, in one person, an architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, critic and writer. I will miss his voice, cut-off suddenly and untimely, at a time when it is most needed. I hope that the coming generation will embrace the professional ethic his life represents. Deborah Berke, partner, Deborah Berke Partners, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture Michael Sorkin was a great critic, inspired teacher, and a brilliant thinker. And happily for me, he was my friend. We would have a drink together once or twice a year and talk about New York. From old New York to the New York we loved to the New York we missed to the New York we hoped for in the future. Michael was a searing and insightful critic, all the way back to his days at The Village Voice, as well as in his many books and in his more recent criticism for The Nation. He was also an insightful teacher—he taught at Yale twice, first in 1990 as the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport visiting professor, then in 1991 as the William Henry Bishop visiting professor. He brought these same teaching skills to his strong leadership as the director of the master of urban planning program at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College (CCNY). He was also one of the most learned and well-read people I’ve ever met. His interests were diverse and his memory was expansive. Michael argued for the greater good in every aspect of the built environment—from the smallest detail of a building to the largest gesture of a regional plan. He will be missed. His convictions, his voice, and his heart are irreplaceable. Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University I can still rerun lines in my head verbatim from some of Michael’s Village Voice pieces—especially the ones I just couldn’t stop rereading while howling with laughter. His send-up of the Charlottesville Tapes was a true classic, a teddy bear to reach for in the most desperate moments of trying to survive postmodernism. Michael was an arsonist to be sure, yet he also wanted to rebuild something of value and commitment in the place of pretension and posturing. He held out hope for all engaged in architecture to his last moments—as the bright moral light on the horizon that he was—that architecture could still be an instrument for building community. When Reinhold Martin and I looked to launch our experimental Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream project in 2011, amid the ongoing foreclosure crisis, we turned to Michael, inviting him to participate in the opening panel discussion. He offered cogent analyses of our all-too vague brief as well as suggested lines of attack for making architecture that mattered. Along the way he also offered the audience gathered at MoMA PS1 and online a very moving description of his own upbringing in Hollin Hills, Northern Virginia. Hollin Hills was a place where Americans cultivated living together, Michael said, in language that starkly contrasts with the language of intolerance that has since invaded American life, virus-like. Ironically, I think he feared this virus more than the one that took him from us. Michael left us right when we needed him most. With his lucid intelligence, sense of purpose, and biting satirical way of writing, he could cut away the flack even as he focused us on the essential. Nothing he wrote is dated, even if much of it was provoked by immediate events. To reread his pieces is to be in conversation with one of the most truly original and free-thinking minds of architecture. I can’t imagine how anyone will fill the gap, but the texts will continue to delight us and offer refreshing insights. (Think how he knew, for instance, to appreciate Breuer’s Whitney at the moment when fashionable opinion was dead-set against it.) There are many ways to spend our evenings apart at the moment. I, for one, have found a superb tonic for these dark times: pour a glass of bourbon in Michael’s memory and prop open your favorite collection of his writings. We will miss you for years and years to come, Michael. Vanessa Keith, principal, StudioTEKA Design When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.” In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect. Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone. More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her! Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of architecture and urbanism, Princeton University School of Architecture It is too soon to bid farewell to my friend and colleague Michael Sorkin, whom I knew since we were students together at MIT. The last time we saw each other, in late January, we simply hugged each other goodbye: he was due to fly to China, I to Athens. It is indeed a silent spring now that he is gone! Yet his legacy lives on. He leaves a profound and lasting impact on public awareness, on architectural practice, on political commitment! His call to action remains. Michael Sorkin was the conscience of architecture, a visionary change-maker, dedicated educator, engaged author, and imaginative designer. He never backed down from opposing points of view. Rather, he called us all to live better in the world, to mend the city of inequity and injustice. He helped us build solid relationships through his edited books, a forum he built for voices to rise up together in solidarity. He was truly the root from which sprung our dedication to a socially responsible architecture. Michael’s pen brilliantly and humorously elevated the level of architectural and urban criticism into a new art. He was always writing for a better city yet to come. His concern was how to build a city of freedom, diversity, authenticity, participation, intimacy. Let his words speak!
“For me, writing has been the extension of architecture by other means both polemically and as fuel for my money pit of a studio. I write because I am an architect.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “Architecture cries out for a reinfusion of some sense of responsibility to human program as a generative basis for both its ideology and its formal and technological practice, but gets it less and less.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “[T]he new city is little more than a swarm of urban bits jettisoning a physical view of the whole; sacrificing the idea of the city as the site of community and human connection.”—Variations on a Theme Park (1991)
He pleaded for a return to a more authentic urbanity, “a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our best expression of a desire for collectivity.” The goal was, and is, “to reclaim the city is the struggle of democracy itself.” And it is a struggle over contending voices!
“[T]he City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and propinquity./ Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and production are the reasons for the City.” —Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude (1993)
Michael’s critical writings on the politics of architecture live on, be they about the utopian schemes for the World Trade Center or the reconstruction of New Orleans, or the engagement of Palestinian and Israeli voices in the future of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He wrote about the battle for freedom, global and local responsibility, the environment, even as he addressed the milieu of architecture, making appeals for inclusion, for connectivity, for sharing, and more. In this silent spring of isolation that robs us of his voice, his pen, his friendship and humor, listen to the small murmurs arising, the tributes that come in from far and near. Witness his influence great and small. From the soil he has nourished with his commitment and action will spring forth—amid ongoing contestation—a better city. Listen to his call! This dear Michael, our Michael, is your enduring legacy.
Sharon Zukin, professor emerita of sociology, Brooklyn College and City University Graduate Center Michael Sorkin was an architect’s writer and a writer’s architect. He had a brilliant wit, a ready command of politics, history, and principles of design, and a passionate commitment to social justice. He wrote in plain English and published prolifically. He scorned hypocrisy, shunned opportunists, and acted to build a better world. Although he had peeves—venal real estate developers, corrupt politicians, celebrity architects, that tin-plated hustler Donald Trump—Michael wasn’t peevish. He could not tolerate intolerance. He was impatient with himself, but he was also a generous teacher, colleague, and friend. During all the years that I knew him (I want to write have known him), I never understood how he could travel so far, write so much, or launch so many projects with so many people and always bring them to completion. Yet his genius ranged most freely, and his rage was most keenly charged, when he wrote about ego and power in the city that he loved: New York. I admired Michael as a writer before I knew him as either an architect or a friend.  I had been a devoted reader of his architectural criticism in The Village Voice during the 1980s. At the time, New York was in transition, moving from widespread deprivation to Reaganite glamour, yuppie glitz, and localized gentrification, even as fiscal austerity penalized the Rust Belt of the outer boroughs and quarantined communities of color. Michael cut through the hype to the complicit collusion of the real estate industry and government agencies; I learned a lot from reading him. Although he and I walked the same streets—and lived in the same neighborhood, Greenwich Village—his streets were more layered than mine because he knew more, had a better eye, and directed his critiques with pinpoint clarity. Who could ever catch up with him? The elegant essays that make up the book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan—shaped by the walk from his home to his office—are my favorites in Michael’s considerable oeuvre. He starts with the stairs in the Old Law tenement where he and Joan, his wife and life-partner, lived for many years. He recounts the difficulties he has had climbing those stairs, especially on crutches after surgery, and then segues into a brief but exact description of their construction. This leads him to reflect on other, grander stairs. The long, straight flights of stairs in late-nineteenth-century industrial buildings that formed a “tectonic loft vocabulary” within the cultural syntax of New York. The elegant double staircases in the Château de Blois. The capacious stairs in the MIT dorm designed by Alvar Aalto, made wide so students would stop to talk to each other. Long before Prada stores and tech and other “creative” offices sprouted them, Michael had already taken the measure of a staircase’s possibilities. “Architecture,” Michael drops into his conversation with the reader, “is produced at the intersection of art and property.” He exhumes the grid plan from its origins in the fifth century BC and relates it to the well-known scheme for laying out potential profit-bearing plots of land throughout Manhattan. Adopted in 1811, the grid not only set New York’s major money machine in motion but also set the course for its buildings, their heights and morphologies, and, yes, the stairs inside them. Which naturally makes him consider the pitch of the treads at the pyramids in Chichen Itza, only to return, once more, to his New York brownstone. This is—was—typical of Michael in writing as in casual conversation: erudition wrapped in humor that didn’t allow pomposity. Like Jane Jacobs, whom he greatly admired, and in whose honor he founded a lecture series at the Spitzer School of Architecture, he was a citizen of both the Village and the world. Like Jacobs, too, he saw the world in the city—but he also saw the city in the world. Michael traveled constantly, giving lectures, pitching projects, taking his students on field trips to South Africa one year and to Cuba another. During his career, he wrote about many different cities. Wherever a community of architects, activists, and urban designers protested a plan, or struggled to turn back an egregious intrusion of monumentalism into a skyline or streetscape, Michael was there. You could count on him to fire broadsides, mobilize the troops, and persuade strangers to join him. A few years ago, he persuaded me and others to write a short essay for a collective book he was putting together with people in Helsinki. This group strongly opposed the city government’s plan to contract with the Guggenheim Museum, then still in its expansionist phase, to build an expensive branch on a stretch of waterfront better left for public use. With these collaborators, Michael organized an anti-competition for design ideas and made us scholars into a jury. This mobilization, echoed by the popular opposition within Helsinki, helped to sink the Guggenheim plan. (Or, at least, it forced the city council to reveal its lack of funds.) The last time I saw Michael, one month before he died, he asked me to come by his office. We talked about a Hungarian artist’s book project on luxury apartments for which we were both writing essays, dished some dirt about various cultural figures on the South Side of Chicago, and looked at the old photographs of Michael’s family on his shelves. We laughed about the double portrait of Joan and himself in front of the Taj Mahal that he had painted in Vietnam; Joan, considering it trashy, would not allow it in their home. Michael asked if I could recommend someone who could write about race and class in the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago for a book he was planning for his publishing house UR, and then asked if I would write something for yet another book he was planning, on smart cities. Although he was not in the best of health, a frailty that the virus would exploit, he still pushed forward.  He was only prevented from taking another trip—to Africa—by the emerging blockade of travel restrictions. My last email from Michael came one week later. He heard me talking about my new book on the radio and immediately sent me fan mail. This, too, was Michael: he acted on friendship. Almost twenty years ago, he and I edited a book of essays by New York urbanists where we tried to put together our abundant sorrows and critical thoughts about the World Trade Center. The words Michael wrote about the fallen Twin Towers surely apply to him. He was, in all respects, “the Everest of our urban Himalayas.”
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Brit and Determination

Completed in nine days, massive NHS Nightingale hospital opens in London
NHS Nightingale Hospital London, an emergency medical facility dedicated to treating patients infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), opened late last week within the normally conventioneer-stuffed halls of the ExCeL London exhibition center following a super-expeditious retrofit. Thanks to a herculean collaborative effort carried out by the National Health Service (NHS), the British Armed Forces, the Royal Engineers, the facilities management team at ExCeL London, private contractors, and international architecture firm BDP, the 1-million-square-foot convention center in the docklands of East London has been transformed in just over a week into what’s not only the largest hospital in the United Kingdom but, per CNBC, the largest critical care unit in the world. BDP project leads Paul Johnson, architect director, and James Hepburn, engineering principal, described the process in a statement as “a monumental team effort which has been intense and exhausting.” The makeshift facility has room for 4,000- to-5,000 ventilator-equipped beds spread out between 78 different wards, each named after a famed British healthcare figure, as well as two morgues according to The Evening Standard. The hospital is currently operating with 500 beds and will expand as needed. “It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight, said Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, in a press statement. “The NHS, working with the military, has done in a matter of days what usually takes years.” Prince Charles, who is currently in Scotland recovering after he tested positive for COVID -19 at the end of March, opened the NHS Nightingale London via Skype on April 3. He noted: “In this dark time, this place will be a shining light.” At the time of writing, there have been 48,440 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom and 4,934 known deaths. In addition to Prince Charles, other prominent British figures who have contracted the virus include Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a growing handful of film and television personalities, athletes, and beloved cultural icons. London's makeshift mega-hospital is the first of what are to be several NHS field hospitals spread out across England with others soon to open in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, and Harrogate, Yorkshire. All will uniformly carry the Nightingale name in honor of trailblazing hygiene evangelist and Crimean War nurse extraordinaire, Florence Nightingale. Outside of England, NHS-operated pop-up hospitals are also in the works for Glasgow, Belfast, and Cardiff. ExCeL London’s Abu Dhabi-based owner was originally set to charge the NHS a hefty monthly sum for use of the space but has since reconsidered. While ExCel London certainly isn’t the first convention center or arena in Europe or elsewhere to be repurposed into a temporary hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, the staggering size of the conversion and the speed at which it was completed are, as noted by Prince Charles, remarkable. Also remarkable is the all-hands-on-deck approach instituted at Nightingale London and future NHS field hospitals. In addition to helping to build-out the facilities, military personnel have been enlisted by the NHS to join civilian first responders in ferrying patients via ambulance to the hospitals. Furloughed cabin crew members with airlines easyJet and Virgin Atlantic—many of them first aid-trained and security-cleared—have also been summoned by their employers to change beds and perform non-clinical support tasks at NHS Nightingale London and other NHS field hospitals. As for the conversion of ExCeL London into the world’s largest critical care facility, Manchester-headquartered BDP has been eager to share its adaptive design approach in hopes that it can be replicated elsewhere if need be. To help illustrate how it was done, the firm has published a poster-sized, IKEA-esque instruction manual. “Delivering emergency hospital facilities in conference and exhibition centres is unprecedented, so we have been drawing on our previous experience of designing large-scale healthcare facilities including very large intensive-care units in super-speciality tertiary hospitals like Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham,” said BDP's Hepburn in a statement. “However, it is the scale, timeframe and purpose of this emergency facility that distinguishes it from any previous healthcare projects.” The firm elaborates on the nuts and bolts of the rapidly implemented design its website:
“The bed heads and service corridors were constructed from a component system that is usually used to construct exhibition stands and there was some simple reinforcement to allow services to be fitted to the walls. Minimal building intervention enabled maximum use of the building's assets. “Clinical flows determined the circulation strategy within the building. The wards are linked with a temporary tunnel across a boulevard which allows connection to the diagnostics area. Staff move from the boulevard to and from the ICU wards via the don and doff rooms, allowing PPE to be donned and doffed, which is key to infection control.”
Per the NHS, 33,000 beds in existing hospitals have been freed up to accommodate an influx of COVID-stricken patients. This is the equivalent of opening 50 new hospitals, although this comparison, as some have pointed out, is a bit weak. “These measures mean that capacity still exists in hospitals to deal with coronavirus, with the Nightingales standing ready if local services need them beyond that,” explained the NHS.