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West by Northwest: Oregon Ways

The mythologies of Oregon’s utopian seekers still informs its design and architecture today

A few months back, while casually scrolling through some feed or another, I was struck by a series of images for a Portland-based boot company, Danner. Kicking up a faint cloud of dust with measured, deliberate steps, a lone photovoltaic maintenance worker moves across the image between parallel sets of solar trackers in a 64-acre facility in the high desert landscape just outside of Bend, Oregon. Emblazoned in bold over the image, the word “STRONGHOLD” conjured the work-boot family and the attitude of the region from which it springs. In what could pass for a Green New Deal campaign lifted from only the most heroic of WPA posters, other images from the commercial shoot evoke the photovoltaic maintenance process—a delicate operation involving technical expertise, careful stewardship, the right boots “built for comfort and stability,” and a Dodge Ram with plates reading “1932,” Danner’s date of establishment prior to relocating to Portland, where it would supply loggers with caulked boots during the Depression. From those origins spring the current slate of boot categories: work, hike, lifestyle, hunt, military, and law enforcement, producing an uneasy space where aesthetic cohesion and mythologizing coagulate in an open wound of mixed messaging between bright green and militarized versions of the future. The Danner website declares: “The Future Is Strong.”

Scenes like the above are a renewable resource in the Pacific Northwest, underwritten by a low-key utopian sense that’s as much about a “way” of doing things as it is about place. Oregon is of the American West, but not exactly the center of its mythos. In the estimation of the 1940 Federal Writers’ Project guide to the state, Oregon’s position at the “end of the trail” leveraged terminus into an exceptional charge that “inspire[d] not provincial patriotism, but affection”: “The newcomer at first may smile at the attitude of Oregonians towards their scenery and their climate. But soon he will begin to refer to Mt. Hood as ‘our mountain.’” Here, the “dismal skies” and rains of winter were merely the “annual tax” one paid for the privilege of inhabiting a state of “eternal verdure”—a cozy picture that excludes the desert land east of the Cascades mountain range and a whole host of volcanic and seismic activity lying in wait and prone to violent outbursts.

For its part, the city of Bend has recently been deemed a commuter town for Silicon Valley and is an increasingly expensive playground where brewpubs, rec centers, inner tube flotillas on the Deschutes River, and extensive parkland make their own kind of lively stronghold at the base of the Three Sisters Mountains. As in Portland just on the other side of the Cascades, there’s a rolling collision between earlier imported and newly imported visions of an affluent good life in nature that are just complementary enough to exist in tenuous détente while other narratives vie for recognition.

Upon arriving in Portland by way of a westward drive through the Columbia River Gorge, it was hard for me to escape the impression that this working landscape had been staged as an advertisement for the achievement of a kind of augmented reality just removed from the usual roiling of time. The B Reactor at Hanford, Washington, and the still-toxic ghosts of the Manhattan Project were out there somewhere, as was a Lamb Weston facility that processes 600 million pounds of frozen potato products annually, but here in this gash through the Cascades was a vision of forward movement in balance. Flanked by wind turbines running along the hill crests and with Hood’s emblematic peak directly ahead, rail and moss-lined roadways delivered a parade of works and features, from dams, locks, and spillways to waterfalls and elevated viewpoints. Some of these projects, like the Bonneville Dam, have been held up as pivotal but imperfect New Deal–era models of public hydropower administration, while The Dalles Dam is known more for its erasure of Celilo Falls, once a critical center of indigenous cultural and economic life. Such erasure and fragmentation, however, are far from the exception, as white nationalists have also long found refuge in Cascadia’s crevices and realty boards since the state’s founding in black exclusion. Here, too, the American Redoubt and various Cascadian secession movements pick up where Ernest Callenbach’s more countercultural 1975 novel Ecotopia left off with utopian search/seeking, be it for an ecotopia or a white nationalist stronghold.

As a perverse addendum to the theme of exclusion, however, Oregon’s urban growth boundaries have made for a compelling regional planning model, containing sprawl to preserve the "natural" playground and its biodiversity. In all things a kind of balance. Runaway utopian-as-utilitarian dreaming was, after all, the villain of California-born author Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel, The Lathe of Heaven, a fable of Portland’s exceptionalist attitude and the relative wealth of its natural inheritance. In this corner of the country, there was the possibility, for some, of a more comfortable—or less uncomfortable—future. Still, the novel’s status as a critique of progress or a privileged and resigned version of the same remains difficult to discern.

Storied weirdness aside, Portland is one of several metropolitan centers with the self-designation, “the city that works.” And it does, though critiques of the “sustainable city” are rolling in from those willing to cast a more critical eye toward the externalities and displacements produced through progress of this sort. Persistent NIMBY-ism and the ongoing battle over a proposed I-5 expansion amid new reports that Portland’s carbon emissions reduction progress has flatlined since 2012 suggest that the city’s climate policies are still far from where they need to be. On a more positive note, Oregon HB 2001’s move to effectively dissolve single-family zoning was the kind of course correction one would come to expect in the wake of new evidence of housing need. As with other improvements over its history—UGBs, public ownership of the coast, mass timber innovation by firms like LEVER and Hacker, ecodistricts, hydropower, cycling culture, and transit-oriented development—in paving the way for a proliferation of duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, Oregon again models a quietly progressive version of a future.

Exemplary care-oriented building projects also come to mind, like the Seven Corners Collaborative in Southeast Portland, where Waterleaf designed a new, fully accessible colocation center for local nonprofits that provide support services for people with disabilities, along with an assistive technology lab for training, consultation, and public interface. Elsewhere, in the Lents neighborhood, a shelter in the repurposed shell of an old church forms the heart of a new “family village” campus by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, Carleton Hart Architecture, and Corlett Landscape Architecture that’s furthering the use of trauma-informed design and concentrated service delivery for families experiencing homelessness. Also in Lents, the new Asian Health & Service Center by Holst provides a venue not only for much-needed affordable healthcare services for the area, but also a well-appointed infrastructure for community social events, all granted a generous view of Mt. Hood from the top floor. SCOTT | EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE’s Portland Mercado fulfills a similar social function for Portland’s Latinx community through a modest adaptive reuse and landscape strategy that ties an existing structure together with a series of food carts, covered outdoor space, and copious seating. Led in part by the efforts of the latter two firms along with Ankrom Moisan and organizations such as Home Forward and Central City Concern, recent supportive housing projects in the city, such as Bud Clark Commons, the Beech Street Apartments, Garlington Place, and the Blackburn Center, are also demonstrating how architecture can operate and innovate through a lens of care and playfulness rather than singular virtuosity or brute force.

This ethos also comes out in Portland’s new and renovated green spaces, such as the collaboration by 2.ink Studio and Skylab on Luuwit View Park in East Portland. The park stands as a microcosm of the city’s celebrated urban landscape innovations, complete with community gardens, dog park, skate park, event shelter, public art, stormwater treatment area, and bilingual signage to acknowledge and accommodate the diversity of new residents in the neighborhood, as well as trails aligned with distant landmarks like Mt. St. Helens, or “Luuwit,” as named in the Cowlitz language. Likewise, with Cully Park in Northeast Portland, 2.ink explored similar design elements on the site of a former landfill in an underserved neighborhood, including significant habitat restoration, a fitness course, and the city’s first Native gathering garden. Developed by the community nonprofit Verde in partnership with the city, the project engaged neighborhood residents throughout the process with outreach, employment, and education programs. 

More broadly, a host of design and planning-based initiatives work to translate reparative sociopolitical agendas into spatial terms, such as the Portland African American Leadership Forum’s 2017 People’s Plan and the more recent Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability publication on the Historical Context of Racist Planning in the city. Blocking pipeline projects and filling streets in the name of climate action, Sunrise, XR, and 350PDX also stake active claims on the city and its future, while newly constructed works like FLOAT’s Portals in Southern Oregon stage direct action pipeline resistance, countering fossil fuel extraction logics with an expansive meditation on architecture’s capacity to support multispecies reciprocity. Further, initiatives and organizations throughout the region like Columbia Riverkeeper, Sightline, Wisdom of the Elders, the High Desert Partnership, and the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project engage in environmental care and land management through advocacy and cross-scalar collaborations, while efforts by the Friends of Trees and the city’s Green Street Steward Program involve volunteers in urban greening and bioswale maintenance. On the academic front, Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design was founded in 2013 to respond to the needs of underserved communities in the city and abroad and has since paired design-build work with robust community engagement processes, while the University of Oregon has launched a multidisciplinary fellowship initiative in Design for Spatial Justice, which mobilizes theory and practice in foregrounding narratives, experiences, and modes of design, political action, and biodiversity conservation long marginalized or excluded by fields responsible for the built environment.

How this expanding constellation of projects and practices might fare in an escalating climate struggle is a crucial question. With even cursory estimates of climate-induced in-migration to the region due to sea level rise alone projecting numbers in the hundreds of thousands over the next few decades, the challenge for utopia would initially seem to be one of scale. The war footing rhetoric of the GND, like that of the New Deal before it, anticipates such scales of action in the work of justice and infrastructural investment. A war footing for scaling care, however, is perhaps a more fraught and paradoxical charge, particularly as the goal would be to move beyond a narrow definition of relief as an improvised response toward the construction of more durable and equitable systems merging care with justice.

In a dysfunctional climate regime, what does it mean to position oneself as a stronghold or a refuge, or a model city? When PG&E issued its now-infamous directive to its California customers to “use your own resources to relocate” when the utility company unilaterally shut off power to nearly a million people back in October, it signaled that climate change survival would become a matter of self-reliance if left in the hands of those with no obligation for care. Against this backdrop, even a modicum of external accountability would come to appear as care and competency. As Holly Jean Buck writes, “There are plenty of scenarios where we deal with climate change in a middling way that preserves the existing unequal arrangements…[where] even muddling through looks like an amazing social feat, an orchestration so elaborate and requiring so much luck that people may find it a fantastic utopian dream.” In a global theater of sociopolitical and ecological degradation, it becomes difficult to assess the utopian potential of projects that work well within familiar registers, leading in some cases to a privileging of expediency and the reenactment of functioning models. 

But, even with the relative risk aversion, what bridges the perceived cultural gulf between the measured and occasionally errant strands of progressivism in the Pacific Northwest and the most fanciful Silicon Valley fever dreams is the recurring belief in some level of remove as a precondition for positive transformation and mastery. The right person in the right boots in the right geography, and a comfortable future is assured. The inclusion of photovoltaics in that picture is a welcome addition, but what is the future of an image like this in a present where what’s demanded is both a dissolution of the concept of human mastery over the environment and a dramatic mobilization, reorientation, and upscaling of progressive instruments closely aligned with the tools, attitudes, and systems that delivered the environment to the brink of collapse in the first place? Its violence veiled as much as romanticized, the story of a pioneer harnessing the productive power of a landscape was one promise of “the West.” As many of Oregon’s latest projects begin to suggest, there are and should be others, and the next steps are critical in defining the kind of refuge the region will become.

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Time is a Flat Squircle

Canada gives utopia a chance with The Orbit
There have been hundreds of smart cities recently proposed for countries all over the world, but one of the most recent and confident (backed by developer Cortel Group) is The Orbit, a smart city master plan in Innisfil, Canada, just north of Toronto, envisioned by architecture firm PARTISANS Innisfil is a rural town with a long history of progressive thinking. It was one of the first towns to test out Uber and also accepts cryptocurrency as a payment method for city services and taxation. The entire proposal anticipates boosting Innisfil's population from 30,000 to anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000.  The Orbit looks and feels like the utopian Garden Cities which originated in England during the heights of the Industrial Revolution. A suburban dream of order, lawns, and cleanliness away from the filth and chaos of industrial London, these cities were often realized in concentric circles with the ingredients of society each assigned their own belt: Housing, schools, shops, factories, and transportation segregated from each other.  While PARTISANS does admit to Garden City inspiration, their reasons for departure from the framework are weak: The design claims to use a unique street grid form the firm has called “squircles”—not quite squares and not quite circles. But really, they just replace 19th-century jargon with 21st-century jargon, and instead of idyllic lawns for children to play on, the plan speaks to more efficient and environmentally friendly suburbanization patterns as an alternative to urban sprawl. The project, which will span over 450 acres, will also include a plan for mass fiber optic cable systems that will provide connectivity across sidewalks, streets, and buildings as well as drone ports and self-driving cars. The firm has also entertained the idea of how health and wellness centers can benefit from such technologies. All the other elements of a hospitable city will be included as well, including a school, farmer's market, library, recreational centers, and art institutions. The Innisfil Council voted unanimously to accept PARTISANS’ proposal after putting out a call for designs looking for a “visionary city of the future centered around a transit hub.” Prompted by the introduction of a new Metrolinx rail station known as GO Transit, which is expected to form the center of The Orbit's layout, it will be joined by two mixed-use towers that will house offices, retail, and residential spaces. The squircles, or roadways, will then wrap around this central hub.

The Orbit is also following in the footsteps of the earlier proposed project in Toronto by Sidewalk Labs. An offshoot of Alphabet Inc., Sidewalk Labs has redesigned the old industrial waterfront district of Quayside to resemble an Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) district. Both Canadian plans are idealistic in nature and check many of the boxes required for sustainable and sensitive development in contemporary discourse. However, their main drawback is that they are digital master plans, and their biggest ideas, from infrastructure to real estate, require the intervention and cooperation of many different parties—these outside partnerships undermine the authoritative leadership proposed by a utopian plan and jeopardize the guarantees the designers see (although Sidewalk Labs is definitely making progress).

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No More Limits

MTA announces $51.5 billion capital plan with commitment to accessibility
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is set to begin exercising its $51.5 billion capital plan this year—the largest budget approved in agency history. In a press release this week, the MTA announced it's now looking for qualified design-build firms to work on accessibility projects across 23 subway stations in the city. "Accessibility is a top priority fo the MTA," said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye in the statement, "and we are committed to completing these accessibility projects as quickly as possible." Equitable travel—via public transit in particular—has long been a big issue throughout the five boroughs. According to a February analysis by The New York Times, there are over half a million residents who have limited mobility, two-thirds of which don't live near an accessible subway station. What's more, only 25 percent of New York's 472 stations have elevators. The accessibility push is part of the MTA's historic 2020-2024 Capital Plan in which it will invest billions of dollars into New York City public transit, as well as regional subways, buses, commuter rail systems, bridges, and tunnels. Up to $40 billion will be set aside strictly for improving New York's subway and bus systems with $5.2 billion of that allocated for accessibility projects. A total of 70 subway stations have been identified for work overall in the MTA's capital plan. The MTA promises to install two-to-three new elevators at each of the 23 stations listed in the RFQ and make other improvements aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, it will reconstruct platform edges or ADA boarding areas in the hopes of making passengers feel safer. Utility, station communication, and lighting upgrades may occur as well depending on existing conditions at the station. The news comes less than a year later after the MTA announced Foye, longtime head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as its new leader. This past December, the agency moved 430 employees to its new Construction and Development department in an effort to consolidate all construction personnel. The change, along with other organizational moves, was mandated by the New York State government earlier last year in order to increase efficiency within the agency and speed up project delivery timelines.
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No Keating

Keating designs luxury apartment tower for L.A.'s low-rise Miracle Mile
Los Angeles-based architecture firm Keating unveiled a $400 million luxury apartment tower for the east end of Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard, the famous street that boasts cultural institutions like LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits, and the Peterson Automotive Museum. Set next door to the historic Sontag Drug Store building, 5411 Wilshire features a curvilinear design perched on a multi-story parking podium. The project is being developed by the Marks family which has owned the 84-year-old building since 1968. According to Keating, they decided to revamp the site and renovate the Sontag Drug Store ahead of the Purple line subway extension that's slated to open blocks away in 2023. “There are going to be a lot more people [in the neighborhood]," Walter N. Marks III told the Los Angeles Times. “Industry follows people, my grandfather used to say.” Standing 42 stories tall, the glassy 5411 Wilshire will include 371 units of luxury apartments, 56 of which will be set aside for affordable housing. Keating envisions the design of tower as a nod to the Art Deco-style luxury residential towers that can still be found a few miles east on Wilshire Boulevard. While most buildings in the neighborhood do not exceed 50 feet, the proposed tower would rise nearly 521 feet tall with a sky deck located at the very top. The residential complex will also feature 15,000-square-feet of ground-floor retail, along with a slew of other amenities. It will house a bowling alley, a VR gaming room, a golf simulator, a yoga studio, as well as a dog-grooming space, a demonstration kitchen, a wine-tasting counter, and a billiard room. Studio-MLA, led by landscape architect Mia Lehrer, will design a private garden set above the retail and parking space. Tenants will be able to drop their cars off at an automated valet system, located behind the building's main entrance in a nod to the spatial organization typical of buildings on Wilshire Boulevard. Keating will also revitalize the adjacent Sontag Drug Store—also an Art Deco structure—complete with its original signage, materials, windows, and awnings. A restaurant and café, as well as retail space, will outfit the interior. The Marks family aims to complete the renovation and construction by 2023.
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Forever Mikyoung

Mikyoung Kim and DiMella Shaffer will design Boston's first LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility
  Boston will get its first LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility, designed by Boston-based architecture firm DiMella Shaffer and landscape architecture by Mikyoung Kim Design. On November 13, the Public Facilities Commission voted to convert Hyde Park’s former William Barton Rogers Middle School, a 120-year-old building, into a 74-unit complex for mixed-income people age 62 and up, including units for homeless seniors.  The facility, which is the city's first of its kind, will provide staff and residents with training to ensure an LGBTQ-friendly environment. However, the complex will be open to all seniors with none set aside specifically for LGBTQ people, as anti-discrimination laws require. The news coincides with the opening of the Marvel Architects-designed, first LGBTQ-friendly affordable senior housing facility–the largest in the country–in New York City, and represents a growing recognition of the need for housing among this demographic.   The $32 million renovation will be developed by Pennrose Holding LLC in partnership with the nonprofit LGBTQ Senior Housing organization, with funding coming from a combination of public money and private loans. According to The Boston Globe, the 98,000-square-foot former school building will be mostly preserved. Additions and updates will include an outdoor courtyard as well as a community space, and an art gallery showcasing the Civil War-era 54th Infantry Regiment of Hyde Park, which was made up of volunteer African-American soldiers fighting for the Union. Pre-existing amenities such as the school gymnasium will be renovated to hold indoor physical activities.  “With the housing boom Boston has been witnessing, we need to ensure housing for our seniors, especially for the underserved LGBTQ community,” said Philippe Saad, Associate Principal at DiMella Shaffer. “Innovative partnerships like this one will serve as a model for opportunity. It paves the way towards integrating older adults in their community by  providing spaces that are inclusive and multigenerational by design. This project will also further the city’s age-friendly initiative and Imagine Boston 2030 as we head into 2020.” The development is significant for addressing the needs of a twice-vulnerable population. According to the City of Boston’s Commission on Affairs of the Elderly's 2014 “Aging in Boston” report, four-in-ten senior Bostonians live on household incomes of less than $25,000, and half experience a high-cost burden of housing. For LGBTQ seniors, this is compounded by the issue of finding safe and accepting housing situations.  “The number one issue for LGBT seniors is housing. There’s a huge panic about where we’re going to go when we can’t take care of ourselves,” Bob Linscott, assistant director of the LGBT Aging Project at Fenway Health told The Boston Globe. "There’s a big fear of going to a place where people will be bullied and harassed by the same people who bullied and harassed them decades ago.”
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BIG Cove Coming

BIG and James Corner Field Operations reveal Williamsburg’s newest blockbuster towers
Continuing the work done slightly south at Domino Park, today developer Two Trees revealed their newest addition to the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, waterfront. River Street will bring a pair of sloping towers designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and a circular esplanade, cove, beach, boat launch and more, courtesy of James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) to the East River end of Metropolitan Avenue. Two Trees described the project as not replicating the same park-on-a-pier typology as Domino Park but instead will slope to meet the water. Thanks to the existing concrete caissons already adjacent to the site at 87 and 105 River Street, BIG and JCFO have been able to propose building into the East River to create a total of six acres of public space. The BIG-designed towers, from the renderings, will loom over the surrounding neighborhood and dwarf the towers at the Domino Sugar Factory complex next door. Totaling 1.2 million square feet across both buildings, the towers will contain 750 market-rate apartment units, 250 affordable units, 47,000 square feet carved out for a new YMCA (with pool), 30,000 square feet for local retail, and 57,000 square feet of office space. An additional 5,000 square feet will be set aside at ground level for a series of community kiosks, which will likely contain amenities for parkgoers and kayakers. Although the towers will be tall—one will top out at 600 feet, and the other at 650 feet—BIG has attempted to soften their impact by “pinching,” pulling, and spreading out the massing at the base. The towers’ stature will have the added effect of framing the Manhattan skyline for those looking down Metropolitan, and Bjarke Ingels claimed that their triangular footprint was designed as a “funnel” for those looking to reach the shore. River Street’s most striking feature, at least when viewed from above, will be the circular esplanade and on-river landscaping mentioned earlier. Instead of lifting the shoreline bulkhead to protect from storm surges as is typical for a coastal development, JCFO wants to implement a series of berms and soft edges to both protect River Street from flooding and increase access to the river. That will include a new public beach (JCFO senior principle Lisa Switkin noted that New York’s waterways are the cleanest they’ve been in a century), nature trails, plenty of tidal basins, both saltwater and freshwater marshlands, an amphitheater, outdoor classroom, and more. As is fitting for the designers selected by Two Trees, the team claims that River Street borrows from the Netherlands model of “embracing the river” rather than trying to block it out. Accordingly, Ingels claimed that the River Street towers would be able to weather a 500-year-storm surge, thanks to the way the landscape would be able to break up the energy of incoming waves and the placement of the towers’ mechanicals on higher levels. When asked about a timeline, Two Trees was confident that they would be able to have River Street approved in the next two years under the current City Council administration, although the project will still need to undergo the mandatory seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). After the ULURP concludes, it should take another five years for River Street to be fully built out. The park and a single tower will be built in the first phase, and the second tower would come afterward. However, according to Switkin, because the project will build on to the East River, they will also need a joint permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Though, Switkin also noted, with the passage of the Living Shorelines Act (H.R.3115) in the House of Representatives earlier this week, federal momentum is building to enable exactly these types of projects. River Street will be entirely privately funded and maintained by Two Trees, similar to Domino Sugar Factory.
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Flying High?

Will this airport engineer be the next Architect of the Capitol?
On Monday, President Trump announced J. Brett Blanton as his nomination for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC).  Blanton is currently the deputy vice president for engineering at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority where he leads the planning, design, construction, and code enforcement for all properties controlled by the Airports Authority. While in the United States Navy he also oversaw “some of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken by the Department of the Navy,” according to the Whitehouse’s website All that said, Blanton is a licensed engineer (in the state of Georgia) but is not a licensed or practicing architect. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy, followed by a Master of Science in Ocean Engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  If confirmed by the United States Senate, Blanton will serve a 10-year term and will be put in charge of maintaining the 18.4 million square foot Capitol complex, which includes Washington, D.C., landmarks such as the Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court building and Senate and House office buildings.  The previous AOC, Stephen T. Ayers, served from 2010 through November 2018 and oversaw the restoration of the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. He also launched the renewal of the Cannon House Office Building, a monumental, five-phase project that Blanton would take over during his term. Ayers completed his Bachelor of Science in Architecture at the University of Maryland and received his Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, as well as an honorary Doctor of Public Design from the Boston Architectural College in recognition of his work in historic preservation.  According to Engineering News-Record, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will have a scheduled confirmation hearing for Blanton on December 12.
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MO-ving On Up

Kansas City will be the first major U.S. city to offer free public transit
Kansas City, Missouri, may become the first major U.S. city to offer fare-free public transit. While the light rail system (opened in 2016) was already free, the City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to also make the bus routes open and accessible to all as well. The city’s new mayor, Quinton Lucas, said in a tweet, “We want this city to be as efficient as possible...we want to make it a city where a pedestrian has an opportunity to get to where they need to go.” The change has been a priority for the mayor whose “Zero Fare Transit” proposal has since been endorsed by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) as a way of putting money back into the local economy.  Robbie Makinen, the head of the KCATA, estimated that 20 percent of bus riders already ride for free, as rides are offered to both veterans and high school students. For everyone else, fares are currently $1.50 per ride or $50 for a monthly pass. Makinen believes that making the entire system free would cost about $12 million a year, and the city council has approved $8 million for the project so far.  But the Kansas City metro area is large—seven counties and two states. The new system would only be applicable to buses originating and returning to Kansas City, Missouri, meaning residents could ride free in some areas but not in others.  U.S. cities offering free rides on certain lines or within certain areas are not new, but Kansas City would be the first to offer a universal system. Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the effort, said according to KCUR, “I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city.”
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LACMA Unlimited

Controversial street-spanning element of LACMA redesign approved
However controversial Peter Zumthor’s redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) may be to the general public, the L.A. City Council has a track record of unanimously siding with the Pritzker Prize-winning architect and the museum. Though the majority of the building’s elements have already been approved during the multi-year design phase, a City Council vote on December 3 officially gave permission for the project to span over Wilshire Boulevard, allowing the design’s most ambitious feature to remain intact, according to City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. LACMA director Michael Govan, as well as Councilmembers David Ryu and Herb Wesson Jr., additionally expressed their interests in preserving the design for the museum as is. Govan has commented that, in its current form, the design is more open and contextually-sensitive than its predecessor, while spanning over Wilshire to connect to the Purple Line station that is set to be completed in 2023. Ryu commented that the proposed design will ensure LACMA remains a symbol for the city and “a showcase for the world to see and enjoy.” Several speakers at City Hall, however, expressed concerns with the current proposal. The $117 million the county is awarding to the project, the potential safety issues associated with the portion of the building spanning Wilshire Boulevard, as well as the fact that much of the plan was not adequately disclosed to the public during the schematic design phase, have been the subjects of recent criticism. LACMA responded to these are other public concerns in their FAQ, stating that “the environmental impact review has shown that the crossing poses no hazards to motorists, traffic patterns, or pedestrians,” and that “without the new building, the County would be facing a minimum of $246 million in basic repairs for the aging buildings.” Construction is set to begin early next year, coinciding with the opening of the adjacent Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and is scheduled to be completed in 2023 in coordination with the completion of the new Metro station across the street.
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Literal World-building

SCI-Arc launches new program on emerging topics in landscape architecture
Shortly after Hernan Diaz Alonso became the dean of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in 2015, a suite of four postgraduate programs (Architectural Technologies, Design of Cities, Fiction and Entertainment, and Design Theory and Pedagogy) were offered that confirmed the progressive, speculative stance the school first took when it opened in 1972. Yesterday, SCI-Arc announced that a fifth postgraduate program will soon be added into the mix. Synthetic Landscapes will be a one-year, three-semester Master of Science degree program that, according to the school’s website, “focuse[s] on advancing knowledge and developing expertise in the design of complex landscapes for the twenty-first century.” Reflecting on the decision to establish the program, Postgraduate Programs chair David Ruy commented that “Landscape design, the often overlooked counterpart to building design, is increasingly becoming a primary arena for the development of ecological awareness and innovation.” The curriculum will incorporate lessons familiar to a landscape architecture program—including those of horticulture, botany, climatic systems, and zoology—while challenging the conventions currently present in landscape design to imagine alternate relationships between the built and natural environments. “There shouldn’t be a distinction in landscape between the metropolitan and the natural,” said SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso. “With Synthetic Landscapes, we're trying to figure out if there is a SCI-Arc way to conceptualize landscape architecture as a synthetic problem and tackle the largest scales of architectural thinking. I want to see if we can think of new forms of nature as a way to both produce and unsettle our built environments. Landscapes are cultural objects as much as anything else we would design.” Joining the Synthetic Landscapes program as visiting faculty will be Timothy Morton, a long-standing member of the Object-Oriented Ontology school of thought and author of more than 20 books on the subject, including The Ecological Thought (2010), Hyperobjects (2013), and Dark Ecology (2016). “Besides authoring what have already become seminal books,” said Ruy. “Timothy has also had a profound influence on cinema, music, fashion, and art. The opportunity to work closely with such an important thinker within the context of an exciting new landscape architecture program is truly unique.”
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Green Keys

Highlights from former President Obama's Greenbuild keynote
“Climate change is an existential issue,” said former President Barack Obama at the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2019 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo on November 20. Thousands of attendees gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to hear the keynote in which Obama spoke with USGBC president and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam, about sustainability and affordability.  To kick off the conversation, Ramanujam asked the former president what he believes to be the “most compelling issue in the world today.” The answer? Climate change and global economic inequality. “This is one of those [issues] where you can be too late. So, I know of no other issue that is more urgent,” he explained while pointing to the huge gaps in wealth and opportunity around the world.  Citing the lack of affordable housing in California as one example, Obama said that in metropolitan areas, “building codes are so onerous that it makes construction of affordable housing almost impossible.” He anticipated some pushback but believes that the creation of sustainable building codes might also usher in an erroneous public perception of higher costs of living. “If we want to think about sustainability, we have to do it in a way that also is thinking about affordability,” he stated, according to Architectural Record The former president followed that thought by stressing the importance of empathy and active listening to the concerns of constituents, neighborhoods, or clients. “When you listen, it turns out that you get a sense of what people’s priorities are,” he said, “Then, figure out how to shape a sustainable agenda around those concerns.”  In regards to the progress of Chicago’s new Obama Presidential Center, he spoke about his experience working with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien by emphasizing how important it is to have a diverse team. “The goal is to have people around the table who can bring to bear a set of different perspectives and correct for each other’s blind spots—including yours.”  He also praised the younger generations and what he has learned from them, including his own daughters, on the urgency of climate change and the challenges ahead. “It’s visceral, visual,” he said according to Buildings. “Those young people change the minds of their parents in powerful ways. That kind of grassroots movement, particularly among young people, is something that is always going to be key.”  At the end of the keynote, he concluded with the disconnect often present between values and actions: “I think it’s very important in our personal lives, but also collectively, to get those back into alignment, so each of us can do our part.”
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Keep Portland Tiny

An accessory dwelling unit conference in Portland pushes the typology forward
The biennial Build Small Live Large Summit launched in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, to help move the housing industry toward smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Originally organized under the auspices of city’s Department of Environmental Quality, past programs promoted tiny houses and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this year’s event shifted to missing middle housing, reflecting another acute concern for many U.S. cities. “Everyone from every city is struggling to provide enough affordable housing and we all want to have a better approach to this problem,” said Rebecca Small, a planner at Metro, the regional agency that now convenes the event. The topic attracted a decidedly wonky audience of planners, but also drew builders, real estate agents, investors, developers, advocates, activists, and architects from across the country who are closely following recent legislation that lowers barriers to developing additional housing types on single-family lots. In August, Oregon passed a statewide bill that will allow the development of middle housing, defined as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses, on single-family zoned lots by 2022. In October, California passed a suite of laws that go into effect in January 2020 that incentivize building ADUs, reduce restrictions for building them, and streamline the process. Rendering of a one bedroom gabled tiny home Build Small Live Large 2019 sessions covered financing and appraising ADUs, as well as strategies for passing state and local ordinances to encourage missing middle housing options. Panels mixed city planners, housing advocates, elected officials, architects, lenders, and developers who delved into the ramifications of the new code and zoning updates and explored housing models on the horizon to be reintroduced into many urban and not so urban regions. As Michelle Glass of the Rogue Action Center stressed, the perception of rural communities, such as those in Eastern Oregon, is that they’re still in the 1950s, but displacement as a result of affordability and accessibility is a very real issue there. Discussions around single room occupancy housing models, or SROs, highlighted how this once-common housing option has reemerged both as a way to help people transition from homelessness and as an affordable option for nomadic millennials as they move into and out of cities. Panelists also explored how using ADUs and cottage clusters gives the generation on the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers, a viable way to age in place or stay in their neighborhoods. Notably, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law (2017), was the event’s keynote speaker. Rothstein drew parallels to the time after World War II when the homelessness crisis in the U.S. was comparable to today and noted how exclusionary zoning practices enacted then have resulted in deep economic disparity and segregation in the country. “If we abolish segregation in neighborhoods, the next day things wouldn’t look any different,” said Rothstein. Perhaps not overnight, but as new legislation takes effect along the West Coast and ripples out to cities such as Fayette, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, which are already updating their zoning regulations to encourage housing that creates more diverse, livable, walkable cities, the housing landscape may look very different by the next Build Small Live Large Summit.