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Mapping the Amazon

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

Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu plot inventive works across California

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

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

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

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

First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)

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

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

The Avery (Transbay Block 8)

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

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

Audrey Irmas Pavilion

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

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

The Plaza at Santa Monica

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

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

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All Work, All Play

Gehry to design new office headquarters for Warner Bros. in Los Angeles
Gehry Partners, Worthe Real Estate Group, and Stockbridge Real Estate Fund have unveiled renderings for a new 800,000-square-foot office complex slated for the Warner Bros. studio campus in Burbank, California. Urbanize.LA reported that the developers behind the so-called "Second Century Project” aim to break ground later this year and that the project will be completed in time for Warner Bros.’ centennial celebrations in 2023. Plans for the complex call for a pair of cool, iceberg-like mid-rise office towers articulated in Frank Gehry’s signature fluted and twisted forms. One tower will rise seven stories and is set to contain 355,000 square feet of offices while the second tower will rise nine stories high and offer 450,000 square feet of office space. In a press release announcing the project, Gehry said, “Once upon a time, Hollywood Studios had an important architectural presence in the city—they were like monuments to the movie-making process. With this project, I was trying to recapture that feeling of old Hollywood splendor.” To achieve his goal, Gehry Partners has created a two-faced complex. For the more public exposure that faces an adjacent freeway, the architects have designed icy glass facades that will catch the sunlight. Renderings for the project show the towers ablaze in Southern California’s red-orange-pink golden hour light, for example. The office’s second main exposure, which the architects have wrapped in perforated metal panels, will face existing warehouse-like studio spaces. Gehry added, “We created large open floorplates with the single goal of creating the highest quality office space. From the freeway, the buildings are composed as one long sculptural glass facade that creates a single identity like icebergs floating along the freeway. On the studio side, the metal punched facade is terraced to relate to the scale and character of the existing studio buildings.” The project is the latest local proposal from the ever-busy Gehry Partners. Other projects on deck include the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles project in South Los Angeles, a planned hotel and mixed-income housing complex in Santa Monica, the controversial 8150 Sunset mixed-use complex, and The Grand, a pair of mixed-use residential towers slated for a site directly across the street from Gehry Partners’ Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, among others.
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1922–2017

Remembering the life and architecture of Kevin Roche
The death of architect Kevin Roche on March 1 at 96 marked the end of an era—the midcentury modern era that the work of his mentor, Eero Saarinen, came to symbolize. Roche and his late partner, John Dinkeloo, founded the successor firm that finished a number of the projects that remained incomplete when Saarinen died in 1961 at 51. Roche, Dinkeloo, and their partners then went on to build impressive high modern buildings of their own. Roche, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, studied architecture at the National University there, and received his first commission even before he graduated. It was from his father, Eamonn Roche, for a piggery in County Cork that housed 1,000 animals. After completing his degree in 1945, he became an apprentice to Ireland’s most important modern architect, Michael Scott, and worked on the Busáras bus station, Dublin’s first significant modern building. Then he moved to London to work for Maxwell Fry, where he read an article in The Architectural Review about Mies van der Rohe, who “was not as well known as Le Corbusier at the time,” and decided to come to America to study with him at the Illinois Institute of Technology. That venture, in 1948, was short-lived, as Roche was short on funds and found the experience disappointing. So he moved to New York to join the officially international team designing the United Nations headquarters under Wallace Harrison, before moving to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to join an unintentionally international team in the office of Eero Saarinen. It was the place to be at that moment in time, with people from all over the world in the office, including Chuck Bassett, Gunnar Birkerts, Edmund Bacon, Kent Cooper, Niels Diffrient, Ulrich Franzen, Olav Hammarström, Hugh Hardy, Nobuo Hozumi, Mark Jaroszewicz, Louis Kahn, Paul Kennon, Joe Lacy, Anthony Lumsden, Leonard Parker, Glen Paulsen, Cesar Pelli, David Powrie, Harold Roth, Robert Venturi, and Lebbeus Woods. “And everyone was designing,” as Venturi once told me. “It was not like today when half the people would be doing public relations or something.” Roche, who arrived in the office as it was beginning to grow from 10 to over 100, soon became Saarinen’s right-hand man. “He liked the way I organized a job,” Roche told me. The way things were done there was that every day a number of the young architects would be asked to work on a building or a part of a building, to sketch and develop ideas. Then Roche would collect the sketches and hang them up for Saarinen to examine. Eero would come in later and pick the most interesting ones and ask the person who had created it to develop it further. It was a devastating experience for some, like Venturi, whose sketches were never chosen, and a high for those, like Pelli, who were asked to develop designs further and put in charge of important projects. After Saarinen died, the firm moved to New Haven as previously planned. Some then drifted off. Pelli, for example, left after completing the TWA Terminal (formally the TWA Flight Center) and the Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale. Roche remained in Connecticut and, along with technologically gifted John Dinkeloo and some other talented young architects, founded Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Partners. They completed Saarinen’s Corten-steel-faced John Deere & Company headquarters in Moline, Illinois (1964), the mirrored glass Bell Telephone Corporation Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey (1962), the iconic North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana (1964), and the dignified Columbia Broadcasting System Headquarters in New York City (1965). Roche Dinkeloo then went on to design numerous distinctive buildings, such as the dark metal and glass Ford Foundation headquarters in Manhattan with its central, enclosed garden (1967); the Oakland Museum of California (1969), with a 5-acre terraced roof (designed by Dan Kiley) that functions as a public park; and the rather funereal but original Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Connecticut (1973). There were corporate headquarters—a sprawling white-walled palazzo for General Foods in Rye Brook, New York (1982); a futuristic, low-lying structure for Union Carbide in Danbury, Connecticut, that houses cars as comfortably as workers (also 1982); and a columnar skyscraper on Wall Street for J. P. Morgan (1990)—among the practice’s 50 or more projects. Over the years, Roche Dinkeloo designed and renovated galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the dramatic pavilion for the Temple of Dendur; the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue; and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Although his firm did buildings all over the world, Roche’s last major one was a conference center in Dublin, where he had been born in 1922. Roche’s close relationship with Saarinen defined much of his career, though. He met his wife, Jane Clair Tuohy, at Saarinen’s office. They were planning to marry a few weeks after Eero died but waited until 1963. His wife, five children, and 15 grandchildren survive him. Roche was a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1993. He will be remembered as a major figure of his time.
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Brain Power

Google creates neuroaesthetic experience for Salone del Mobile
This past week in Milan during Salone del Mobile while designers were showing off their latest furnishings, Google was putting on its own exhibition. Following up on last year’s Softwear exhibition, in which the company teamed up with Li Edelkoort to envision a more comfortable, integrated hardware future, this year the tech giant built out three rooms in the Spazio Maiocchi for a show called A Space for Being. A Space for Being explored the ways qualitative senses could be understood with quantitative metrics. Google collaborated with Susan Magsamen of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University's Brain Science Institute to develop a design installation that explored the possibilities of neuroaesthetics, or the brain’s and body's responses to the aesthetic world. Visitors lined up around the block to be adorned with a wristband that collected biometric data while they explored the rooms' various furnishings, colors, lights, music, scents, and textiles by Google’s Ivy Ross, Muuto’s Christian Grosen, and Reddymade’s Suchi Reddy. At the end of their walkthroughs, attendees were given synopses of their bodies’ responses to the various spaces, helping them see in which context they were most at ease. While this kind of data-driven neuroaesthetic approach is still in its nascent stages, one could imagine a future when data-driven design becomes more normal, especially in settings like healthcare. Even for those who might balk at the idea of collecting this kind of information to create something so subjective as an interior, the results show that design has a profound impact on us, our biology, and our wellbeing. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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Go Fund Yourself

San Francisco homeless shelter inspires online fundraising battles
A homeless shelter proposed for San Francisco’s Embarcadero has resulted in dueling GoFundMe campaigns; one from residents who want to keep the Navigation Center out, and one to support the shelter. On March 4, San Francisco mayor London Breed allowed a plan to move forward that would transform a 2.3-acre parking lot in the eastern waterfront neighborhood into the city’s largest Navigation Center. Centers allow residents to stay 24 hours, provide health and wellness services, and allow pets—they’re also designed to be temporary. It’s expected that the center at Seawall Lot 330, if allowed to open by the end of this summer as anticipated, would only operate for four years while the city wrangles with its homelessness crisis. Some Embarcadero residents aren’t happy. On March 20, a group calling themselves Safe Embarcadero for All launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 for a legal defense fund to help them oppose the shelter. Complete with its own website, Twitter feed, and well-heeled backers, Safe Embarcadero successfully hit its goal in 25 days. The group cited the large number of families and tourists the neighborhood draws, and the site’s potential proximity to landmarks such as Oracle Park as reasons for trying to push the shelter elsewhere. “The rushed process the Mayor is following to build the homeless shelter by the end of the summer is concerning to the community,” reads the Safe Embarcadero for All GoFundMe page. “We are worried that the rushed process puts the political goal of building a large Navigation Center ahead of legitimate concerns about public safety, drug use, and other problems that a large shelter may bring to the community. According to the city’s own data, a third of the homeless are drug users and some are sex offenders. “The Navigation Center will not allow drug use inside, meaning that about 75 drug users will be forced into the surrounding family neighborhood to use drugs. The community is also concerned about the environmental effects of building on a site that is known to have toxic materials beneath.” Perhaps recognizing that concerted opposition by “not in my backyard” organizers has killed or segregated low income and homeless housing elsewhere, a counter fundraiser was created in support of the Navigation Center. SAFER Embarcadero for ALL, citing the potential legal costs and community challenges that the shelter is facing, sought to raise $175,000 in support of the Coalition on Homelessness. With 1,900 donations, in comparison to the original group’s 360, that goal was reached in 17 days. The GoFundMe in support of the Navigation Center also drew big donations from Salesforce, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and GoFundMe itself, which contributed $5,000. The fight over the Embarcadero center is playing out in real-world meetings and protests that are just as charged as their online counterparts. On April 3, Mayor Breed was shouted down at a town hall meeting as she tried to stump for the scheme. While the mayor has proposed opening another 1,000 beds worth of shelters by 2020, so far only 212 have actually come online. The final battle over Seawall Lot 330 will culminate in a vote by the Port Commission on April 23, as the body (whose five members were selected by the mayor) votes on whether it will lease the site to the city.
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Walk the Dinosaur

Matter Design and CEMEX conjure monumental concrete constructs for TED 2019
TED 2019, a week of speaker sessions, workshops, and conversations about the directions technological and political progress are leading society, has touched down in Vancouver. Appropriately enough, the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based firm Matter Design and CEMEX Global R&D have used the event to unveil the fruits of their concrete research. Matter Design is no stranger to experimental stonework (nor is CEMEX, for that matter). Engineering tightly-interlocking slabs and complex concrete forms have been a constant in their research, and both Janus and Walking Assembly take their explorations to the next level. Janus was originally revealed simultaneously last year at the American Academy in Rome and on the campus of MIT. Matter Design and CEMEX teamed with composers Federico Gardella and Simone Confort to create a multi-sensory experience that demonstrates how heavy masses can still move with a rollicking sense of joy. In a video of the display of Janus, a crescendo of whispers draws the crowd’s attention to the stage, where they’re presented, in both senses of the word, with an enormous box mocked up to resemble Rome’s four-gated Arch of Janus. The blue, orange, and pink box slowly flops over to reveal that it’s simply a wrapper, and from it emerges a massive concrete wrecking ball, or kettle ball–shaped object. Emphasizing the split nature of the Roman god that Janus takes its name from, the concrete object, a solid ball with a hollow handle on top, wobbles and spins but always returns to an upright position. Walking Assembly continues on the theme of playfully rocking solid concrete masses with another historical twist. How did ancient peoples move the Moai of Easter Island? One theory is that these massive statues were designed to be “walked,” or gradually rocked, into place. Walking Assembly, seeking to divorce the concept of masonry’s scale from that of the humans placing it, returns to these preindustrial construction techniques. These massive masonry units (MMUs) are designed to be moved and fit into place without the help of cranes or other construction equipment. Using rounded edges, handle points, and by pouring variable-density concrete to control each MMU’s center of gravity, the components can be easily rocked, tilted, and rolled into place. Both projects, through using computer modeling and advanced fabrication technology, force the objects themselves to do the heavy lifting and free the user, or construction worker, to play around with the components. It's a fitting tie-in for a conference probing where technology can take us.
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Fascist Facades

Photographs document the Italian Fascist architecture of Eritrea

Walking the central streets of Asmara, Eritrea, for the first time can be quite a puzzling experience for a foreigner. The capital city is full of structures and modernist buildings that blend Art Deco and Futurist styles. Shops and bars have signage that could easily be found in Italy: Farmacia Centrale, Bar Crispi, Cinema Roma, mixed with many in the Tigrinya and Arabic languages.

In fact, the city was planned and built in its current form during the Italian colonization of Eritrea starting in the 1890s. When the Fascist Regime took over, Mussolini set out to build an overseas empire with Asmara as the model city of his colonial expansion.

Many recognize the effects of colonization on the architectural quality of the city. But few acknowledge one of its most controversial aspects: racial segregation.

Since the very beginning, the city’s master plans aimed to separate Italians from Eritreans and enforced this when dividing the city into four separate sections: a European-only quarter in the south, an Eritrean quarter in the north, a mixed zone around the central market for both groups, and an industrial zone in the northeast.

Historically, Eritreans needed a special permit to cross into the European-only side of Asmara to go to work as housekeepers, artisans, and masons. Today, some of the local elderly still refer to the city’s center as the “Fenced Field” because one of the original Italian outposts was called Campo Cintato–or “fenced field” in Italian.

The Eritrean quarter, known as Aba Shawl, was the most densely populated in the city and largely left unplanned. Ninety years later, the effects of this lack of planning are still visible today. The construction quality of the buildings is not comparable to the rest of Asmara; some have neither running water nor bathrooms. When it rains, the streets get coated in mud because there is no stormwater drainage system. The people who live here are still poorer than inhabitants elsewhere in the city.

But despite all of this—or perhaps due to the lack of planning—Aba Shawl has become the Eritrean face of Asmara, which complements the Italian part of town.

Starting in the 1910s, Italian architects merged vernacular Eritrean elements into the architecture of the city—both in Italian and indigenous areas—and constructed a mosque, an Orthodox church, and movie theaters for the Eritrean population.

In 1938, the Fascists, intending to enforce newly drafted racial law, set forth a plan to bulldoze Aba Shawl and relocate its dwellers farther out from the city center. However, the local governor—afraid of alienating the indigenous population—stopped the plan. A few years later, Mussolini lost control of the country to the British, and Eritrea began a decade-long struggle to achieve full independence. This didn’t come until 1993, after a gruesome war with Ethiopia. Since then, the Eritrean capital has been in the process of reclamation and reappropriation of its colonial past and architectural legacy. In 2017, UNESCO declared the center of Asmara, including Aba Shawl, a world heritage site.

When asked why Asmarinos care so much about their city, a worker from its heritage office said: “These buildings might have been designed by the Italians, but it’s our grandfathers who built them, it’s us who preserved them and live in them. These buildings are our own buildings now.”

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Also Goff

Weekend edition: Nouvel, Zumthor, and so much more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Review: Jean Nouvel gives Qatar a museum that matches its context perfectly Review: The Jean Nouvel–designed National Museum of Qatar fits perfectly into the uncanny desert menagerie where it lives. Zumthor’s LACMA proposal is an affront to L.A.’s architectural and cultural heritage Peter Zumthor’s oil slick-inspired redevelopment proposal for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus is just plain bad, says our West Coast editor. Bruce Goff’s imaginative teaching lives on in Oklahoma A comprehensive exhibition unveils the mid-century architect's legacy on the University of Oklahoma, the state, and the world of architectural education. Four standout installations from Milan Design Week 2019 We rounded up our favorite installations from Milan Design Week 2019, including work from Adam Nathaniel Furman, Morphosis, and more. Neighbors and preservationists sue N.Y.C. Parks Department to save a rare brutalist landscape The lawsuit challenges the department's decision to remove a set of rare brutalist landscape features and a number of trees from Fort Greene Park. Enjoy the young spring, and see you next week!
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Fort Less-Than-Greene

Neighbors and preservationists sue N.Y.C. Parks Department to save a rare brutalist landscape
After a year and a half of radio silence, a contentious plan to transform the northwest entrance of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park is back in the spotlight. Friends of Fort Greene Park, a collection of neighborhood residents and preservationists, and the Sierra Club have brought a lawsuit against the N.Y.C. Parks Department in the New York State Supreme Court over plans to modernize the park and remove a rare landscape intervention from Arthur Edwin (A.E.) Bye, Jr. Jump back to 2017, when the proposal to build a new grand entrance at the northwestern corner of the park first came before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The 30-acre Fort Greene Park was Brooklyn’s first and originally grew out of the military fort from which the neighborhood took its name. The city brought Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on in 1868 to turn the green space into an official park, and the duo cut tight, winding pathways that offered wide views of the planted landscape, similar to their work in Prospect Park and Central Park decades later. The park has been updated three times since then, but the basic layouts and deference to the Olmsted and Vaux plan have remained consistent throughout. In the early 1900s, McKim, Mead & White cut across the meadow in the park’s northwest corner to improve access to the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, a 150-foot-tall column dedicated to the over-11,500 American prisoners who died on British ships during the Revolutionary War. The monument is reached by climbing a 100-foot-wide granite staircase cut into the side of a hill. In 1971, landscape architect A.E. Bye was commissioned to accentuate the path from the park’s entrance to the sweeping monument steps using cobblestones and native plants. Bye, who rarely took on public projects, proposed a series of subtle, multipurpose brutalist mounds reminiscent of graves—a reference to the prisoners interred in the crypts below the monument. Bye worked largely through sculpture and drawings to realize his designs, and a pre-Diller Scofidio + Renfro-era Ricardo Scofidio was enlisted to help create a drawing set that the city could build from. A $10.5 million renovation and a “grand new entrance” to the park would scrap that. The improvements are part of the Parks Department’s Parks Without Borders initiative, which seeks to break down barriers between city parks and the street to create a more inviting landscape. The new scheme would move the park’s entrance to the corner and create a direct route to the monument through the existing circular garden…and Bye’s mounds. Those would be leveled to create a tree-lined “boulevard,” while 58 trees would be removed. The Parks Department claims that the mounds impede ADA accessibility, although the new flattened concrete plaza would terminate at the steps of the monument. Those changes were unanimously approved by the LPC in November of 2017. Then, on April 1 of this year, Friends of Fort Greene Park, the Sierra Club, and Michael Gruen, president of The City Club of New York and the attorney for Friends, filed a petition (here) with the State Supreme Court over the decision. The Parks Department claims that of the 52 mature trees it would be removing, 38 are for design purposes and 14 are in failing health. Twenty-eight of those trees are Norway maple, a species that the department classifies as an invasive species with a typical lifespan of 60 years in City parks, and many are at least 50 years old at the time of writing. Additionally, another 31 trees would be removed for a drainage project near the park—13 for design reasons and 18 for their condition. The department states that in keeping with their tree restitution plan, 80 trees would be planted in and around Fort Greene Park. Additionally, the department states that these improvements, as well as adding a basketball court and expanding the barbecue area, were all researched with input from elected officials, the community board, and the surrounding neighborhood. Friends of Fort Greene Park disagrees with that assessment, claiming that the department was able to avoid conducting a full environmental review. When the group had previously filed a Freedom of Information Act request over the environmental impact statement, it received a heavily redacted version. Over one-quarter of the 150-page report was blacked out. “Despite community outcry, the Parks Department is proceeding with plans to cut 58 park trees, and to bulldoze popular landscape features in the historic park,” reads a statement from Friends of Fort Greene Park. “Neighbors had no alternative but to sue the Parks Department, to compel the city to do the required environmental review assessing the impact of the proposed project. Neighbors had earlier brought a successful court action against Parks to release secret documents about the decision to remove mature park trees. “Despite a court order, Parks has refused to fully comply with the release of documents. Neighbors believe that documents will reveal that Parks had misled city officials about the health of the park trees, creating a false impression that the trees were in poor health when the opposite is true. Fort Greene neighbors commissioned an independent arborist's report that proved the trees were in excellent health. “In addition to removing scores of trees, the Parks Department plan would also demolish a picnic area and rolling landscape mounds that are popular with neighborhood families. In what neighbors see as a scandalous act of social engineering, the Parks plan would relocate the leafy picnic grounds to a new, and more exposed site across the street from an existing NYCHA building, and away from the planned luxury high-rise.” While the lawsuit is still pending (the first filed at the state level to protect a brutalist structure), Friends has pledged that it will continue to raise awareness of the issue. When reached for a statement, the Parks Department wrote that it doesn't comment on pending litigation. AN will follow this story closely as it develops.
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Photographic Memory

A French startup is using drones and AI to save the world’s architectural heritage
Now active in over 30 countries around the world, French startup Iconem is working to preserve global architectural and urban heritage one photograph at a time. Leveraging complex modeling algorithms, drone technology, cloud computing, and, increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI), the firm has documented major sites like Palmyra and Leptis Magna, producing digital versions of at-risk sites at resolutions never seen, and sharing their many-terabyte models with researchers and with the public in the form of exhibitions, augmented reality experiences, and 1:1 projection installations across the globe. AN spoke with founder and CEO Yves Ubelmann, a trained architect, and CFO Etienne Tellier, who also works closely on exhibition development, about Iconem’s work, technology, and plans for the future. The Architect's Newspaper: Tell me a bit about how Iconem got started and what you do. Yves Ubelmann: I founded Iconem six years ago. At the time I was an architect working in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iran, in Syria. In the field, I was seeing the disappearance of archeological sites and I was concerned by that. I wanted to find a new way to record these sites and to preserve them even if the sites themselves might disappear in the future. The idea behind Iconem was to use new technology like drones and artificial intelligence, as well as more standard digital photography, in order to create a digital copy or model of the site along with partner researchers in these different countries. AN: You mentioned drones and AI; what technology are you using? YU: We have a partnership with a lab in France, the INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique/National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation). They discovered an algorithm that could transform a 2D picture into a 3D point cloud, which is a projection of every pixel of the picture into space. These points in the point cloud in turn reproduce the shape and the color of the environment, the building and so on. It takes billions of points that reproduce the complexity of a place in a photorealistic manner, but because the points are so tiny and so huge a number that you cannot see the point, but you see only the shape on the building in 3D. Etienne Tellier: The generic term for the technology that converts the big datasets of pictures into 3D models is photogrammetry. YU: Which is just one process. Even still, photogrammetry was invented more than 100 years ago…Before it was a manual process and we were only able to reproduce just a part of the wall or something like that. Big data processing has led us to be able to reproduce a huge part of the real environment. It’s a very new way of doing things. Just in the last two years, we’ve become able to make a copy of an entire city—like Mosul or Aleppo—something not even possible before. We also have a platform to manage this huge amount of data and we’re working with cloud computing. In the future we want to open this platform to the public. AN: All of this technology has already grown so quickly. What do you see coming next? YU: Drone technology is becoming more and more efficient. Drones will go farther and farther, because batteries last longer, so we can imagine documenting sites that are not accessible to us, because they're in a rebel zone, for example. Cameras also continue to become better and better. Today we can produce a model with one point for one millimeter and I think in the future we will be able to have ten points for one millimeter. That will enable us to see every detail of something like small writing on a stone. ET: Another possible evolution, and we are already beginning to see this happen thanks to artificial intelligence, is automatic recognition of what is shown by a 3D model. That's something you can already have with 2D pictures. There are algorithms that can analyze a 2D picture and say, "Oh okay, this is a cat. This is a car." Soon there will probably also be the same thing for 3D models, where algorithms will be able to detect the architectural components and features of your 3D model and say, "Okay, this is a Corinthian column. This dates back to the second century BC." And one of the technologies we are working on is the technology to create beautiful images from 3D models. We’ve had difficulties to overcome because our 3D models are huge. As Yves said before, they are composed of billions of points. And for the moment there is no 3D software available on the market that makes it possible to easily manipulate a very big 3D model in order to create computer-generated videos. So what we did is we created our own tool, where we don't have to lower the quality of our 3D models. We can keep the native resolution quality photorealism of our big 3D models, and create very beautiful videos from them that can be as big as a 32K and can be projected onto very big areas. There will be big developments in this field in the future. AN: Speaking of projections, what are your approaches to making your research accessible? Once you've preserved a site, how does it become something that people can experience, whether they're specialists or the public? YU: There are two ways to open this data to the public. The first way is producing digital exhibitions that people can see, which we are currently doing today for many institutions all over the world. The other way is to give access directly to the raw data, from which you can take measurements or investigate a detail of architecture. This platform is open to specialists, to the scientific community, to academics. The first exhibition we did was with the Louvre in Paris at the Grand Palais for an exhibition called Sites Éternels [Eternal Sites] where we projection mapped a huge box, 600 square meters [6,458 square feet], with 3D video. We were able to project monuments like the Damascus Mosque or Palmyra sites and the visitors are surrounded by it at a huge scale. The idea is to reproduce landscape, monuments, at scale of one to one so the visitor feels like they’re inside the sites. AN: So you could project one to one? ET: Yes, we can project one to one. For example, in the exhibition we participated to recently, in L'Institut du monde arabe in Paris, we presented four sites: Palmyra, Aleppo, Mosul, and Leptis Magna in Libya. And often the visitor could see the sites at a one to one scale. Leptis Magna was quite spectacular because people could see the columns at their exact size. It really increased the impact and emotional effect of the exhibition. All of this is very interesting from a cultural standpoint because you can create immersive experiences where the viewer can travel through a whole city. And they can discover not only the city as a whole but also the monuments and the architectural details. They can switch between different scales—the macro scale of a city; the more micro one of the monument; and then the very micro one of a detail—seamlessly. AN: What are you working on now? ET: Recently, we participated in an exhibition that was financed by Microsoft that was held in Paris, at the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum that has replicas of the most important sites in France. They're 3D architectural replicas or maquettes that can be 3 meter [apx. 10 feet] wide that were commissioned by Louis XIV and created during the 17th century because he wanted to have replicas to prepare a defense in case of an invasion. Recently, Microsoft wanted to create an exhibition using augmented reality and they proposed making an experience in this museum in Paris, focusing on the replicas of Mont-Saint-Michel, the famous site in France. We 3D scanned this replica of Mont-Saint-Michel, and also 3D scanned the actual Mont-Saint-Michel, to create an augmented reality experience in partnership with another French startup. We made very precise 3D models of both sites—the replica and the real site—and used the 3D models to create the holograms that were embedded and superimposed. Through headsets visitors would see a hologram of water going up and surrounding the replica of Mont-Saint-Michel. You could see the digital and the physical, the interplay between the two. And you could also see the site as it was hundreds of years before. It was a whole new experience relying on augmented reality and we were really happy to take part in this experience. This exhibition should travel to Seattle soon.
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When the Moon Hits Your Eye...

SOM and MIT shoot for the Moon with design for lunar village
While NASA is researching 3D-printed habitats for the Moon and Mars, the European Space Agency (ESA) has tapped Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to envision a theoretical lunar city. The Moon Village, which SOM will masterplan, design, and engineer, not only reflects the collaborative nature of the ESA’s mission but also lays out a plan—and base of operations—for space exploration past 2050. As Israel prepares to potentially land the first privately-funded spacecraft on the Moon, the Moon Village would take a decidedly more multinational approach and could be used by future science missions or even space tourists. Set up along the rim of the Shackleton crater on the Moon’s south pole, which receives continuous sunlight for nearly all of the lunar year, the Moon Village would rely on solar power to generate electricity. The possibility of water ice inside the crater itself, which is always shadowed, would provide the colony with another potential resource to tap. “The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design,” said SOM Design Partner Colin Koop. “The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.” How did SOM design around those tight constraints? The village’s modules would all inflate or deflate depending on their programmatic needs. Each structure would be about three-to-four stories tall and contain living quarters, environmental controls, life support systems, and workspaces. Eventually, 3D-printed regolith shells could protect the modules from radiation, fluctuations in temperature (although Shackleton crater has a more consistent temperature than other parts of the Moon), and dust. Modules would be clustered and linked through pressurized tunnels to provide easy transportation between them. A series of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments could help determine how to best use the Moon’s natural resources. Oxygen and possibly rocket fuel could be generated from the nearby ice, and food could be conceivably grown in the environment. The Moon Village has been envisioned as a three-stage development that would eventually create a long-term, sustainable Moon community. The first phase, the master plan revealed on April 9, used near-future technology; but, as Fast Company pointed out, the Moon Village would still be reliant on international cooperation, and that’s far from assured right now.