Search results for "wHY"

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Delinquent in Dubai

We need to tell America’s best story in the Middle East
With Expo 2020 Dubai only one year away, we are at a crisis point to create a world-class pavilion to represent the best of the American people at the first World Expo in the Middle East. Architecturally brilliant US pavilions had been globally admired during America’s Cold War foreign policy efforts. As an architect and documentary filmmaker who filmed America's abandonment of World’s Fairs through poor architectural design efforts in Face of a Nation, it is vitally important for me to share how a disintegration we’ve ignored for decades negatively impacts our American image abroad and endangers our hopeful vision of democracy. The story of our U.S.A pavilion captures the commercialization of our national interests. The defunding and abolition of a strategic part of our foreign policy, the United States Information Agency (USIA), in 1999 marked the end of design excellence as a tenet of representing the American people at important public diplomacy events. Our research documents the failures of when privatization totally takes over our public interests. Why is federal funding necessary for design excellence? Other countries demonstrate that they know the value of these events by paying for their own pavilions. Despite Reagan’s promise for “the energy and genius of the American people” at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, Congress blocked funds for the U.S.A Pavilion and we axed our American architect. The State Department scrambled to find “two exhibit buildings in moth-balls” for a makeshift pavilion the Spanish press maligned as “the American bra.” But architects know this message is most profoundly delivered through architecture. Congress eliminated the USIA (responsible for U.S.A. Pavilions overseas) in 1999 after we thought we had won the Cold War—ending public-sector support and beginning the battle of ‘who should pay.’ Debacles at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and 2015 Milan World Expo are evidence enough that pure private-sector funding is a recipe for trouble. Shanghai’s U.S. Pavilion locked visitors inside and wasn’t even designed by an American architect! The richest country in the world didn’t raise enough to pay for Milan’s U.S. Pavilion, so the American companies who created it suffered significant financial losses. Diminishing World’s Fairs as “just trade fairs” and lauding public-private sector partnerships, the federal government has forced the private money to pay for our international exhibitions for the last 25 years. But public-private partnerships only work when the public sector pays as well. Other countries believe World’s Fairs are more than “just trade fairs,” with an important public diplomacy role, by engaging people around the world. More than 60 years after the USIA’s founding principles were defined "to understand, inform and influence foreign publics" about American ideas and values, our practice appears to be antagonizing the world instead. Rather than “winning hearts and minds” with face-to-face communication in “the last 3 feet,” our generation is tweeting, chatting, or cyber-bullying each other over thousands of miles. Most people don’t know the potency of our senses in the brick and mortar world. Architects use design excellence to kindle the viewer's emotions; a powerful persuasion without words. Innovative design captures futuristic visions of hope, effecting optimism and industry for generations to come. Awe-inspiring examples of the power of World’s Fair architecture influencing people for hundreds of years include the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower. Our film follows the late Jack Masey, a U.S. foreign service officer/behind-the-scenes genius whose vision shaped the most innovative U.S.A. Pavilions from USIA’s early years. These pavilions inspired nations with a better idea about who we are as a people; including the setting for the 1959 Kitchen Debate, Buckminster Fuller’s Expo ’67 geodesic dome (inspiring Disney’s Epcot), and Davis Brody’s Expo ’70 air-inflatable—the largest in the world, where the Apollo 11 moon rock was shown. By the late 20th Century, U.S. trade interests had unconsciously projected a corporate, consumer image of American values and culture. The 21st Century saw the development of the internet, social media, and new digital platforms for people to communicate in cyberspace. These realms convinced many that international gatherings like World’s Fairs were costly, wasteful, and obsolete. No one anticipated they might become “virtual spaces” to spread false narratives about America. Going to the World’s Fair with design excellence is not only a chance to defend our American image in “real space,” but an opportunity to engage the world in the wonder we inspired when we did things right. American design excellence must be used to deflect the attempts to diminish our democracy. We must tell our story better to the world. It took a bipartisan Congress to underestimate the importance of design. It will take bipartisan Congressional support to fund and fix it. Special appropriations through Congress were essential to do things right during the Cold War, and federal funds are critical again to safeguard our vision of democracy. Because architecture reflects who we are. If we ignore what we see, we lose sight of our own vision. What keeps our dream alive? Going to the World’s Fair with our best American design talent might make all the difference. Mina Chow, AIA, is a documentary filmmaker, founder and principal of mc² SPACES, and an adjunct associate professor at the USC School of Architecture.
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Pitted Against the Law

Judge rules Brad Pitt could be sued over poorly-built New Orleans homes
A federal judge has ruled that actor Brad Pitt will remain a defendant in a case against his housing nonprofit, the Make It Right Foundation. Last November, the Ad Astra-star and other directors of the organization, which was founded in 2007 to build affordable homes after Hurricane Katrina, asked the court to remove their names from a class-action lawsuit filed by two homeowners who claim shoddy construction. One hundred and nine pieces of experimental and sustainable architecture from Make It Right popped up in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward through 2015, an area devastated by the 2005 hurricane and its subsequent flooding. Renowned design firms came to Make It Right to offer their services including Adjaye Associates, Gehry Partners, and KieranTimberlake, establishing a new eco-friendly, supposedly disaster-proof neighborhood. But things quickly went awry as reports of homeowner complaints surfaced regarding the structural integrity of the architecture and more (aka mold). By September of last year, Make It Right had sued its own principal architect on allegations of defective design work.  Over the last year, Pitt’s lawyers have attempted to get the actor’s name taken off the latter lawsuit by citing he had no personal responsibility for the construction—last year, the actor claimed that because he wasn't an architect or builder, he wasn't culpable for the quality of the housing. However, as the founder and main fundraiser of the housing project, Pitt was not able to separate himself from the legal battle and could face court in the coming months. 
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The Labor Parti

Why don’t architects have unions?
In late August 2019, the AIA’s New York chapter hosted a panel moderated by architecture activist group The Architecture Lobby at the Center for Architecture called Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies. After all the panelists finished listing their offices’ progressive policies, including flexible work hours and codes of conduct, an audience member (in a crowd notably stacked with Lobby members, myself included) asked a question about unions and collective bargaining. The associate director of human resources of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates responded: “Is this a case of wanting a union because the people suggesting it feel like the employer is the jerk and has to be controlled? Or, are you just saying you want to be able to give feedback and be heard and help influence the culture of the firm? Those are two very different things. If the general industry is really that bad and needs to be regulated by something like a union, then we all have a problem.” This statement is ripe for analysis that could keep us here for days, but let’s keep to a few key points. First, what is a union? By our HR professional’s estimation, it is a mechanism for controlling jerks in power. More accurately, however, a union is a twofold agreement. The first part of the agreement is between all the workers of a company or sector to elect representatives to negotiate their interests with the managers and owners of that company or sector. This is collective bargaining, to which everyone has the right under U.S. law. The second agreement is between workers and management that the union will be recognized, have a seat at the table, and be able to negotiate the terms of their employment. Within the scaffolding of this structure, a union can look like and achieve whatever it can agree on collectively, which—and hopefully to our HR professional’s delight—includes giving feedback and influencing company culture.  Now, does the desire for unionization indicate an industry-wide crisis? Yes, it does, but this crisis is not caused by unionization. Rather, unionization is a tool to address it. But this crisis is not unique to architecture. It is a broader issue about the rising precarity for workers in an economy where there are fewer and fewer paths for stability, where the gig economy is the economy, and workers have little choice but to cling to whatever benefits they are given. So to our HR professional’s point, we do all have a problem. A progressive firm owner may point to their policies—as many on the Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies panel did—and protest “we have health insurance, parental leave, paid overtime, flexible hours, etc.,” and all of these policies are crucial, but they are not the same as worker power. Worker power is not a cudgel to be used against management or regulate an industry; it’s a tool to ensure stability.  The question of why architectural workers (a term that includes designers as well as the administrative, communications, human resources, and business development workers who make the profession externally legible) haven’t unionized is richly complicated. It has as much to do with general labor consciousness under capitalism in the United States as it does with the idiosyncratic structure of the profession itself. It is difficult for workers who consider themselves middle class to imagine that they need a union. It difficult for workers who manage themselves on baroque systems of informal interpersonal relationships (“Our office is a family!”) to imagine they need a union. It is most acutely difficult for workers who do not consider themselves workers at all to imagine they need a union (this point explained is with greater clarity in Marisa Cortright’s excellent piece in Failed Architecture).   In the United States, the middle class is not a solid status. What we have instead is a gradient between precarity and privilege. However, from The Fountainhead to How I Met Your Mother, popular representations of architects code the profession as comfortably middle (or even upper) class. When I speak with architectural workers in the Architecture Lobby about unions, one of their top motivations for pursuing unionization is the gap between their material conditions and the myth of middle-class status. We ask each other, on your salary and benefits alone, can you afford a medical crisis? A pregnancy? Student loan payments? A mortgage? Retirement? Yet one of the many hesitations about unionization is the hope that keeping their heads down and eventually being promoted to management will afford them these forms of stability. But in most architecture firms, even those with yearly reviews, the path to promotion is murky and the trained managerial class is flimsy at best. This stagnation leads to instability, with workers leaving to seek opportunity elsewhere and often getting stuck again. Firms then find themselves retraining and retraining staff while steadily losing institutional memory. I’ve heard architects compare themselves to doctors and lawyers when considering their material conditions, citing length of training and licensure as similarities. But have architects made themselves as essential to society as doctors and lawyers? I do not ask this to insist architects do not deserve to be paid more. However, the purpose of an architecture union should not be to enshine architects materially among a professionalized working elite. I ask this question to point out that architecture has both enjoyed and been limited by an ambiguous position in society, where its value is guarded by mystique. When we feel pain, we look to doctors. When we find ourselves in legal trouble, we look to lawyers. But what triggers a commonplace social need for architects? Unionization would create an opportunity for architects to collectively clarify the profession’s relationship to society by standing in solidarity with all architectural workers and giving a structure for architectural workers to be in solidarity with other organized workforces. As an example, the Service Employees International Union includes healthcare workers who have both created a bargaining structure with their managers as well as a means to advocate for the type of healthcare system they would like to work in. Their advocacy helped to realize the Affordable Care Act. What could a united architectural workforce realize within and beyond the profession? As a member of the Architecture Lobby, which firmly believes in unionization as a tool to bring greater stability to the architectural labor force and to give a clear societal voice to the profession, I talk to architectural workers to help them understand what they can achieve in their offices and beyond. When we begin to talk to each other without fear or withholding, when we are transparent about our experiences, our salaries, our benefits, and our ambitions, when we come together as workers, the shape of the profession becomes more distinct and easier for those beyond the extremely wealthy to connect to. In this condition, a stable and united workforce has the ability to make our perspective essential to society on issues like climate, infrastructure, alternative practice, speculative development, securitization of public space, and much more.  In his essay “Black Box,” Reyner Bahman once quoted the funny anecdote of an architect being “asked for a pencil that could be used to tighten the tourniquet on the limb of a person bleeding to death in the street.” The architect responds “Will a 2B do?” It’s often used to bemoan the profession’s useless fussiness. But the architect had a pencil. The tool was in hand. It’s the mindset that’s missing.  Jessica Myers is an editor, writer, and podcast producer based in Brooklyn. She is the co-steward of New York’s Architecture Lobby chapter.
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A Monumental Makeover

Five top landscape firms join forces to save the National Mall Tidal Basin
As the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. weathers the impact of tourism and climate change, teamwork may be the best way to save it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Trust for The National Mall have announced a partnership of five landscape architecture firms tasked with shaping the Tidal Basin’s future. “The National Mall Tidal Basin embodies freedom, perseverance, and democratic values, and it is a place where people come together from around the country and around the world to celebrate these ideals," said Katherine Malone-France, NTHP's chief preservation officer, in a statement. "That is why we must bring our best innovation and ingenuity to meet the challenges it is facing. DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand are slated to join forces in order to maximize the Tidal Basin’s potential as a public space. The coalition exists within the National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, a forum for innovation and collaboration with regard to the future of the landscape. Surrounded by the iconic memorials of Washington, the Tidal Basin has played an important role in the city’s landscape throughout history. The heavily-trafficked Tidal Basin Loop Trail offers unmatched views of the National Mall and its surrounding monuments, but a crumbling sea wall has led to regular flooding that impedes sidewalk access and threatens the world-famous cherry trees around the basin. The Ideas Lab hopes to compile a broad range of perspectives from the firms in order to combat the many challenges faced by the Tidal Basin such as infrastructure issues, an overwhelming visitor experience, the need for intensive land conservation, and more. “Our goal, as a lead partner of the National Park Service, is to bring innovation and partnerships to expedite the fulfillment of the Master Plan for the National Mall,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO of the Trust for the National Mall. “These five visionary teams are a prime example of how collaboration between distinguished experts in fields aligned with our project needs will create solutions to help overcome the complex preservation issues affecting the treasured Tidal Basin.” The proposals will be presented in an Ideas Lab exhibition slated to run next summer through fall 2020, during which the public will have the opportunity to inform the design process before concepts are finalized.
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Timber Take-Down

U.S. plywood producers sue over false labeling of off-grade Brazilian panels
Ten domestic plywood producers have jointly filed a lawsuit against several U.S. certification agencies for falsely labeling ineffective imported panels from South America. The group, known as the U.S. Structural Plywood Integrity Coalition, claims that structural panels produced in Brazil are being fraudulently certified and stamped upon entry to the U.S. even though they don’t meet the country’s minimum requirements for stiffness and deflection (the amount it sags when under horizontal load). This isn’t a new issue: In June 2018, the nonprofit trade group APA - The Engineered Wood Association sent an advisory to all domestic manufacturers detailing the results of its own nearly year-long experiment testing the strength and structural integrity of imported panels from seven different Brazilian producers. Though all of their products were marked with the official stamp for Structural Plywood, known as U.S. Product Standard PS 1-09, they all failed to comply with federal regulations by large margins.  Tyler Freres, vice president of sales at Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons, Oregon, said he’s seen the stamp on countless poor-quality panels with his own eyes, many of which were tested independently at Clemson University under the coalition’s purview. He told AN that even though the APA advisory went out to all U.S.-based companies, pressure hadn’t mounted enough in the last year to force the industry’s top certification firms, PFS TECO of Wisconsin, Timber Products Inspection of Georgia, and the International Accreditation Service of California, to stop the fraudulent labeling.  “No one cared,” he said. Freres and the nine other plywood companies that make up the coalition are hoping to halt further shipments from Brazil and to educate U.S. contractors and homebuyers about the issue, which started in 2016 when both the U.S. dollar and housing market became stronger. At the same time, Brazil’s government began encouraging producers to ramp up their timber harvesting.  “As consumers, we all need to be aware of where our products come from,” said Freres. “Wood materials should be produced in the most environmentally [sustainable] places possible and it’s no secret that South America is having huge problems with deforestation and illegal harvesting.”  Freres is specifically talking about native North American wood species like loblolly pine, slash pine, and others that, for the last four years, have been planted and unnaturally grown in large-scale plantations on top of former rainforests. “The species grows so fast in Brazil,” he said, “that the density [of the wood fiber] isn’t sufficient for structural purposes.”  Over the last two years, the amount of imported structural panels has grown to a total of 25 percent of the U.S. market, resulting in an oversaturated supply. Naturally, producers in the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the South have had to lower the number of panels they make, as well as the price, to compete with international imports. One member of the coalition, Gray Skipper from the Alabama-based Scotch Plywood Company, said many manufacturers have felt Brazil’s push to get its products into the hands of U.S. consumers. “We used to do a fair amount of business to Central and South Florida,” said Skipper. “It was about 20 percent of our product sales a decade ago. Now it’s something like one percent. Because of this, we’ve been focusing toward the Midwest and Northeastern markets but we’d like to be back in Southern Florida as soon as possible.”  According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, much of the imported Brazilian plywood that’s been coming into the U.S. has landed in Florida. The material is used as roof and wall sheathing on residential and commercial buildings, and it’s extremely dangerous to build with in locations that are subject to extreme weather. The allegations laid out in the coalition’s lawsuit, a Lanham Act claim, suggest that a hurricane, high winds, or an earthquake could easily damage a home or cause deaths where these off-grade panels were used.  Skipper said that he’s heard stories from builders who’ve have had to turn down the pressure of their nail guns when using the Brazilian panels because they are so much thinner than the U.S. product. Despite this, these falsely labeled panels are still being bought, which is why the coalition is looking for upwards of $300 million in its lawsuit against the three certification agencies. Freres said the group will continue to complete additional deflection testing, as well as full-scale wind testing, through Clemson and Oregon State University up until December in order to further build out its case.  So far, two of the three firms have denied the allegations. In a September statement from Timber Products Inspection, the company's president said it has "extreme confidence in our processes" and that "clients in Brazil and elsewhere who do not consistently meet the applicable industry standard do no remain as TP clients." 
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Freedom of Expression

Is Torkwase Dyson's abstract recount of racial violence a missed opportunity?
Torkwase Dyson’s 1919: Black Water, on display at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery through December 14th, is an inscrutable meditation on an incident of racial violence that took place in Chicago on a hot summer’s day in July 1919: the killing of a black 17-year-old named Eugene Williams on a Lake Michigan beachfront by a white man throwing rocks. Represented in the form of abstract paintings, geometric sculptures, and ink drawings, Williams’ story becomes a framing narrative for Dyson’s installations, which combine expressionist, minimalist, process art, and postminimalist elements in the manner of Mark Rothko, Dan Graham, Theaster Gates, or Nari Ward. Dyson describes her projects as “spatial systems that build upon the architectural typologies that people have used to liberate themselves.” But this is not social practice art or urban interventionism. There’s no evident intention to interact with or build a community, educate a group, or communicate a didactic message. As the accompanying exhibition pamphlet discusses in an engaging conversation with architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, the works are at least partly meant to function as abstract ciphers for the re-imagination of architectural space through black experience. Deciphering that code for practical uses might require an advanced Ivy League degree. Dyson tends to fixate on sites of trauma in black history, seeking the potential for liberation within spaces that otherwise appear to lack all potential for agency: Henry “Box” Brown, who freed himself from enslavement by having himself mailed in a crate to the north, or Samuel Osborne, a janitor at Colby College who earned the school’s dedication by exemplifying an upright moral code. In the case of 1919: Black Water, the redemption emerges from an experience of pleasure-seeking and invention turned tragic: the fabrication of a boat to create a group space of joy, interrupted by racial violence. The story behind the show is compelling. In the summer of 1919, Eugene Williams and his friends had constructed a makeshift raft to carry them to a small island on the shores of Lake Michigan near 25th Street, in between the two unofficially segregated sides of the waterfront. There they were free to swim and play away from the crowds. It was a summer of heightened racial tension: The black population had more than doubled in Chicago during the preceding decade—the beginning of the Great Migration of six million African-Americans from the south. Competition for jobs had intensified at the nearby stockyards at the end of World War I and white supremacists had been increasingly fomenting hatred. The teens had apparently got caught in the middle, accidentally crossing an invisible boundary between the informally segregated areas. A group of white men began throwing rocks at them; as Williams ducked in the water and resurfaced, he was hit in the head, going under and drowning. The police neglected to arrest the rock-thrower, instead arresting a black man following a complaint by a white person. An explosion of violence ensued. In the following week, police killed seven black men; mobs and individual gunmen murdered 16 blacks and 15 whites; more than 500 others suffered from injuries; mobs burned more than 1,000 black families out of their homes. A mass of black string congealed with black acrylic hangs on a wooden bar against a blue background with a geometric abstraction above (Pilot), possibly invoking a blue sky mingling with its reflection in the water, a raft floating on top, a black body bleeding from the head, and maybe, sinking below. Thick black acrylic paint and graphite on canvases suggest a line of polluted water (Just Above and Just Below; Place, Raft, and Drift), and slices of brass bisecting canvases evoke segregated division of space, the surface of the water, and the horizon (Plantationocene; Being-Seeing-Drifting). A few geometric figures appear on canvases that resemble towers or antennae (Hot Cold; Extraction Abstracting). On the gallery floor, shiny black plexiglass tetrahedrons with voids on some sides (Black Shoreline) reference the reflection of the water, which gain energy from the presence of gallery visitors. The absence of figurative representations of Williams, the raft, or the crowds after the drowning—though historical images do appear in the catalog—recalls the protest a few years ago of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial. Schutz had portrayed the open casket of Emmett Till, a young black teen lynched in an incident of racial terror. His mother insisted on an open casket so everyone could see what was done to her son, producing a shocking image of brutality that spurred the civil rights movement. Did it do violence to his memory to represent his broken body? Was Schutz making common cause or exploiting Till’s suffering? In this case, the inverse question might apply: why isn’t Williams represented more powerfully rather than rendered in abstraction? Is it a missed opportunity not to deploy figurative tools to animate Williams’ story, bring it to light, propel it into the present, deploy it to inform policies, use it for more than personal expression? Or is the freedom to be a black expressionist a worthy end in itself, our desire to see his body exploitative, and art that exhorts politically tedious and doomed to failure anyway? “These systems also consider infrastructure and the environment to create a visual amalgamation that recognizes the ways that black people move through, inhabit, cleave and form space,” Dyson is cited as saying the catalog, describing her nomenclature of representation as “black compositional thought.” Often Dyson uses dancers accompanying installations to animate them with exuberant gestures, and the presence of performers might make this rhetoric seem less overblown. If these works constitute a kind of expressive freedom grounded in black narrative and experience, they operate within the exclusive prison-house of the institutional contemporary art and academic architecture world, its markets, nonprofits, grants, and formalist language games. It’s a project worthy of poststructural critique to seek liberation even within the most repressive situations. As with the collapse of the New Museum’s Ideas City program in the Bronx, it can be challenging to reconcile the sustained intellectual discourse with the urgent, viscerally felt problems of the world: lack of control over space and governance, being unable to afford a place to live or to find adequately paid work, and abstract financial forces determining the fate of your community.
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Architects Anonymous

Did Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher build Philadelphia's modernist stone pavilion? The answer may save it from demolition
The city of Philadelphia is moving forward with plans to demolish the beloved modernist stone pavilion in Columbus Square, affectionately referred to as the 'Roundhouse' (not to be confused with the Philadelphia Police Headquarters at 8th and Race Streets, also colloquially known as the 'Roundhouse'). The building gained notoriety earlier this year when The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron attributed the building's design to the late Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, the first woman architect in Philadelphia and one of the first in Pennsylvania. However, the Department of Parks and Recreation has expressed its doubt of Saffron’s claim, attributing the project to Fleisher’s partner Gabriel Roth instead. Some claim that the Roundhouse lacks historical significance without direct attachment to Fleisher, making it an easy target for demolition in the wake of a $2.8 million renovation of Columbus Square. In a recent article for her column in the Inquirer, Saffron bluntly addressed the following questions: “Who’s right? And why should it matter at this late date?” Regardless of the architect’s identity, Saffron claims that the structure, which has been vacant since the city opened a larger recreational facility in 2005, deserves another chance. The whimsical modernist roof and hefty stone walls make it a unique time capsule from a bygone era, drawing parallels to Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, which has long been praised as a treasure of mid-century modernism. Since its completion in the 1960s, the Roundhouse served as an important center of community life for the surrounding neighborhood of Passyunk Square. Its single doorway opened into a small but inviting space in which park-goers could stop to rest, grab sporting equipment, and hold meetings. Even after years of vacancy, Passyunk Square residents have not forgotten the legacy of the Roundhouse; Philadelphia resident Jay Farrell launched a change.org petition to save the beloved pavilion, stating that “the Columbus Square Fleisher Pavilion is clearly a much-loved and familiar landmark in the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philadelphia and there is a strong desire among local residents to see it preserved and adaptively reused.” The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures thus far. While the future of the building remains unclear, the story of the Roundhouse has sparked important conversations about the unsung contributions of women architects and how we determine the historical significance of buildings.
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Creating beautiful, enduring and successful places

The U.K. launches a National Design Guide—but why?
The U.K. has released a National Design Guide to help “create beautiful, enduring and successful places.” The guide was published at the start of the month and unveiled by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, however, for all the “good design" the guide preaches, it is at odds with Jenrick’s actual policies. To architects and designers, the principles outlined in the document will seem run-of-the-mill, even perhaps a little patronizing. But the guide is not for them; rather, it intends to ensure that all those involved in a project are on the same page. The focus of this design guide is on good design in the planning system, so it is primarily for:
  • Local authority planning officers, who prepare local planning policy and guidance and assess the quality of planning applications;
  • Councilors who make planning decisions;
  • Applicants and their design teams, who prepare applications for planning permission; and
  • People in local communities and their representatives.
A cursory scroll through the guide reveals a lot of images—almost all houses, with pitched roofs and brick facades along with a surprising amount of churches. A design guide issued by a Conservative politician seemingly calling for Victorian and Georgian villages a does incur a momentary feeling of dread (Poundbury is featured) but thankfully the guide is much more nuanced and ultimately offers some good advice. Ten “characteristics” for design are introduced in the guide, paying special attention to character, community and the climate:
Context – Enhances the surroundings. Identity – Attractive and distinctive. Built form – A coherent pattern of development. Movement – Accessible and easy to move around. Nature – Enhanced and optimised. Public spaces – Safe, social and inclusive. Uses – Mixed and integrated. Homes and buildings – Functional, healthy and sustainable. Resources – Efficient and resilient. Lifespan – Made to last.
The guide also takes into account the contemporary context we find ourselves in and looks to the future: “We expect continuing change as a consequence of climate change, changing homeownership models and technological changes. It is likely to emerge and embed in society rapidly.” Furthermore, there is an added focus on inclusion and community cohesion, defined respectfully as: “Making sure that all individuals have equal access, opportunity and dignity in the use of the built environment;” and “A sense of belonging for all communities, with connections and trust between them. Diversity is valued and people of different backgrounds have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with one another.” However, for all this positive rhetoric—which will hopefully make some impact—the guide is undermined by Jenrick’s latest policy to allow homeowners to add up to two stories to their house without having to get planning permission. This is part of the Conservative party’s push to "build up not out," and essentially allows homeowners to do what they want irrespective of their neighbors' objections, provided the building meets council guidelines and building regulations. Subsequently, it seems bizarre for the guide to talk about scale, height, relation to surroundings, and design quality, the latter of which will be most lacking as a result of such a policy. The guide also appears to feature mostly low-rise schemes and genuine examples of suburban sprawl with a straight face, the antithesis of building "up." “Publishing new design guidance alongside plans to extend permitted development rules, which allow projects to sidestep vital quality and environmental standards, just doesn’t make sense,” remarked RIBA President Alan Jones. “Although increasing permitted development rights is a step in the right direction, they will still be subject to heritage and conservation areas and viewing corridor type constraints,” Vaughn Horsman, design director at the British practice Farrells told AN. “And whilst it supports wider densification, by the time the tangle of other constraints get overlaid, there is still very little available land and air space available for growth in London. Meaning more still needs to be done.” Moreover, the design guide also seems to focus solely on housing. It has admittedly come from the Housing Secretary, but alternative typologies could at least be acknowledged, particularly as the industry moves towards adaptive re-use. Despite this, the guide has been for the most part warmly received by the profession. Teresa Borsuk, a senior adviser at the London-based Pollard Thomas Edwards, told the Architects’ Journal:
[The guide] is a sound piece of work aimed at planning officers, councillors, applicants and local communities. And a lot of it is not new. But what a difficult time for its launch – with everything else going on just now; climate change, affordability, targets, undersupply, Brexit…
Speaking in the same article, Richard Dudzicki, director of Richard Dudzicki Associates, meanwhile called for an “anarchic version of the National Design Guide”:
I started reading the National Design Guide thinking to myself this is not a bad idea, but I quickly thought of the successful places I love; Farringdon in the 90s or Peckham now. They do not fit in the government’s ‘10 simple rules to good design’. The truth is very little good design or successful placemaking will fit in this dull, grey, pragmatic framework. It is about interventions. Predefining spaces will lead to failure; failure of design, failure of place and failure to create a society. Architecture as a profession should be calling out for more. In this profession, we read the brief, rip it up and throw it out of the window and try to come up with a new idea. Let’s have an anarchic version of the National Design Guide.
Finally, the guide concludes by saying that it could be altered after the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission publishes its final report in December this year. This could likely cause groans in the profession: the Commission’s re-appointed cochair, Roger Scruton, has previously voiced his distaste of modernism, and in particular, architects Norman Foster and Mies van der Rohe. "The words 'beautiful' and 'ugly' are dangerous when referring to architecture — they expose personal bias, when our industry is more restricted than ever, by budgets, political and technical constraints," Horsman added. "Urban homes at the scale we need today will struggle to fit everyone’s view of ‘pretty’ –having our work, almost degraded, to such terms is frustrating. "How would ministers feel about a public vote on whether they’re too ugly for the job?” The report can be found in full online, here.
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Designing Space for Space in Space

Living in space is the answer, but what was the question?
In early September of this year, I was at a conference at an aviation museum in Seattle, to lend some architectural context to ideas about long-term living in space. The folks at the Space Studies Institute (SSI) had invited me to talk about some of the research on NASA’s 1970s proposals to build huge rotating cities in orbit from my book, Space Settlements, as part of a panel on habitat design. This conference was commemorating two anniversaries; it had been 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, and 50 years since Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton physics professor—and the leader of the 1970s NASA work—had asked a question of his freshman intro students: “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?” The answer they arrived at, after much study, was “no,” and they started to imagine the technical details of living elsewhere. My interest in this question has as much to do with history and culture as it does with getting down to the details of execution. “Why do we make space and live in it?” is a question worth asking, whether on Earth or off of it. But, while the conference itself was a fascinating two days of discussion, I was surprised to find that almost everyone there considered O’Neill’s (and my) questions to have been settled long ago. Why, the other panelists seemed to wonder, would anyone even ask “why” humans should go and live in outer space, when we can instead talk about “how?” And so that was the subject of the next two day’s conversation. 50 years on from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic flight—the culmination of almost a decade’s worth of work and about $150 billion in 2019 dollars—that “how?” seems easier than ever to answer. As of writing, it costs Elon Musk’s company SpaceX about $1,500 to launch 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). That’s down from about $43,000 for the same kilogram on the Space Shuttle in 1995. With new vehicles about to come online from SpaceX, NASA, and Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origin, these costs will only continue to go down. Two other factors are driving a new renaissance of plans for living and working in space: The discovery of new resources, and the confirmation, in the United States at least, that those resources can be put to use. The discovery of long-suspected ice in craters at the Moon’s poles was announced in 2018 by an international team of researchers using data from an Indian Lunar satellite. Water in space is useful, not least because living things require it to stay alive. But, once it’s been cracked apart with the cheap and plentiful solar electricity available there, it can become rocket fuel. “Water is the oil of space,” said one panelist at the SSI conference, George Sowers, formerly chief scientist with Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance, now a professor of practice in space mining at the Colorado School of Mines. In 2015, the lobbying efforts of two asteroid mining startups were vindicated when Congress passed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act into law. This new interpretation of the 1967 international Outer Space Treaty allowed private individuals and companies to engage in “exploration and exploitation” of water and other resources on the Moon, in the asteroids, and on other planets. These same two startups, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, later failed and were acquired by other companies. But the former CEO and cofounder of Planetary Resources, Chris Lewicki, was onstage at the SSI conference to talk about future successes. “If we make money in space, space settlement will happen,” said Lewicki, “it’s just us continuing to do the things we’ve always done.” This trifecta: low launch costs, a supply chain of matter and energy that’s already there, and a legal framework that can guarantee ownership of those resources, is the backend behind a new wave of proposals for architecture in space. These forces will keep that space wave going long after this post-Apollo nostalgia dies down. Earlier this year NASA awarded $500,000 to AI SpaceFactory, “a multi-planetary architectural and technology design agency, building for Earth and space,” for their MARSHA project. MARSHA successfully demonstrated an ability to use in-situ resources—Martian soil (or regolith)—to 3D print the outer shell of a habitat for four humans. The European Space Agency (ESA) Moon Village concept has been in development for most of this decade. Norman Foster, who has also designed for Mars, contributed design work to the Moon Village project in 2016, and SOM released information about its own Moon Village work earlier this spring. And of course, Bjarke Ingels is in on it, too. His firm, BIG, is making plans for a Mars simulator complex outside Dubai, and Ingels told the online design journal SSENSE that this work is a case study for a future Mars city. There’s beginning to be a long history to the notion that designing space for humans in space is a task that requires not just engineering, but architecture as well. At the inception of the Soviet Soyuz project in 1957, chief designer Sergei Korolev was unhappy with the capsule interiors that his engineers were drawing. The only architect working for the Soviet space program at that time was a woman named Galina Balashova, who was designing their office spaces. Korolev hired Balashova to redesign the habitable spaces of Soyuz, and later the space stations Salyut and Mir. Her work is still orbiting today as part of the International Space Station. On the other side of the Space Race, the Americans hired industrial designer Raymond Loewy to do the interior fit-out for Skylab. Famously, he was the one who talked them into adding a window and suggested that the best place for it would be next to the zero-gee “dining table” on the station. Back on Earth, the Space Architecture Studio and Research Lab, founded by the late Yoshiko Sato at Columbia GSAPP, now continues at Pratt under the guidance of Michael Morris, Sato’s husband. For over 30 years, the University of Houston has hosted the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. The chief space architect for AI SpaceFactory’s award-winning MARSHA design was Jeffrey Montes, an alum of the GSAPP studio. And Suzana Bianco, a graduate of the Houston program, was a copanelist at the Space Studies Institute conference in Seattle, presenting her New Venice habitat design. In technical circles within space science, the design of a total system—with launch capability, flight modules, crew or cargo space, and recovery—is known as an “architecture.” But in most of the presentations about various technical architectures for space travel and space settlement in Seattle last month—Bianco’s presentation being a welcome exception—there was little talk about the value that architects bring to those systems. No one knows space like architects do, and these threads that connect the (still largely speculative) work taking place in outer space today with the history of architectural space on Earth are too often neglected by those working in the field. Alongside all of this talk about “how?” the other question haunting the space settlement work being discussed at this conference and elsewhere was “who?”—as in “who will pay for all of this?” Even as the costs and barriers to entry drop, there is still uncertainty about the ways in which value might be designed into the projects that will help people live in space. Whether the users of the systems under design by these space architects are tourists, miners, hotelkeepers, or simple explorers, the question of “who?” is intimately tied up in the “why?” The architect Cedric Price famously asked, “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?” Maybe architects are the designers best positioned to ask, and even answer, these questions about space.
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BIG Slopes to Shred

BIG’s skiable Copenhill power plant is a contradictory landmark
“Very soon it’s going to be a fact that in Copenhagen we ski on the roofs of our power plants,” Bjarke Ingels, founder of the Danish architecture practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), stated a couple of months prior to the completion of his firm’s Copenhill. Now, Copenhill, a new waste-to-energy power plant, has officially opened its doors after eight years (delays were primarily caused by safety approvals to occupy the roof). Beyond its hyped rooftop ski slope, the building also houses ski lifts, a ski rental shop, hiking trails, a cafe, and the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world. Copenhill, or Amager Bakke in Danish, ironically refers to the lack of hills in the southeastern Amager area of Copenhagen, a flatness that becomes apparent when one stands on the top of the 90-foot-tall “mega-brick” metal-clad building. “We do not have mountains, but we do have mountains of trash,” Ingels said. Turning away from the panoramic city views, one sees the 1,300-foot-long artificial ski slope designed in collaboration with Colorado’s International Alpine Design, the creators of many larger ski resorts around the world. The five shades of green of the ski slope surface membrane peek out from clean steam released from the nearby smaller chimneys. The gradient of green colors has been chosen to emphasize the sustainable agenda. The slope mimics—in a cartoon-like manner—a naturalistic terrain. However, the professional skiers testing it disappear within seconds, which makes the excitement of watching the skiers fade quickly. A park, designed in collaboration with the Danish landscape practice SLA, runs along both sides of the ski track. The park was planned as a manicured Nordic wilderness with the ambition of attracting natural wildlife to the building. The metal facade, which will feature crawling plants, has setbacks for birds and other animals to inhabit. While the sustainable agenda informed details like the choice of plants, it can be questioned why the same consideration has not been given to the actual building materials. The choice of nonsustainable materials such as concrete, glass, steel, and aluminum is in many ways contradictory to the ideology of the building itself. On the underside of Copenhill is Amager Resource Centre (ARC), billed as the world’s cleanest power plant. It provides 30,000 homes with electricity and 72,000 homes with heating across five municipalities, including Copenhagen. The heaviness of the technology that goes into a building like a power plant becomes very apparent when the glass elevator takes you from the ground floor up to the ski slope. An impressive interior landscape of monochrome silver-painted machines extends as far as the eye can see, and as Ingels explained, “the only design decision BIG was able to make on the inside of the power plant was to decide the color of the machinery—if it was of no extra cost.” The building in its entirety has so far cost 4 billion Danish kroner ($670 million USD) and is one of the most expensive construction projects in the recent history of Copenhagen. It is a high cost for a building that is supposed to be obsolete in the near future—plans are being drawn for a recycling system to take over all waste management. The building—with the merging of interior industry and exterior recreative space—is what Ingels describes as hedonistic architecture. Copenhill should, in his eyes, be viewed as a landmark of an ambition to use clean tech to create a better environment, quality of life, and awareness of habits of consumption. The initial ambition was to have the 410-foot chimney discharge a smoke ring made from water vapor every time one ton of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. There are no rings, but at least the exhaust is cleaned as much as possible before being unleashed above the city. As a contradictory landmark—the overall agenda is to have fun while increasing awareness of consumption—the building is officially part of the ambitious goal of making Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Christine Bjerke is a Copenhagen-based architect and writer and teaches at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation.
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Gathering MOS

Mexico's Housing Laboratory shows off 32 low-cost prototypes
At the heart of social housing in Mexico is a contradiction: Flimsy houses built far from city centers sit empty, while millions of Mexicans are still waiting to use publicly financed housing credits. Developers continue to replicate the much-maligned cutter-cut model to keep costs down. But how can new construction not just meet the bottom line but satisfy the needs of low- and middle-income families? That is the question Carlos Zedillo and Julia Gómez Candela set out to answer at the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the National Workers’ Housing Fund Institute (Infonavit). After several years of research and design, they inaugurated the nine-acre Housing Laboratory in Apan, Hidalgo, in November 2018. The laboratory is made up of 32 prototype homes that explore new typologies for social housing to meet the needs of Mexico’s diverse cultures and climates. Infonavit partnered with Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of New York–based architecture firm MOS to execute the ambitious project. “For a long time, developers have built the exact same housing in the north of the country as the south, without thinking about climate or materials,” said architect Gómez Candela in an interview by phone. That’s why the same boxy, concrete block homes dot the outskirts of almost all Mexican cities. Homes as small as 325 square feet stay within the budget, but are hardly adequate for families. Mexican workers gradually build up credit with Infonavit to finance their first home purchase. Infonavit used to build housing, but since the 1990s it plays the role of financer—workers use their Infonavit loans to pay for houses built by private developers. Along the way, architects’ role in the process diminished. Gómez Candela says that as director of the research center, the Yale-educated Zedillo set out, “To get architects to redirect their attention back to social housing in Mexico.” The research center began with an exhaustive study of the state of social housing in Mexico, identifying where the supply of homes was failing to meet demand. Then they selected 84 counties with high rates of Infonavit credit holders who had not yet bought homes. The target counties represented the nine climate zones of Mexico. The research center then worked with MOS to solicit proposals from around the world, settling on 32 prototype homes for the Housing Laboratory. Architects including Enrique Norten, Tatiana Bilbao, and Fernanda Canales designed houses for the project. The laboratory was conceived in Apan, a small town two hours to the east of Mexico City. Built on land owned by Infonavit, the site’s proximity to the capital allowed frequent visits. Towns and cities like Apan, in the outer limits of the Mexico City metro area, are usually known for drab, uniform housing. The small village of prototype homes is a welcome variation. The houses include vernacular architectural styles from around Mexico, including adobe, thatched roofing, and Mexican timber, designed with the country’s different climates in mind; from the humid, tropical south to the arid, hot north. Each architect described their inspirations and reference points, from local architectural styles like the wooden cabins known as trojes in the state of Michoacan to self-constructed housing. Collaborating with MOS allowed the research center to learn from their extensive experience designing housing. The Apan Housing Laboratory shows how developers could build high-quality housing within the tight budgets of Infonavit credits. It is only natural that Gómez Candela says cost was the greatest difficulty in the international collaboration. “In Mexico, we are used to building with very little money,” she says. “With our colleagues from the United States and other countries, we kept having to say, ‘Make it cheaper!’” The extra effort was necessary to convince developers that the models are feasible. Even so, developers have been slow to adopt the ideas proposed in the laboratory. “They [developers] still think it will be more expensive to build this way, even if we showed them otherwise” says Gómez Candela. “The numbers do add up.” Most visitors to the Housing Laboratory are students, urban planners and developers. Gómez Candela and Zedillo both left Infonavit when the new federal administration entered in December 2018. But the laboratory remains open and the floor plans are available online under open access. The laboratory is the start of a long process to refocus social housing in Mexico on the experience of the residents, not just efficacy for the builder. The research center’s work is seeing results, as Mexican architects focus more energy on designing housing. Gómez Candela is optimistic, saying, “The architects we worked with have continued to champion the cause of housing in Mexico.”
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