Search results for "Morphosis"

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Cooper Square Hotel
A paneled library-lounge offers homey comfort at this urbane hotel.
Courtesy Cooper Square Hotel

Buildings by well-known architects are transforming the shaggy edges of Cooper Square and Astor Place, once the domain of college students, homeless people, and Cube-spinning hangers-on. The latest addition, the Cooper Square Hotel, is a striking juxtaposition of old and new, with 19th-century tenements incorporated into its base and a curving, contemporary tower above. The building, designed by New York–based architect Carlos Zapata with interiors by famed Italian designer Antonio Citterio, engages with its context but makes a few clean breaks, as well.

“We wanted to create an architecturally significant building to reflect the changes in Cooper Square,” said Klaus Ortlieb, managing partner for the hotel, referring to the architecturally ambitious new buildings associated with Cooper Union. A new academic building by Morphosis is rising next door to the hotel, and the curves of Gwathmey Siegel’s condominium building at adjacent Astor Place are visible from its rooms. A new mixed-use project designed by Fumihiko Maki is also planned just two blocks away on the site of the school’s engineering building.

Unlike the developers of those buildings, however, Ortlieb and his partners chose not to clear the site. After initially planning to demolish three tenement buildings, one of which includes protected artists’ apartments, they reversed course and asked Zapata to redesign the building, incorporating the tenements into the new building’s base and creating a contemporary form above. Two apartments, one of which is home to a well-known poet, remain, and are now accessed through the hotel’s main entrance. In retaining these buildings, the developers avoided a messy public fight, which could have tainted the hotel’s relationship with the famously cantankerous neighborhood. (Zapata is no stranger to controversial additions to historic buildings: His most famous project remains the renovation of Chicago’s Soldier Field, designed with former business partner Benjamin Wood.) The hotel’s sleek glass tower, built by Sciame,  is narrow where it joins the base and swells in the middle before tapering again at the penthouse level. This Miami-meets-McSorley’s relationship between old and new is interesting and somewhat jarring, but could be read as another iteration of the clashing of styles and repurposing of found objects that has long defined East Village aesthetics. The planned landscape design by Nathan Browning, which will include a large dining garden wrapping around the rear and side of the hotel, may help to bring these opposing sensibilities into greater harmony.

The tower (top) has a corporate flavor distinct from the tenements at its base. the spare guestrooms (above) offer sweeping views of the neighborhood.              
courtesy cooper square

Inside, Zapata has woven a complex and layered sequence of public and private spaces into the narrow site. Bar and restaurant patrons can enter just to the left of the main hotel entrance. The bar area has a curved ceiling covered in black subway tile that forms the underside of a 20-person stadium-seating screening room. Behind the bar and restaurant, bordering on 5th Street, the outdoor garden and dining area will be accessible to both guests of the hotel and restaurant and bar patrons. In the back of the garden, a stair and catwalk lead to an elevated outdoor bar built over the base of the building.

On the interior, Citterio used natural materials such as slate flooring, with pieces hand-broken in Italy and shipped to the site, and warm walnut panels in the lobby and the lounge-like library, which is carved out of space from one of the tenements. There is no reception desk, but attendants hover close by and will instantly know your name and preferences. Patterned glass with an abstracted leaf motif lines the elevator core. Citterio designed almost all of the furniture, which was then produced by B&B Italia in a palette of black leather, wood, and steel (a few other pieces, such as seating from Herman Miller and Poliform, are interspersed). The library and the guest rooms are stocked with used books provided by the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, which are for sale with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit service provider. A Persian rug in the lobby and subtle floor and side lamps round out these chic but comfortable spaces. “We wanted it to have a residential feel,” Ortlieb said.

The rooms have an even quieter appearance, and here all of Zapata’s glass and the location really pay off. Set on the square on one side, where the Bowery and 4th Avenue meet, with the mostly low-rise East Village on the other, the rooms have spectacular views both on the lower levels and upward. On the lower levels, the church steeples, rear yards, and rooftop gardens of the neighborhood provide endless fascination for the eye, while on the upper floors, the entire city, including the outer boroughs and the banks of New Jersey, open up to view. Inside, Citterio’s pieces have clean lines, and the bathrooms have large windows with fritted glass and no curtains, offering both views and privacy. “The bathrooms are very important,” Ortlieb said. “You spend most of your waking hours in a hotel in the bathroom.”

While the rooms—145 in total, ranging from small, 225-square-foot rooms to junior and full suites—are luxurious without being flashy, none will compare with the two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom 21st-floor penthouse suite, currently under construction. With 360-degree panoramic views and a wide terrace on three sides, the space will surely be one of the most desirable in the city for private events and late-night debauchery.

It is a difficult time to launch a new hotel that caters to “global creatives” in the art, fashion, and entertainment industries. Ortlieb, who worked for both Ian Schrager and André Balazs before becoming a developer himself, remains confident. “Not everyone looks only at prices,” he said. “Especially in New York, there will always be people looking for something a bit more unique. I opened the Mercer [with Balazs] when the market wasn’t strong. Things come around.” He’s confident enough to be planning two additional hotels with Zapata, one in Chicago and one more in New York, though he plans to work with different interior designers on each of these upcoming projects. He does not necessarily think his concept of small, architecturally ambitious hotels will be copied. “These are not inexpensive buildings to build,” he said. “I hope it’s my direction, not the new direction.”

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Spacey Times In Pasadena
Yesterday we toured Morphosis’ new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech. The 100,000 square foot, $50 million building’s most notable architectural features are its cracks, fissures, tilts, and expanding and contracting walkways and apertures; elements that seem to suit it more to a seismology building, but also work to represent the epic tumult of space. The building’s façade is composed of a folding and angling screen of red fiber reinforced cement panels set over a pvc membrane. The horizontal frontage is beset with large, cracked voids and sharp, warped thrusts of wall that provide a good preview of what’s inside. The building’s main stairway—a steel mesh and then concrete surface that compresses and expands as it progresses— is its visual centerpiece. It twists through a surreal, and somewhat disorienting, conglomeration of intersecting white walls, angular windows, and telescoping skylights, violently sending visual pathways and shards of light in every direction. This area, which is at times surprisingly narrow, is shockingly dramatic, but at times dizzying. Cahill's three floors of warped-walled offices and classrooms are peaceful by comparison. They’re located on long, angled blue hallways following a grid-like plan that contains glassy offices along its exterior and conference rooms and meeting spaces along its interior. The building’s labs are located on a basement floor lit both through artificial light and a large light moat that circles the building. We’ll be featuring a critique of the building, which has finally united all of Caltech’s astronomers in one place, in our next California issue, so stay tuned…

The Good Fight

This year may well be the one that California museums wish to forget. Institutions are reeling from drastically reduced endowments: The Getty Trust in December told The Art Newspaper that its endowment has lost 25 percent since last June. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles was just delivered perhaps the most public blow of all: donor default. Exacerbated economic woes resulted in a massive drop in donations, forcing the museum to dip into its emergency savings. Financial strain has shuttered its Geffen Contemporary space for six months, and forced the resignation of Jeremy Strick, the museum’s director since 2001. After considering a proposed merger with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which is partially reliant on government funds), the museum accepted a no-strings infusion of cash from arts super-patron Eli Broad, who promised to match endowment funds up to $15 million. The museum also added a CEO position, naming Charles Young, former UCLA chancellor.

The uncertainty of MOCA’s future has left many pondering the fate of architecture and design departments at museums throughout the state. But a closer look finds them faring far better than anticipated. MOCA’s architecture and design curator Brooke Hodge said she is continuing work on three planned exhibitions, as well as several major projects that are in development. The only significant change so far is to the next architecture exhibition, a survey of local firm Morphosis, which was rescheduled from its March opening to an August date. “It's too early to predict whether there will be any further impact,” she said.

The museum also recently announced a renewed agreement with the Pacific Design Center, where MOCA has had a satellite location since 2000. The space will offer expanded programming with a greater focus on architecture and design, said Hodge. "My aim is to develop an innovative and inspiring program of exhibitions that touches on important issues and developments in the design disciplines both at home and abroad,” she added. Planned for 2009 are two exhibitions exploring the intersection of craft and computation: A site-specific installation by Ball-Nogues Studio, and Boolean Valley, an installation by architect Nader Tehrani of Office dA and ceramist Adam Silverman.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s (SFMOMA) architecture and design department is in the midst of an acquisitions spree since Henry Urbach took over as curator of the department in 2006. An exhibition that closed January 4 showcased over 246 objects acquired by Urbach, as well as the decision-making process that went into each acquisition. It’s too early to know if that pace will change. If art prices go down, that might make acquisitions easier. For spring, Urbach has scheduled the first solo exhibition of the Berlin–based architecture firm J. MAYER H.

Another bright spot for architecture and design is at the Getty Research Institute in LA, which recently announced the formation of a design and architecture department. Headed by Wim de Wit and associate curator Christopher James Alexander, the department will curate the Getty’s already impressive holdings. These include Julius Shulman’s archives and the papers of architects John Lautner, Pierre Koenig, Ray Kappe, Daniel Libeskind, and Philip Johnson, as well as those of critics like Reyner Banham and unique acquisitions like the Bauhaus Papers and archives of the International Design Conference at Aspen. The first exhibition planned under de Wit’s tenure will unite many of these: a survey of California architecture from 1940-1990, tentatively planned for 2013 or 2014.

De Wit will also launch a consortium for architects to share best practices, including practical information about the economy. “These will be to meet and learn more about each other’s works and see how we can help each other,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to more collaborations like the symposium organized in conjunction with the Hammer Museum’s John Lautner show last fall.

While museums are busy saving themselves, chances are there will be less outreach to rescue endangered mid-century modern houses. A few years ago Michael Govan, then newly named director of LACMA, bandied about an interest in acquiring some mid-century architecture to help preserve it, a groundbreaking move. While LACMA has yet to deliver on such a promise, hope may lie in the strength and agility of smaller institutions: The LA-based MAK Center just added a third house to its roster, the Fitzpatrick-Leland House, designed by R.M. Schindler.

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South Bank Bound
The fate of Eero Saarinen's 1960 U.S. embassy building is still unknown as the State Department heads for a new South Bank site.
Courtesy U.S. Department of State

Making good on plans to desert its storied Eero Saarinen building and raise a fortified compound in London’s South Bank district, on January 2 the U.S. Department of State announced a shortlist of nine American architectural firms to design a billion-dollar London embassy.

In hopes that the project might prove as distinguished as Saarinen's structure—itself the product of a design competition in 1955—the jury picked a roster of heavy-hitters with a few unexpected firms in the mix. The full list includes Richard Meier & Partners, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Perkins + Will, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, Morphosis, and KieranTimberlake.

Having winnowed the field from a list of 37 submissions, the project’s jury—including architects and designers Frances Halsband, Richard Rogers, James Carpenter, Michaele Pride, and Peter Rolland—will now select four or five finalists to submit formal design schemes for the next phase of the competition. A winning team is expected to be announced by the end of August.

To the consternation of British architects, U.S. law calls for the embassy’s lead designer to be an American firm with required security clearance. The shortlisted offices will, however, be allowed to retain UK partners to serve on the design team.

The competition aims for a new facility that reflects “the best of modern design, incorporates the latest in energy-efficient building techniques, and celebrates the values of freedom and democracy,” embassy officials said in a statement. The relocation must still be approved by Congress and local planning authorities, a process that may yet take several years.

While plans for the move have long been in the making, it was only last October that Ambassador Robert Tuttle officially confirmed the South Bank scenario. “We looked at all our options, including renovation of our current building on Grosvenor Square,” he said in a statement. “In the end, we realized that the goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable Embassy could best be met by constructing a new facility. I’m excited about America playing a role in the regeneration of the South Bank of London.”

The State Department has signed a conditional agreement with developer Ballymore to acquire the five-acre South Bank site, located in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth. The project is “going to be the anchor to a redevelopment of the area,” said Jonathan Blyth, chief of staff of the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. The new embassy would be located near the Battersea Power Station, itself the site of some controversy over efforts to redevelop the sprawling complex with a masterplan by Rafael Viñoly.

"The goal is that the American taxpayers will not pay for this embassy," Blyth added. The project is to be funded with $500 million already secured from the sale of an annex next to the existing embassy, plus proceeds expected from the sale of the Saarinen building. 

All of which does little to clarify the fate of that 1960 structure, which the State Department put on the block last year. Considered among the most significant examples of Saarinen’s work in Europe, the building is widely expected to be razed to make way for apartments on the site, whose Mayfair address makes it one of the most coveted properties in London.

Blyth told AN that purchase offers are under review and a decision is expected in the “very near future” as to the lucky bidder. A plea to list the building as historically significant has not yet been acted upon by English Heritage, and “is something that is still being discussed in England,” Blyth said.

Oddly, the U.S. government does not actually own the Saarinen property. According to Cushman & Wakefield, which is advising on the building’s disposition, what is being offered for sale is the State Department’s leasehold interest in the building. The lease, granted by the Grosvenor Estate in 1954, is for a term of 999 years, “with the rent fixed at one peppercorn per annum for the whole term.” Considering that the property is thought to be worth several hundred million dollars, that’s not a bad deal at all.

Courtesy U.S. Department of State 
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China Express
SOM's Poly Plaza building towers over Beijing traffic.
Tim Griffith

As people tuned into the Olympics this past August, they saw buildings like the evocatively nicknamed Bird’s Nest and Water Cube settling into the Beijing landscape. But what wasn’t seen so clearly by Olympic viewers were the challenges of working in this frenetic setting, and the logistics of trading design drawings with clients and colleagues over five thousand miles away. It’s a world where technology plays a central role, increasing in importance and complexity.

Without a doubt, the Chinese economy has been nothing short of miraculous over the last few years, turning a development nobody into one of the hottest markets in the world. Although new signs are ominous—a recent report in The New York Times said that housing sales in big cities this year have dropped by as much as 40 percent, and several firms told AN that commercial construction in the country is way down—China is still the place to be for Western architects, including many of California’s top firms looking for large-scale work. 

Among these entrepreneurial spirits constantly boarding flights that “would drive me nuts if I thought about it,” according to Andy Feola, president of Pasadena-based F + A Architects, technology allows the once time-eating, mundane coordination of cross-continental business to be managed electronically through innovative new data sharing, construction management, and teleconferencing technologies.

“Working on projects in the early ‘90s, we would print up designs, box them up, and then have to schlep stuff over there. People were on the plane every week, information got lost in transportation, and it was prohibitive both in terms of cost and personal life,” said Mehrdad Yazdani, principal of Los Angeles-based Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, which is now working on a concert hall, a restaurant, and a villa as part of the huge Ordos development that is employing star architects in Inner Mongolia. “My experience now is completely different,” he said. His firm uses the FTP site CuteFTP to share documents of all sizes; it employs Smarttech’s Bridgit software for WebExing—internet conferences in which users can interactively edit the same drawing—and it uses long-distance teleconferencing technology like Skype and the Polycom System (a hardware application linked to an overhead projector, a camera, and a computer image system) to conduct videoconferences with colleagues in China.

Gene Schnair, managing partner of SOM’s San Francisco office—which is working on over 20 projects in China—noted his firm’s use of the Polycom system and GoToMeeting, which enables users in different locations to work on documents simultaneously, for teleconferencing. Morphosis, which is working on ambitious projects in China as well, uses the web-based project management system Aconex, in which the contractor in China posts drawings and images on the website for U.S. architects to review and send back with changes. For videoconferencing, the firm uses the Tandberg system, which like Polycom uses cameras and projectors to link teams over the internet. The firm’s videoconferences are further enhanced through the Cintiq tablet by Wacom, an LCD tablet imbedded in the firm’s conference tables that allows architects to instantaneously share sketches with their overseas counterparts. The firm also employs a software called Gathering Place, which displays architects’ desktops on colleagues’ computers in China.

Courtesy JWDA

Courtesy Morphosis
Joseph Wong Design Associates' BelQiao housing development (top) and a rendering of Morphosis' Giant Group Pharmaceutical Campus (above), both in the Shanghai area.

There are still more work-saving and work-enhancing technologies on the way. A company called iBeam sells to architects and construction managers a handheld camera that beams live video from anywhere on a construction site to any computer screen; it can be shared by multiple remote viewers. And IT companies like Control Group provide comprehensive electronic tracking systems; or firms can do it on their own with software likeMicrosoft’s SharePoint, which allows huge document transfers from a central repository, with version tracking, vaulting, and other tools.

And since wages are significantly lower in China, firms are able to take advantage of a technique that is more controversial: outsourcing to Chinese offices. “Before, when I hired recent graduates of Harvard or Cornell or USC, we had them pick up red marks or do area calculations or color a drawing,” said Yazdani. “Now, we have our team in Shanghai do that, and it frees up our California team to do more of the creative and design work.”

Michael Mann, a principal at Los Angeles firm DMJM Design, also praised the financial benefits of sending some work to China. “Full-on 3D animations can get really expensive here, and they’re a third of the cost in China. It allows us to not only do better visualizations, but also to send work there for our U.S. clients that is otherwise too expensive to be done,” he said. Local companies like Shanghai-based Architectural Management on Demand (AMOD) can produce scale models and renderings within days using existing documents.

Outsourcing is a controversial step in some ways, but one which some feel balances, rather than replaces, the jobs of American architects. “There is a lot of concern about outsourcing,” said Yazdani. “But it’s allowed us to do the work much faster and be more competitive in the marketplace here—as well as allowing us to focus on the things we do well.”

Freeing up creative time can be crucial in a setting that’s often described as one of the most inventive in the world. Tim Christ, a principal at Morphosis, remarked that, “The Chinese are willing to embrace new ideas that you don’t see in the U.S. now, such as really ambitious spatial relationships. There’s a progressive spirit that’s extraordinary.” Morphosis is in the middle of construction of the Giant Group Pharmaceutical Campus just outside of Shanghai. Slated for completion in spring 2009, the 258,000-square-foot campus is a sinuous combination of lifted forms spanning a four-lane highway, a massive green roof, and cantilevered shapes anchoring both ends, one of which projects dynamically over a man-made lake.

“There’s a willingness to push the envelope and explore different opportunities and directions,” agreed principal Robert Mankin, based in the Los Angeles office of NBBJ, whose firm is working on five projects in China, including a large mixed-use project in Dailian and a sports park in Hangzhou.

Still, although most firms find that China embraces innovation and has high levels of technological capability, there is sometimes discordance between how work is approached in China and in the U.S. Some, like SOM’s Schnair, have had limited success with shared platforms, since “what we’re finding is that our Chinese counterparts have AutoCAD as their basic platform. Revit isn’t implemented to the degree that it’s become a commonplace utility.”

Yazdani has had more success sharing complex modeling platforms, and explained that of all his firm’s offices, “our Shanghai office was the first that was completely Revit-ized.” As a result, he said, “we’re able to work and build on the same model simultaneously between both our California and Shanghai office, with daily communication back and forth. We confront more technological challenges when we work on local projects than we do in China.”

Courtesy NBBJ

Courtesy Yazdani Studio
A preview of NBBJ's Chinatrust Headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan (top), and Yazdani Studio's planned concert hall in Ordos, Inner Mongolia (above).

Probably the biggest remaining challenge in China rests with the implementation of an actual design. Specifically, there’s still a large gap in construction standards. Although the level of quality is “much, much better; it used to be terrible,” said Jack Bouvrie, design director at Los Angeles–based firm Nadel Architects, there are still some concerns of overall ability with local engineering and construction firms, especially in cities outside Beijing and Shanghai. Because of regulatory limitations, American architects aren’t allowed to produce construction documents or act as architect of record without a local license, so they become consultants during the construction process.

“At SOM, we’re still involved to the extent we can assure ourselves that our design is being carried out in a way that we’ll be satisfied with the outcome. It requires a watchful eye, from reviews of shop drawings to answering questions from contractors, to going out into the field for various visits. If that watchful eye isn’t there, chances are the quality will be problematic,” explained Schnair. Other firms, like DMJM, have purchased architectural engineering firms in China with Class A licenses, thereby ensuring that they’ll be in charge of the projects from beginning to end.

At the same time, projects in China—unbound by public hearings and slow approval processes—happen at accelerated speeds. That means that buildings are completed in China even before the working drawings are finished for most American projects. That much speed can compromise quality, however. As Bouvrie explained, “While I think it’s good that things get done quickly, the expectations are often unrealistic. You have a huge project, and the clients say they want to start construction in three months, and the project isn’t even designed, yet they start digging anyway. It’s really bizarre.” It can drive American architects slightly insane, as vocal clients demand completion of projects based on impatience rather than on realistic (and functional) schedules.

Overall, however, despite any challenges raised, most architects involved in China feel that their work there is worth the effort. “Some view China as an opportunity for exciting design,” said Yazdani. “But for me, the more important reason to be there is that architecture is a global proposition, and if you want to be involved in that dialogue, you need to be in China.”

And so, high-tech tools in hand, California architects continue to amass frequent-flier miles—or just travel electronically—as they pursue the profit in Chinese construction—and the dream of contributing to the next worldwide architectural sensation.

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XI International Architecture Biennale
Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff
Martin Perrin

The Arsenale

The theme was “Out There” but the experience was over the top as the leading lights of the profession plus a smattering of young up-and-comers from around the world produced a heroically-scaled display of performance architecture.

By Julie V. Iovine

To make sharp critical observers out of his audiences, German playwright Bertolt Brecht inserted blackout moments into scenes. The 11th International Architecture Biennale offered its own alienation effect in a dark-as-pitch room—a forecourt to the vast two-mile long Arsenale exhibition space—featuring an installation by Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff involving towering interactive screens where scenes from architecture’s favorite movies (Cleopatra,The Fountainhead, A Clockwork Orange, etc.) as complex XY-axis projections leapt up in response to the crowd moving through. This Hall of Fragments set a seductive stage for the subsequent installations commissioned from 24 architecture practices by Biennale director Aaron Betsky. The brief was to show architecture “beyond building,” that is “revelatory, utopian, and critical.” Visitors marched past a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of gargantuan works: elegantly embalmed prototyped extrusions by Asymptote; Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Oz-like Feed Back Space first envisioned in 1969; and Zaha Hadid’s brand-perfect acid green furniture/architecture. Most breathtaking in this sequence was Frank Gehry’s Ungapatchket, a three-story timber model of a Moscow hotel that the architect is designing, slabbed over with clay in the spirit of Cai Guo Qiang’s ephemeral Rent Collection Courtyard figurines shown in New York last winter, but originally exhibited in the Arsenale in 1999.

Even if you had not already been over to the Giardini, the other part of the Biennale dedicated to national pavilions and their individually curated exhibits, and seen the Estonian’s big yellow “pipeline” providentially and ominously running down a gravel slope to the steps of the Russian pavilion, you might have questioned the relevance of the Arsenale’s fabulously blousy installations. The European press has already come down hard, especially on the nudes brought in by French architect Philippe Rahm in an effort to demonstrate space-making through convection air currents instead of walls. The concept was certainly clever, and might have been enough for an art installation, but it cannot pass muster at an architecture fair if it doesn’t actually work. Betsky tried to make an end-run around buildings that “just stand there” in favor of architecture that inspires and “transforms one’s perception of one’s world.” And while there was plenty of food for thought about the latest way to turn data into structure, from artist Matthew Ritchie & Aranda/Lasch’s scale-less, fractal-turned-structural-doily to M-A-D’s AirXY, which replicated the technology of Hall of Fragments with LED lights instead of movies, many of the installations looked as if they could too easily end up as catalog fodder for the amusement of galleristas.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Iwan Baan

The urban problems that preoccupied some architects—the lives of singletons for the Dutch collective Droog; the pile-up of unrecyclable and ghastly plastic toys for Greg Lynn—didn’t seem global enough. Pros at performance architecture like Diller Scofidio + Renfro did not disappoint with a video installation that mashed up interviews with gondoliers in three different Venices—Italy, Las Vegas, and Macau—along with anyone’s belief in authenticity of place. UNStudio, too, satisfied with a slitheringly stunning rendition of a villa fit for Zoolander that served as a screen for footage from an Alexander McQueen fashion show.

But as one continued down the vast Arsenale where in the 12th century, entire battleships could be built in a week, the impression that today powerful minds were bent to far less mighty tasks was hard to ignore. Ten months ago when Betsky set to work, presidents and vice presidents had not been nominated, Georgian borders had not been crossed, and hurricanes both natural and financial had not rocked our foundations. Now that they have, architects working in high concepts rather than hard realities seem somehow passé.



Arsenale Interrota

By Anne Guiney

After the machined perfection of so many of the Arsenale’s massive installations, the drawings of Roma Interrota provided the show’s first real jolt. The recreation of a 1978 exhibition of the same name was inspired by the 1748 Nolli Map of Rome. The drawings show the eternal city reimagined by 12 architects, including Aldo Rossi (pictured), Paolo Portoghesi, Robert Venturi, Leon and Robert Krier, and Colin Rowe, who were themselves monumental practitioners in the 1970s. The reinstallation was an eye-opener for a new generation, including Casey Jones and Reed Kroloff, who collaborated with David Rockwell on the video installation Hall of Fragments. For them, the juxtaposition provided a revealing contrast in the ways architects look at cities. “It has the stillness of a time capsule,” said Kroloff, “and it’s amazing to see how radically the tools of expression have changed.”

The original Roma Interrota was organized by then-mayor of Rome Giulio Carlo Argan, and took as its premise the idea that since the publication of Giovanni Battista Nolli’s famous New Plan for Rome, planning in the city had been stymied and destructive. Argan asked architects to start where the 230-year-old plan left off and dream of what the city could be. Revisiting the new reinstallation at the Arsenale, Argan wrote, “It is comprised not of proposals for urban planning, naturally, but of a series of gymnastic exercises for the imagination whose course runs parallel to that of memory… [Here] are hypotheses for the Rome which would have resulted had man continued to imagine it and not to plan it (badly.)”


Belgium's curators David van Severen and Kersten Geers commemorated a missed centennial—the country first entered the Biennale in 1907—with after the party, an installation whose main components are confetti and mostly empty rooms.
Martin Perrin


At the mouth of the Grand Canal, the city’s largest public garden is dotted with 35 national pavilions and a series of outdoor installations. Inside, a few curators showed how architecture can indeed be pushed “beyond building,” with results ranging from poetic to pragmatic.

By Anne Guiney

By taking the Biennale’s theme “Out There—Architecture Beyond Building” as more guideline than directive, curators of more than 30 national exhibitions in the Giardini found expansive and fertile ground for their ideas. Expansive enough, in fact, to encompass almost anything. Freed from the physical limitations of building, architecture could relate to everything.

The two most prevalent (and often intertwined) ideas curators explored were politics and the environment, but the work ranged from the poetic approach of Japan’s Junya Ishigumi, who created a dreamland of flower-structures, to Russia, whose installation of a competitive architectural chess game could be read as a mirror held up to contemporary politics.

Perhaps the most immediately satisfying project was not in a pavilion, but running between two. Estonia put a real-scale gas pipe on the ground between the German and Russian pavilions to represent a Gazprom proposal to build the Nord Stream pipeline connecting the two countries through the Baltic Sea. It was wonderfully concise in its ability to make a political argument physically manifest, and to raise questions about issues from regional power dynamics to environmental damage.

martin perrin 

Eric holm

martin perrin

Poland’s curators took the seldom-sexy idea of recycling and gave it some style by repurposing their pavilion as the Hotel Polonia, complete with beds. Inside, there were a series of photographic triptychs showing a building as it looks today and then one that Photoshops it into the future. A 2004 basilica becomes a fantastic water park, since after a while the only people attending church would be tourists anyway, so why not? Likewise, a university library is rebranded as a mall, and cheekily, a Foster-designed building became a convincingly ominous jail. The mixture of solid ideas and a light touch led the jurors to award it the Golden Lion. 

Germany, too, drew attention to the use and abuse of nature, though without the humor of its neighbor. To highlight the way we often squander our resources, the curators did some squandering of their own: The neoclassical German pavilion’s portico was lit with 32 massive spotlights, which gave it an unfortunate eerie glow, and each visitor passing underneath felt their heat. The physical sensation made an effective point, and while there was a notice inside that team members were reducing energy consumption to offset the 50,000 kilowatts of electricity the piece will ultimately consume, the choice seemed dubious. A second inadvertently funny moment was an indoor grove of apple trees under Gro-lights, fed by an IV-like sack of radioactively bright liquid that suggested nothing more than Soylent Green.

Japan’s curator Junya Ishigumi took a very different stance on the issue of our relationship to nature, and imagined a world where architecture was not set in a landscape but inextricably a part of it. The seemingly blank white walls of the pavilion were covered with dozens of drawings of greenery-clad structures in different scenarios, and outside were a series of delicate glass greenhouses filled with flowers. Its dreamy beauty made it a favorite, but the ideas it raised were really no more far-fetched than much of the more ecologically-minded work in the Italian Pavilion.


Ryan Reitbauer

U.S. Pavilion

By William Menking

When word first went out that the theme of this year’s architecture biennale was “Out There: Beyond Building,” I suspected that Aaron Betsky would take a more formalist approach and not include the kind of social activism that has recently engaged an increasing number of architects frustrated by a sense of impotence in the face of the country’s crumbling infrastructure and frayed social fabric. I turned to Teddy Cruz, whose housing proposals for Hudson, NY, we’ve covered in AN, and he started a conversation with Pratt Institute’s Deborah Gans. Soon the team also included Andy Sturm of the PARC Foundation and Aaron Levy of the Slought Foundation, two non-profits often involved with architects pursuing alternative practices. There seemed to be an opportunity to provide a counterpoint to the main exhibition with something that focused more on new approaches to engaging with communities and shaping local infrastructure.

Time was not on our side: We had only four months to conceive, develop, design, ship, and install everything down to the guestbook to Venice. Right at the start, Leanne Mella, with years of experience as a biennale coordinator and with the State Department, warned me, “I’ve done exhibits in Africa, and it can be a difficult place to mount an exhibition, but Venice is tougher!” and then she joined our team, an unbeatable vote of confidence.

Our goal was not modest: We were basically trying to develop and encourage an architecture culture that doesn’t yet exist in the United States. And while we included efforts like The Heidelberg Project, where abandoned houses in Detroit have been encrusted by recycled refuse collected in the neighborhood, or Kyong Park’s New Silk Road video montage, the impulse was to provoke new thinking about architecture, not to feature art projects.

While some of the work we decided to include (and that you may have read about in the last issue of AN) was very critical about aspects of American culture and the built environment, some of it was equally proactive about our problems, because they are in fact hard to believe. The reality is that in the last 25 years, this country hasn’t really invested in our infrastructure, and so a lot of the projects in the pavilion looked at that rather than at buildings in order to make a connection between an architectural sensibility and a larger social infrastructure. Finally, I believe that architects are by and large urbanists who love cities and want to make them function better, and the projects we chose to include represented a range of ways to do just that.



Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Wei Wei
Martin Perrin

Experimental Architecture

Inside the Italian Pavilion, 56 exhibits showed the range of experiment across the spectrum, from Lebbeus Woods’ drawings to architecture’s future as seen through the I Ching. With a tone set by the early, ground-breaking work of masters like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Coop Himmelb(l)au, the work suggests that the spirit of the new is alive and engaged.

By Anne Guiney

The Italian Pavilion in the Giardini promises an overview on the state of progressive practice in architecture, and while it certainly delivers, it does so in a way that is alternately provocative, satisfying, and dispiriting. Curator Aaron Betsky chose to devote the building that once housed the host country’s installation (now relocated to the Arsenale) with the work of 55 experimental firms, many of whom are younger, like MOS, NL Architects, and LOT-EK, and seven of the avant-garde’s old school, most now prolific builders, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Morphosis. Most of the masters pulled work from their archives—Zaha Hadid’s drawings were particularly spectacular, and a reminder of her extraordinary talent. A noteworthy exception was Herzog & de Meuron, who teamed up with Ai Wei Wei, their collaborator on the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, and made a simple but beautiful installation from the bamboo poles so prevalent on construction sites in China.

NL Architects

courtesy the architects

Almost all of the work on display is drawn from projects that were underway long before the Biennale, and Betsky has grouped like with like. Teddy Cruz’s cross-border work in Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego is catercorner to FAST’s planning and community organizing project in the Arab-Israeli town of Ein Hawd, while Field Operations’ large-scale and long-term efforts in landscape urbanism share a room with the Colombia-based Husos’ engaging Proyecto Cali, which wonderfully manages to include the restoration of a habitat for Monarch butterflies, an exhibitions building, and a soap opera called Butterflies and Passions.

One of the more striking things that emerges from the contrast Betsky sets up between the old-new and the new-new is the preoccupation with creating a more socially engaged practice over form-making, and the use of different means to tell a story. Along with Husos and its racy telenovela, AOC developed a Monopoly-based board game to help Venetians rethink their shrinking city, and J,P:A Jones Partners put together a Marvel-style comic book projecting 50 years into the future of Dubai. CUP’s intentionally crude Xeroxed posters diagram a link between sneakers and poverty, while Urban Think Tank’s colorful wall of posters from Caracas, Venezuela is as suggestive of a vibrant public realm as any in the show.

Yogi Berra, as usual, had it right: The future ain’t what it used to be, and utopia as we know and love it is in fairly short supply in the pavilion. One of the more provocative pieces calls the very idea into question: Abitare editor Stefano Boeri and a student team took on the eco-enthusiasm so prevalent in the pavilion and beyond and ask what it would really be like if nature once again was deeply integrated into our cities. Boeri’s Sustainable Dystopias presents three scenarios—the city of energy devices, the city of vegetable surfaces, and the city of wild animals, each of which pushes the proposal to its logical conclusion and points out the pros and cons. As neat as it might sound, the piece argues, there’s also a downside to having elk and moose wandering through protected greenbelts in a city. NL Architects also presents cut-n’-paste what-if scenarios in Virtual Realities that are a little uncomfortable, in spite of their humor. The ice caps are melting? Let’s make one out of trash, since there’s plenty of that! The two projects stand in marked contrast to the visually appealing yet thin suggestion represented by ma0/emmeazero’s Footprints, whose vision for new types of public space seems more grounded in the possibilities of Photoshop than in a meaningful sense of how people use city streets and parks.

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Las Vegas Is Learning
Courtesy MGM Grand Mirage

Las Vegas has become a barometer for architecture, though it’s usually a little bit behind the times. It was all glamorous modernism in the 1970s, but by the 1990s, local developers here were obsessed with postmodern fancies that brought the world close, and down to size: The Venetian had its own Grand Canal, and the Paris arrived with a scaled-down Eiffel Tower, while New York, New York went so far as to put maintenance staff in uniforms like those worn by Sanitation workers in the five boroughs. At the turn of the century, developers moved toward upscale, lifestyle-oriented resorts and boutique hotels like the Wynn and the Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

Now another shift is underway: The MGM CityCenter, still under construction, is creating iconic buildings in a dense, mixed-use environment. Believe it or not, Vegas is selling urbanism—or at least a local version of it—and taking a page from cities around the world by using big-name contemporary architects to generate interest.

The $7.8 billion, 18-million-square-foot CityCenter will be in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip (on the site of the former Boardwalk Hotel and Casino), and is set to open next year. Touted as the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, it will include hotel, casino, residential, cultural, retail, and entertainment uses connected via indoor and outdoor pedestrian passageways. The major buildings were designed by Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, Foster + Partners, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Pelli Clarke Pelli, and the Rockwell Group, with Gensler as the executive architect, and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn as master planner. The marquee names continue to the art program, which will include work by Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Frank Stella, and Henry Moore.


CITYCENTER UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN late MAY (TOP) AND AS RENDERED (ABOVE), with the adjacent monte carlo casino at far left.

While CityCenter’s 76-acre site measures about the same as most of MGM Mirage’s properties, it will be about three times as dense, said Sven Van Assche, vice president of design for MGM Mirage Design Group. The push for density was first necessitated by economic conditions: The sharp rise in land prices in the city forced planners at MGM Mirage (which owns a number of Vegas casinos including the Bellagio, the MGM, and the Excalibur) to consider other revenue sources when they first conceived the project in 2004.

“We quickly realized we were getting ourselves into a very urban condition,” said Van Assche. Mixing uses, he pointed out, is not new in Vegas, and most developments now contain hotels, casinos, retail, and even condos. But nowhere is that mix so tightly packed, so large, and so full of programmatic variety.

Van Assche explained that in order to promote CityCenter’s variety, MGM looked for several architects, and asked each to design something contemporary. New projects in the city are typically designed by the same group of local firms, but Van Assche said they decided to go beyond the standard modus operandi and “look at the project with fresh eyes.” This jump, he added, meant putting architects not accustomed to the Vegas scene through “an intense learning process.”

The interaction of the architects, said J.F. Finn, managing director at Gensler Nevada, started out with very few guidelines, but once a vision began to emerge, planners started to rein things in. Working with so many designers helped spur what Finn termed “happy accidents,” like the plaza between the casino and the Crystal. That came about when designers decided that Pelli and Libeskind’s buildings should have some breathing room. Likewise, a charrette between Libeskind and Jahn helped change their respective projects from one unified, mixed-use building to two very distinct entities.

All seven buildings will be connected by a meandering network of walkways that meet at larger nodes, usually marked with public art or a water feature. “We wanted to create places where people could gather that weren’t near slot machines,” said Finn, in explaining the nature of these nodes. Because of Vegas’ temperature, he added, the majority of these passages will be indoors, although a few outdoor walkways and bridges, landscaped with varied greenery, will act as connectors.

Is this urbanism? Finn argues that it is, and points to the functionally indoor nature of projects in other extreme climates like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Libeskind’s project was originally planned to be outdoors until the team realized it was not feasible. Still, having a retail project at the very front of a development in Vegas is rare. Inside it will resemble a small city with large public spaces, curving walkways, and changes in scale from small nooks to a 200-foot-high grand stair.

Van Assche and Finn both noted that other Vegas developers are looking at mixed-use and iconic buildings. Boyd Gaming’s Echelon will contain five separate hotels, 9,000 square feet of retail, and two large theaters. The newly-opened Planet Hollywood has a massive retail complex at its front door, and Harrah’s is reportedly considering a mixed-use, multi-building mega-development as well. “I think it’s the evolution of where the city is going to go,” said Van Assche.

Like anything in Vegas, CityCenter’s goal is to attract attention and stand out from the pack. And so it appears that like the flashing neon signs before them, the pyramids and Grand Canals will give way to Libeskind’s jagged steel forms and Jahn’s diagonal towers, the newest icons in a city full of them. 

Sam Lubell is the California editor of AN. 


Mandarin Oriental
Kohn Pedersen Fox

Unlike the majority of CityCenter, which attempts to introduce a new form of urbanism to Las Vegas through a pedestrian-friendly, open-access environment, Kohn Pedersen Fox’s Mandarin Oriental goes out of its way to create an isolated and exclusive world of luxury and tranquility, well-insulated from the crush of the city. Sited along the Strip, the 46-story, 1.2-million-square-foot hotel is separated from the development by its main access road, and is further delineated by a high-walled courtyard planted with bamboo trees. “The entry sequence was very important,” said KPF principal Paul Katz, “because this is a five-star hotel, guests will arrive from the airport in a limo and step right out into the world of the Mandarin.” From the courtyard, visitors take a shuttle elevator to the sky lobby, which is on the 26th floor; and from the sky lobby there is the option to ride down to the 400 hotel rooms, or up to the 215 full service condos. The building’s high-performance curtain wall combines insulated aluminum panels with ceramic-fritted, low-e coated glass in a 60/40 mix to create high levels of transparency while mitigating heat loading from the sun. AS



ARIA Hotel & Casino
Pelli Clarke Pelli

As the centerpiece of MGM’s development, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s 6.1-million-square-foot ARIA hotel and casino epitomizes the project’s spirit of interconnectivity, featuring easy or direct links to the buildings by Libeskind, Foster, Viñoly, and Jahn. It’s also permeable in other ways: In a revolutionary gesture for Vegas, the architects opened up the casino and convention center to daylight and views to the exterior. The facility also features a black box theater for the Cirque du Soleil, 4,000 hotel rooms, and a pool area arranged within a podium and tower. The podium’s plan of two interlocking circles helps to limit views down the long corridors to the tangent of the circles, creating more intimate environments within the massive enclosure. The tower also plays with views. The high-tech curtain wall combines fritted, low-e coated vision glass panels with shadow box panels of glass to achieve a shading coefficient appropriate for the desert sun while maintaining a consistent materiality. Also, the cladding over each room features an angle, or prow, which invites guests to look out at oblique angles, to take in more of the cityscape and mountains. AS

Veer Towers
(above, left)

Rising above CityCenter’s retail and entertainment district, Helmut Jahn’s Veer Towers distinguish themselves with a seeming feat of engineering. Inclined in opposite directions at 85 and 95 degrees respectively, the towers appear attracted toward each other, conveying the distinct relationship between them. The off-kilter forms, however, reflect the pragmatic logic of unit layouts. “Structurally, it looks challenging, but it’s not so mysterious,” said Francisco González Pulido, principal architect with Murphy/Jahn. The structure is created from a three-floor module composed of repeating unit plans. The 37-story towers will include approximately 337 units made up of studios, one- and two-bedroom residences, and penthouses ranging from a modest 500 to over 3,000 square feet. The transparent reflective glass facade with perforated aluminum framing includes fins to promote energy-efficient climate control. Yellow ceramic frit encased in the glass modulates sunlight and provides residents with privacy, while creating a checkerboard pattern on the facade, boldly expressing the building’s program on its skin. DR

The Crystal
Studio Daniel Libeskind 
(above, center)

Daniel Libeskind’s shopping and entertainment hub called the Crystal holds the center of the complex, not so much like the anchor of a mall, but organically, like a heart with main arteries and secondary conduits to enhance free-flowing circulation. “I am aiming for a new sense of orientation where people are not locked in a box with one way in and out,” said Libeskind. “It’s a shaped space with its own topography. There are many ways to come and go or move from level to level. It’s a work in the round.” The 650,000-square-foot structure is lapped in metal petals that break down into discrete volumes with large interstitial openings that Libeskind described (in terms of scale) as “beyond any skylights ever known.” Restaurant, entertainment, and retail interiors are being designed concurrently by the Rockwell Group and billed as a “natural and electronic landscape” for shopping and dining. Nesting between Foster’s Harmon and Jahn’s Veer, the Crystal aims to create the cosmopolitan urbanism of a European piazza within a highly climate-controlled environment. “This is no longer the signs-and-signals Vegas of Venturi,” said Libeskind. “It’s no longer just about surface. This is true urban growth.” JVI

The Harmon Hotel, Spa and Residences
Foster + Partners
(above, right)

If the strategy of CityCenter is to break out of the prejudices surrounding Las Vegas as a city of low-brow kitsch, then the Harmon Hotel, Spa and Residences, designed by Foster + Partners, is meant to be a defining structure that brings gravitas to glitter. Towering above Planet Hollywood across the Strip and diagonally across from the Paris’ faux Eiffel Tower, its walls are glass. Bear in mind that transparency has always been a taboo in this city of windowless casinos, where gamblers don’t know whether it’s day or night. Eschewing decadence, Foster has fashioned a column that borrows more from the Gherkin, his insurance headquarters in London, than from anything in Vegas. No surprise. In his film Casino, Martin Scorcese was telling us that the accountants were pushing aside the mobsters and cowboys, and the Harmon reads as a monument to the corporate domination of Sin City. There are no winks and no gambling in Foster’s austere column, but there’s something very Vegas all the same. Building higher and more expensively is another way of raising the ante, and Vegas gamblers love nothing more than a high-stakes game. DD


Vdara Condo Hotel
Rafael Viñoly Architects

In the Vdara Condo Hotel, a 57-story glass ascent of three overlapping curves, Rafael Viñoly echoes the message of the Foster tower at the nearby Harmon Hotel: There is no kitsch-theming here, beyond a cool corporate assurance that says, “Vegas, not ‘Vegas.’” Gambling won’t be among the offerings at this non-gaming facility, and owners of the more than 1,500 condominium units won’t share a lobby with retirees stampeding to the slots. Wedged into the dream-team ensemble, the Viñoly crescents stand in a corner—alone as any 57-story building can be, a block from the Vegas strip, at a distance from the Crystal, Daniel Libeskind’s retail and entertainment hub. And unlike the Crystal, the Vdara does not repeat forms that are signature elements in its architect’s style. The Viñoly design offers the promise of modernist, even minimalist elegance, once again echoing the larger ensemble’s ambition to refine—and perhaps redefine—Las Vegas. Yet the glass curves send a mixed message: It is part Miami hotel that opens to the sun and sand (the desert, rather than the beach), and part garden corporate headquarters (although the packed garden of highrises in CityCenter barely gives Vdara room to breathe). Its nostalgic simplicity gives off the welcoming feel of Brasília, rather than a hastily-built Dubai. But not too welcoming. The graceful curves form an enclosure as they turn their back to the street, which is marketed as exclusivity. And exclusive it is: 900 square feet in the Vdara starts at $1.3 million. DD

LEEDing Las Vegas

With all the blinking lights, splashing fountains, and blasting air-conditioners, Las Vegas is probably at the bottom of any list of places one would associate with sustainable design. But with rising energy costs and environmental awareness becoming increasingly mainstream, CityCenter hopes to be a model for green thinking in Sin City. Though all the buildings at CityCenter will seek LEED certification, most of their sustainable features are conventional and relatively modest: low-VOC paints, extensive use of daylighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and drip-irrigation for the landscaping.

Like the city’s privatized monorail, however, sometimes large-scale private development can yield green results through the creation of efficient infrastructure. Much of the development’s energy will be generated at an on-site cogeneration plant. The plant will recycle the heat generated by producing electricity for the hot water used throughout the complex.

Also, by striving to create a truly urban place with density and a diversity of uses, residents and visitors to CityCenter will be less reliant on cars and taxis, which, with gas prices continuing to climb, seems a very wise wager for the future. AGB

Back to School

With his Cooper Union Academic Building nearing completion in New York City, Thom Mayne has been selected to design yet another educational facility: the permanent home for Emerson College's Los Angeles Center. The Boston-based institution has maintained an LA-based entertainment-focused program for 20 years. Its approximately 95 students currently take classes in a rented Burbank space and live in the nearby Oakwood Apartments.

“This is an ideal project for us and for Los Angeles," said Mayne in a statement. "We are looking forward to realizing, in our own city, a building that meets the programmatic needs of the institution, expresses Emerson’s unique identity and spirit, and makes a significant contribution to one of L.A.'s most dynamic urban contexts." The planned complex will be located, appropriately, in Hollywood and will house both academic and residential buildings. The 37,244-square-foot lot at the corner of Sunset and Gordon streets was purchased by the school last year.

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Making Radio Waves
The initial KCRW concept model includes an ivy-screened facade.
courtesy Clive Wilkinson Architects

Clive Wilkinson Architects has won a commission to design a new building for Santa Monica-based public radio station KCRW.

The station, which is the largest public radio affiliate in Southern California, is located on the campus of Santa Monica College (SMC). Its growth over the years has forced it to scatter its facilities throughout SMC’s main campus. The new building, located on one of SMC’s satellite campuses, about a mile north of the main campus, will help the station modernize and consolidate.

The 35,000-square-foot structure, located on the site of a large parking lot off of Stewart Street, just north of the 10 Freeway, will include office and recording studio spaces. Plans are still very preliminary, but an initial concept model reveals a simple three-story building covered in a green screen of ivy.

Construction funding is subject to a bond measure due in November, and the proposed cost of the project has not been disclosed.

As part of the commission the firm will also be carrying out modifications to the SMC satellite facilities located just adjacent to the planned KCRW building, including new landscaping and a renovation of the Academy of Entertainment and Technology building.  

Other firms short listed for the commission included Gensler, HLW, Morphosis, and CO Architects.

While Clive Wilkinson Architects is known for its interiors projects, the firm, said Wilkinson, is aggressively pursuing ground-up work. Besides the KCRW building, the firm just won commissions to design a mixed- use building for handbag maker Harvey’s in Santa Ana, and to renovate the 450,000-square-foot headquarters for Finnish communications giant Nokia in Helsinki.

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Profiles in Courage: Building in Uncertain Times

It may not involve taking unpopular stances on the floor of the Senate, but building in New York right now is not for the squeamish, requiring a whole lot of confidence. The city has not proven to be entirely immune from the fallout of the mortgage crisis battering much of the country, and there is an air of caution that has been absent for years. That said, the developers we’ve spoken to in the last few months have faith that the local market is fundamentally solid. For our annual look at development in the city, we spoke to six developers whose work we have been following. They operate at radically different scales, and often in different market sectors. Each of the six has a bold take on the changes in the economy, and each will continue to build. Photography by Yoko Inoue 

Clockwise from top, left:

David Von Spreckelsen
Senior Vice President
Toll Brothers City Living
363-365 Bond Street, Brooklyn
2011 (est.)

Dawanna Williams
Founder and Principal
Dabar Development Partners

603-617 North American Street, Philadelphia
em Architecture

Jonathan Rose
President and Founder
Jonathan Rose Companies

Cooper Union,
New Academic Building, New York

Alf Naman
Principal and Founder
Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors

100 Eleventh
100 11th Avenue, New York
Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Vishaan Chakrabarti
Executive Vice President of
Design and Planning
The Related Companies

Moynihan Station
Centered on 8th Avenue and 34th Street, New York
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and others
2010 (est.)

Jed Walentas
Director of Daily Operations
Two Trees Management

Dock Street Building & Middle School, Brooklyn, New York
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects

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Profile: Jonathan Rose
Yoko Inoue

Jonathan Rose
president and Founder
Jonathan Rose Companies

When designs for Via Verde, a 202-unit, mixed-income green housing development in the Bronx were unveiled, they made headlines. The dramatically stepped design by Grimshaw, Dattner Architect and landscape architect Lee Weintraub, which varies from towers to townhouses with green-roofs and terraced gardens, demonstrated that affordable housing, sustainability, and innovative design were possible in even the most hardscrabble corner of the city. What was less apparent, however, was that the developer behind the project, Jonathan Rose Companies, has a long record of civic-minded thinking that has paid significant social, environmental, and economic dividends.

In 1989, Jonathan Rose, founder of Jonathan Rose Companies, left his family’s real estate business to found his own “mission-based” development company. “My family has been in real estate for three generations,” Rose said. “I learned the trade starting with my summers working for the family business,” referring to Rose Associates, the New York-based real estate giant that controls over 30 million square feet of property. The much smaller Jonathan Rose Companies focuses on urban infill, transit-oriented sustainable development, reflecting the interests of its founder.

Unlike many developers trained in business or law, Jonathan Rose, 56, earned a master’s in regional planning at Penn under the landscape architect Ian McHarg, a pioneer of the regional planning and sustainability govements. There, Rose learned the principles that would guide his company: “a commitment to socially and environmentally responsible development that integrates good planning into the business,” he said.

One of Rose’s first forays into green, mixed-income development, a plan for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center, came while he was still at Rose Associates. Working with Berkeley, California-based architect Peter Calthorpe, the plan called for a mix of office, residential, and retail space at a walkable scale with passive solar design. “I talked to a number of environmental groups, and in the early 80s, anything dense or urban wasn’t considered green,” he said. “It’s amazing how much the thinking has changed.” After community opposition, the site was sold to Forest City Ratner, and the bland, down-market mall that presently occupies the site was built in its place. (Rose, with practiced decorum, declined to comment on the Atlantic Center or on the Atlantic Yards development, also by Forest City Ratner, planned across the street.)

Current projects in the company’s portfolio reflect his philosophy at work. In Brooklyn, Jonathan Rose Companies is one of the partners in Gowanus Green, the Rogers Marvel/West 8 housing development along the Gowanus Canal. Another green housing project, the Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens in Harlem, was recently completed and includes a community center and 80 units of affordable housing.

With the arrival of high density and mixed use as hallmarks of environmentalism, Rose is happy to see his philosophy moving into the mainstream. He believes that because of rising energy costs, dense, transit-oriented, energy-efficient design will become the standard. “It only makes sense. People are looking to reduce their VMTs,” he said, referring to vehicle miles traveled. He also believes the New York region is better prepared to weather the ups and downs of a volatile real estate market. “We see two ends of the demographic spectrum, seniors and younger people, who are increasingly attracted to urban areas,” he said.

In addition to the company’s standard development practice, Jonathan Rose Companies has three other divisions: the owner’s representative studio, the planning studio, and the investment studio. The owner’s representative studio works on a fee basis for non-profits, institutional clients, and private developers to select architects and other consultants, arrange financing, manage construction, and direct marketing and sales. Current projects include the classroom building for Cooper Union designed by Morphosis, the Theatre for a New Audience in the BAM Cultural District by the H3 Collaborative, and a renovation and expansion of the UN International School by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy. The planning studio has been hired by the town of East Hampton to refine its 20-year development plan, and the investment studio manages the Smart Growth Development Fund, a $100 million fund that invests in socially, environmentally, and economically progressive real estate acquisition and development. This diversity of engagement with the field, in addition to the company’s social commitments, differentiates Jonathan Rose Companies from its peers, including Rose Associates. “They do very high-quality work, but we have a different approach,” Rose explained.

The company’s successes show that measured idealism in no way interferes with good business. And judging by the founder’s relaxed disposition and the company’s cheerful, light-filled office space (renovated to green standards, or course, by Weisz + Yoes), the company’s approach is a welcome alternative to the cut-throat world of New York real estate and development.

Wise Move

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