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Open: Showroom
Courtesy Mark Craemer

105 Madison Avenue
Tel: 212-577-0044
Designer: Schmutz & Partner

Duravit, the German manufacturer of bathroom furnishings, recently set up shop on Madison Avenue in an expansive, 4,000-square-foot showroom designed by Stuttgart-based architectural firm Schmutz & Partner. Guided by Duravit’s signature aesthetic—sleek, sophisticated products conceived by the likes of Philippe Starck—designers Eduard Schmutz and Matthias Mayer have fully embraced the company’s notion of “living bathrooms” as places for rest and regeneration. Naturally, the main design motif is inspired by water: A tranquil shade of blue wraps around the walls, ceiling, and floor of the open-plan space,complementing the company’s purist white ceramic forms. Large oval portals, painted white, are set in the ceiling with fixtures that softly illuminate the products below. The showroom is partitioned into a series of recessed “room fragments,” as the architects call them, that are furnished with materials and products from Duravit. Specially constructed anthracite oak benches, finished with a coated glass surface and fitted with a reflective blue light, function as both seating and display cases. According to the architects, “These are island-like elements that we’ve always regarded as a sort of driftwood”—in keeping with the room’s aquatic ambience.

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Times Square By The Sea?
The MAS sees a vibrant future for Surf Avenue, including plenty of new digital signage.
Courtesy MAS

If the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and the Department of City Planning don’t see eye to eye on Coney Island’s future, both agree action is urgent. “If we wait much longer,” warned MAS president Kent Barwick, “we could lose Coney Island forever.”

He was addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the BAMCafe on November 17, which had gathered to see the results of “Imagine Coney,” the MAS’s recent series of public brainstorming charrettes for the neighborhood, whose future has been in flux for the last several years. Excitement in the crowd ran high, buoyed by that day’s news that developer Joe Sitt had agreed to sell his 10.5 acres at the heart of Coney Island to the city instead of turning it into an entertainment and shopping complex.

Of course, just because the city might soon own more of Coney Island doesn’t mean they will follow the MAS’s recommendations. As Barwick readily acknowledged, “We’re not the ones with the power here.” But the purpose of their “Imagine Coney” campaign was to convince the city that Coney Island can regain its former glory, given the right strategy and initial investment—and that such a feat will require more than the nine acres the city has currently set aside for an amusement district.

As a first step, the MAS’s charrette team, which includes architect Will Alsop, landscape architect Margie Ruddick, stage designers, and entertainment developers, advocated an overhaul of Coney Island’s image to start attracting investment right away. “We must send a clear message to the world that Coney Island is back, and get people going there this summer,” Barwick said. To that end, the team suggested turning Coney’s biggest weakness—its desolate empty lots—into a strength by filling them as soon as possible with programming like parades, ethnic festivals, and graffiti contests.

Looking further into the future, the team all agreed that Coney Island needed “a very iconic, unique new ride” that would become its defining symbol. They envisioned a fantastical cable-car line connecting all the district’s various destinations with a wavelike retractable roof for year-round use. On ground level, the team sees the area becoming a “main stage” for New York, kept alive with performances and larger-than-life festivals, including the traditional hot-dog-eating contests and Mermaid Parade (“Dial those up!” enthused entertainment developer David Malmuth). All of this programming would occur amid an “electric city” of buildings covered in digital skins that could change their appearance instantly so that Coney Island could resemble Venice one day and Marrakech the next.

Creating a destination like that “can’t be done with nine acres. Minimally, you need 25 acres,” said Malmuth. But won’t the city lose money? No, he insisted, and pointed to the example of Times Square, where renovating historic theaters boosted surrounding property values and helped earn back the city’s initial investment many times over in taxes. “No one believed in Times Square, but everything that happened there can happen here as well,” he said.

Though they never said so explicitly, the charrette team seemed to be looking to Times Square not just for economic inspiration, but aesthetic as well. Malmuth envisioned the park attracting “significant signage and sponsorship.” And just as Times Square revels in its flashy signs, the team didn’t seem to view them as a negative for Coney Island, either. Malmuth reminded the audience that “Coney Island has never been shy about being commercial.” One architect on the team argued, “When you add, add, add [signage], eventually you reach a point where it’s poetry.” The public may not be persuaded, judging from the audience members who lamented what they found to be a lack of Coney Island’s historic spirit in the renderings.

Of course, as the MAS reminded the audience, the results of their charrettes are just the beginning of the discussion about the new Coney Island. But they are intent on not letting that discussion founder. “If there’s one thing New York suffers from, it’s announcing grand plans, and then years go by and nothing happens,” said Barwick. And just as crowds flocked to Coney Island during the Depression, reviving the “People’s Beach” will be all the more important now that times are tight.

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All Consuming


121 East 59th Street


107 Greene Street


The down and dirty on the architect’s Bordeaux villa first hand from the housemaid

Storefront for Art and Architecture
97 Kenmare Street



Storefront for Art and Architecture Auction
97 Kenmare Street
Bids start at $1,000.00


227 Fifth Avenue



The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street


Plan your day, literally, by the clock

455 Broadway




A&G Merch
111 North 6th Street



Nicholas Fox Weber
Knopf Publishing Group


LONDON 2000+

Our CA editor on 29 buildings that have made London a design capital

Sam Lubell
The Monacelli Press



“Legos rock!”

842 Lexington Avenue



The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street



In continuous production since the Sixties

Vessel USA Inc.
Aero Studios Limited
419 Broome Street




Our executive editor on the famous mid-century studio furniture makers you’ve never heard of

Julie Iovine and Todd Merrill
Rizzoli New York



MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street



Axonometric diagrams of buildings that were sites of disasters—gunmen at LAX in 2002; Texas A&M bonfire—totally Boym

150 Greene St.



Fishs Eddy
889 Broadway



On why FOG keeps drawing

Esther da Costa Meyer
Yale University Press



Design Within Reach
142 Wooster Street



For recharging your cellphone on the Appalachian Trail

Flight 001
96 Greenwich Avenue



Whole service, including zoomy shot glasses

Alessi Soho
130 Greene Street



Pop-up vase by baroque-ster Tord Boontje




227 Fifth Avenue







I am a ceramic vase

MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street

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All Rudolph
Married Student Housing, Yale University (1960-61)
Courtesy Yale School of Architecture

Model City: Buildings and Projects by Paul Rudolph for Yale and New Haven
Paul Rudolph Hall
180 York Street, New Haven
Through February 6, 2009 

“A ‘vision’ of the future,” said The New York Times, “now an eyesore.” That was the headline of a 1979 article about a decrepit and soon-to-be-demolished 1967 New Haven public housing project, “that seemed to have everything: daring design [an avant-garde prefab-unit stacking system], a prestigious architect [former Yale Architecture Department Chair Paul Rudolph], and the backing of HUD,” the federal housing agency whose resources were expertly channeled to epochal urban renewal projects by then-mayor Richard C. Lee.

This particular convergence of late-high-modernist formalism and a public policy that conflated urbanism with mere architectural patronage at a vast scale is the subject of Model City: Buildings and Projects by Paul Rudolph for Yale and New Haven, now at Yale’s Architecture Gallery. The show documents 13 projects, including iconic work like the 1962 Temple Street parking garage and unpublished projects like a surprisingly Niemeyer-esque 1958 Church Street shopping center that Rudolph developed for Lee and Yale president A. Whitney Griswold. Curator Timothy M. Rowan, a University of Massachusetts architectural historian, has effectively organized the show around four successive themes: Critiquing Modernism, Monumental Urbanism, Prefabrication, and Denoument, that trace a story of rise and fall. Rudolph’s original drawings—some familiar, some strange—are complemented by a lively archive of documents and ephemera, and crisp new models of lost or unbuilt works.

But the show’s larger topic is how to connect both halves of that Times headline: the vision and the eyesore. How to come to terms with Rudolph in all of his complexity and contradiction: ubiquitous and elusive, brutal and plush, infinitely universalizing and intricately idiosyncratic? How does today’s architectural discourse assimilate Rudolph: once glorious, then deeply unfashionable, now ripe for his own renewal?

The housing project featured in the Times and reconstructed in the show bore the irresistible name of Oriental Masonic Gardens. Those adjectives precisely evoke the exotic, hermetic, fantastic, and cryptic affect of Rudolph’s work when viewed through present-day eyes. Like his 1960s contemporaries Eero Saarinen, John Lautner, Minoru Yamasaki, and others, Rudolph translated the modernist orthodoxies of the International Style into a personal vision at once rigorous and mannered, relying on the impact of deeply modeled ferroconcrete juxtaposed with sleek glass and steel filigree (and the occasional dash of orange leather). Unlike those men, he was in close contact with the architects who would dethrone him and establish the pop-historicist style that came to be known as Postmodernism in architecture: his successor as Yale architecture chair Charles Moore, and his one-time assistant for a master class on precast concrete, Robert Venturi. Once installed in the 1958–63 Arts and Architecture (A+A) Building that Rudolph had designed for Yale, they nibbled away at its conceptual foundations. Moore told the Yale Daily News on his arrival in 1965: “I disapprove of the A+A Building whole-heartedly because it is such a personal manifestation for non-personal use.” All architects develop personal formal languages in service or search of universal applications or ideals, but Rudolph’s Brutalist counter-vernacular (and Borrominian eagerness to use, say, 37 different levels when two would do) seemed to expose him especially to this critique.

Temple Street Parking Garage, New Haven (1958-63)
Courtesy Yale School of Architecture


Greeley Memorial Laboratory, Yale University (1957-59)
Ezra Stoller/Esto

Then, of course, there was the fire. The 1969 blaze that destroyed three floors of the A+A Building (and inaugurated three decades of benign neglect and unsympathetic renovations) might be seen as a miniature of the 1967 riots and fires in New Haven and elsewhere that revealed the fissures of race and class and culture that the “Model City” urban renewal projects of the time had elided. The notion that the fire might have had something to do with students disgruntled as much by the building as by the institution it embodied—enhanced by foreshadowing in a student broadsheet that read, “See the A+A Building. See every building. See them soon...”—gave a ghoulishly populist tinge to the spectacle of a difficult-to-use building being slowly undone. Along with it went the reputation of its creator.

Today’s A+A Building has been lovingly restored and refined, with post-fire accretions erased, as part of a reconstruction with a new adjacent building that houses the History of Art department, just completed by Gwathmey Siegel. The building is freshly legible, and to examine Rudolph’s languid graphite studies and ruthless ink perspectives while standing within the very atrium they depict is a particular pleasure. And yet is it possible that all those erased accretions, while undeniably resisting and obscuring the original structure, were in their rough, fussy, melancholy way actually sympathetic to its sublime spirit? The new building—and the small interventions inserted into the old—uses a familiar contemporary vocabulary of terrazzo and pale wood, stainless and powder-coated steel, drywall, baseboards, and aluminum storefront extrusions. The ceilings are never too low or too high. Everything is efficient, economical, tasteful, cheerful, clean, comfortable, and ultimately—in contrast to the willful complexity, spirited melancholy, and inventive audacity to be found next door—just a little heartbreaking. It may be that after today’s era of caution and credit-freeze, yesterday’s eyesore will be tomorrow’s sight for sore eyes.

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Inside The Box
Hastings Head Start Childhood Center, located in an old Kmart building in Hastings, Nebraska.
Julia Christensen

Big Box Reuse
Julia Christensen
MIT Press, $29.95

Julia Christensen grew up in Bardstown, Kentucky, a town known for its bourbon whiskey and historic architecture. There, she saw Wal-Mart come to town, build and then abandon a big box store, which ended up as the site of the new county courthouse. A writer and photographer who teaches at Oberlin College, Christensen was inspired to visit and photograph other big boxes like Winn-Dixie and Kmart that have been repurposed. Her photographs are currently on view in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where her images are included in the show Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.

In Big Box Reuse, Christensen highlights ten cases. The huge metal sheds have been converted to Head Start centers, senior care facilities, indoor go-kart tracks, and libraries. One houses a Route 66 Museum in Lebanon, Missouri, another the Spam Museum and offices of the Hormel meatpacking company in Austin, Minnesota. One has become a church in Pinellas Park, Florida. None are especially great or inspiring architecture, but several involve extensive refurbishing that nearly disguise their origins.

Christensen’s travels are proof, if we needed it, that Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn belongs in the architectural canon alongside Delirious New York, Learning from Las Vegas, and Vers Une Architecture. On the highway, however, reuse is more about earning than learning: Budgets are minimal and the repurposing work, it turns out, requires more than simply redecorating these giant sheds. But while we regularly honor architects for urban reuse, Christensen reports that several of the architects involved in projects were too embarrassed by the work to want their names used. Some of the facilities are grim, others less so, though none of the architects here are as sophisticated as James Wines and SITE’s witty Best Products stores from the 1970s. Still, real creativity is evident, for all the budget limits, in the library and museum in Missouri. Credit goes to Joan True and Charlie Johnson, the interior and exterior architects of that project.

We are accustomed to reuse in the city—former sweatshops housing fashion labels and lofts for printing presses sheltering ad agencies—but pay less attention to reuse elsewhere. Still, it is there. Perhaps you have to be a certain age to recognize the many former Howard Johnson’s restaurants or A&P grocery stores that now vend dinette sets or carpet remnants. Not far from my home in New Jersey, the steep blue roof of an erstwhile International House of Pancakes sells iPhones as an AT&T store. Reuse along the highway will increasingly become a fact of life as more big boxes become available in the current economy. As I write this, Circuit City has just announced bankruptcy and plans to close more than a hundred stores, and Linens N’ Things is running its liquidation sale. Architects looking for work in the current climate would do well to keep their eyes hopefully trained on America’s highway strips for signs of potential. The way seems open for more clever ideas of building inside these modern “ruins.”

Readers may be surprised to learn that up to this point growth, not recession, has made most of these buildings available. Wal-Mart finds it more economical to build a new, larger store down the road than to expand an existing one, leaving empty stores behind like so much discarded snakeskin. Moreover, the chain wants to keep the empty stores as placeholders against competitors, Christensen reports.

It would be easy to react to her stories with anger and indignation at the power of chains that have decimated Main Streets (reuse is struggling there), and bemoan a country where the shivering, starving public sector is forced to wear the cast-off clothing of an uncontrolled private one. Christensen, however, is more encouraged by this process than others might be, although some of the statements from officials involved in these projects seem naively optimistic, even boosterish. I wonder how many other efforts to reuse other big box buildings have been in vain; most of her tales have upbeat endings.

Yet the subliminal message of Christensen’s photographs, which are reminiscent of Stephen Shore’s—empty of people, with expanses of alienating asphalt parking lot or sheet metal facade—is less hopeful than her words. And Christensen’s case studies raise more general questions she doesn’t answer: How durable are these buildings? What is the responsibility of the big chains? What can law or planning do to make big box reuse easier, perhaps by studying the modular mode of malls? (Pull out a Gap, plug in a Delia*s as fashions change.)

Still, Christensen’s enthusiasm is an antidote to cynicism, encouraging and humane. “As I stand there in the parking lot,” she writes, “snapping photos of that reused Wal-Mart sign, I look around and observe an endless ribbon of strip malls, full of buildings just like this. I think to myself, they have stories too. All of these faceless, nameless, corporate big box buildings—which turn over so quickly for the sake of ‘business’—actually have stories behind them, stories well hidden behind their stoic facades. These buildings have an impact on the lives of people.”

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Blade Runner Barbie
Whether you are buying gifts this weekend or merely window-shopping, New Yorkers willing to brave the crowds on upper Madison Avenue can also see cutting edge architecture, albeit in miniature form. REX has designed a doll house for the Calvin Klein Collection, on view now through January 5, 2009 at their store on Madison at 60th Street. But this doll house isn’t child’s play. The structure, which looks like a large origami birdhouse suspended from diagonal braces, was built with the help of Magnusson Klemencic engineers and the fabricators at Situ Studio. While this rendering makes the piece look like it’s suspended between buildings on one of New York’s canyon-like streets, it is, in reality, hung in the window. Go see it for yourself. UPDATE: Here are some photographs of the doll house, for comparison with the rendering. It's pretty impressive. The interiors feature tiny versions of Calvin Klein's apparel, furniture, and home accessories lines.
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Port Promenade
The promenade will borrow design cues from San Pedro's maritime industrial history.
Courtesy EDAW

A surreal area long dominated by towering steel shipping facilities may be about to get a friendlier, more community-oriented focus. The Los Angeles Harbor Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in October released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their San Pedro Waterfront plan. The 400-acre project is set to replace the Port of Los Angeles' now-relocated industrial ports and docklands along the west side of Los Angeles Harbor's Main Channel with a new promenade, bike paths, park spaces, commercial spaces, and cruise ship facilities.

Following a public review phase that ends on December 8, the plan would take about five to seven years to complete. Groundbreaking is set for summer 2010. LA-based Tetra Design is coordinating the project. EDAW's LA and San Francisco offices are developing the master plan, landscaping, and urban design. And Oakland-based Hood Design and Pasadena-based Cityworks are assisting with landscape and urban design. Costs are still being estimated, but the port is setting aside $60 million for the project. The port said the scheme would help revitalize San Pedro in addition to providing much-needed recreation opportunities. According to estimates provided by the port, the plan would provide over 1,000 new jobs, about $38 million in new wages, and about $30.8 million in passenger spending.

The plan's waterfront promenade would include an 8-mile-long, 30-foot-wide pedestrian path stretching from the Cabrillo Bath House at the south end to the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the north. The plan also proposes two new harbors—the 75,000-square-foot Downtown Harbor, and the slightly smaller 7th Street Harbor—to accommodate visiting cruise ships and other vessels. Among the plan's several (and interconnected) new public parks would be the Town Square, at the foot of San Pedro's Sixth Street; the 7th Street Landing, adjacent to the new 7th Street Harbor; and an 18-acre central park that would include an amphitheater seating up to 3,000 people. The area's existing ports of call would be enhanced with 375,000 square feet of complementary development including commercial, retail, and restaurant uses. Finally, the plan calls for two new two-story, 200,000-square-foot cruise ship terminals along the area's outer harbor.

While architectural choices have yet to be made (schematic design begins in January), EDAW says the plan will focus all uses on the water, with a continuous waterfront and various districts within this stretch merging the public realm with the area's already-existing waterfront activities. Part of that, pointed out Sacha Schwarzkopf, senior urban designer for EDAW, is drawing on the existing drama that the channel presents.

"One of the things that San Pedro has to offer is that you can have ships at the curb," he said. "Cruise ships. Tall ships. Industrial ships. Having that sense of awe looking at them is a very unique experience." According to the EIR, plans would also draw for inspiration on the city's "maritime industrial history" as well as on the unique character of San Pedro.

To help people get to all of these new facilities, the plan will include a series of transportation improvements, including the expansion of existing roadways; intersection, landscape, and parking improvements; extension of the Waterfront Red Car Line (which will run parallel to the promenade); and water taxi berthing facilities. And to protect the environment the plan pledges to use recycled water for landscaping; drought-tolerant plants; LEED certification for all buildings over 7,500 square feet; solar power; and pedestrian and bike connections throughout.

Yet to some in the area, these efforts are not enough. Local web site Curbed LA described the plan as a "Disneyesque happy land of shops, tourists, and cruise ships," and pointed to comments by June Burlingame Smith, who heads up a port advisory panel overseeing the waterfront planning. "The current plan is a 'drive-by' plan," she said. "Drive by the waterfront; drive by downtown San Pedro; drive by the museums, monuments, restaurants and shops, to get to a cruise ship where dreams of happiness will be found in faraway foreign playgrounds."

Schwarzkopf disagreed: "We're not trying to make this themed. There wants to be a nice waterfront layer to it, but it has to feel real. San Pedro is about muscle and it's about working ports that are right at your doorstep. It's about honest, genuine development."

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Greening the O.C.
More than 3,800 of the El Toro property's 4,700 acres will be dedicated to open space, education, and other public uses, including the restored wildlife corridor, seen at center right, and the lower canyon's 26-acre lake, which will store recycled water for park irrigation.
All images courtesy Great Park Design Studio

Carving a two-mile-long canyon through the heart of Southern California might seem like apostasy in this age of low-impact land use. But the Orange County Great Park is no ordinary place. To build this winding canyon, excavating machines will move over five million cubic yards of earth to create a sluice of space up to 60 feet deep, with selective cuts framing views of the Santa Ana Mountains, all culminating in a new, 26-acre lake.

“The canyon is at once obvious and also unexpected,” said Ken Smith, principal of Ken Smith Landscape Architect, which won a competition in 2006 to become master designer for the 1,347-acre park. “The whole natural landscape in Southern California is composed of canyons. But this site is so flat and barren, the idea to create a feature of this scale is not something people had really thought of.” Moreover, the canyon proved a logical design move because it could be built fairly easily in a region where grading golf fairways is second nature to contractors. Besides restoring fast-depleting natural habitat, the space is so large that it will create its own microclimate: a cool respite for park visitors. As Smith observed, “It’s a big canvas.”

At almost twice the size of New York’s Central Park, the Great Park will be the core of a 4,700-acre community built virtually from scratch on the site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, California. As the heart of this new chunk of Orange County, the park represents a complex and interlocking model of sustainable development for Southern California and beyond, where once-open vistas have been boxed in by suburban growth. Taking a macro-scale approach, the park will restore critical native plant and animal communities. By integrating with the densifying neighborhoods around it, the park promotes a walkable lifestyle in the land of sprawl. And it brings together diverse user groups to create for the county a sorely needed cultural heart.

The Great Park is an unusual partnership between the federal government, a private developer, and the city of Irvine. Following the air base’s closure in 1999, a voter initiative called for a park and nature preserve on the site. The entire property was purchased at auction by Miami-based developer Lennar Corporation, which transferred the Great Park parcel to the city of Irvine. The park is operated by a nonprofit corporation, whose directors consist largely of elected officials from the city of Irvine, along with other local stakeholders.

Now in the schematic design phase, the park’s parameters were laid out by Irvine planners, who set it upon a bare expanse of earth and concrete. “It came with quite a bit of the brownfields as well,” Smith said. Those include a chemical plume reaching 200 feet down into groundwater, which the U.S. Navy is obliged to clean up. As part of its development agreement, Lennar has put $400 million toward the park and related infrastructure, while another share of the park’s estimated $1.5 billion budget is expected to come from tax-increment bonding, as adjacent property values rise.

Designed by TEN Arquitectos, buildings in the park’s cultural zone include the Conservatory Bridge, spanning the restored Agua Chinon waterway and clad in a perforated skin to allow for natural ventilation. 

From the outset, Smith and his partners—including Los Angeles–based landscape architect Mia Lehrer and Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos—conceived of the park as a showplace of sustainability. The site’s environmental backbone is a series of ecological restorations that will renew the region’s vanishing natural diversity. Among the first sections to be built is a two-mile-long wildlife corridor: a missing link in a stretch of land reserves said to be the largest interconnected open space system in the country.

“It’s rare that an ecologist is asked to sit at the table when the basic ground plan is being determined,” said Steven Handel, president of New Jersey–based Green Shield Ecology, who has been part of the design team from the outset. “A lot of the basic plan grew out of ecological principles, not just design decisions.” The wildlife zone has been detailed to create habitats for birds, bobcats, and even a pack of coyotes, down to supplying rocks so the lizards have a place to warm up in the morning. “I’m rebuilding a whole world out of nothing,” Handel said.

Other worlds will be built here, too. “The most visited sites for people who live in Orange County are the shopping centers and the beaches,” said Lehrer, senior partner at Mia Lehrer+Associates. “There’s a real void in terms of a cultural center.” Institutions will cluster in the park’s “cultural terrace,” where buildings are being designed by TEN Arquitectos as earth-bermed structures cut into the canyon. Park leaders are evaluating a variety of programs—an amphitheater, museums, a public library—many of which are expected to be public-private partnerships. For example, the park has offered land at no cost to the National Archives, which hopes to build a regional facility on the site. The structure would be designed in cooperation with the Great Park design studio, and funded through both public and private support.

Top: Earth-bermed structures are cut into the canyon to house new cultural programs. Above: The streetcar-like fixed guideway system will connect to Irvine’s regional rail network.  

Sustainability factors into the park’s connection with its surrounding community, which Lennar has envisioned as more than just sprawl. The planned residential, retail, and commercial areas include a 378-acre transit-oriented development, as well as a “lifelong learning” district designed as a dense, academic neighborhood with a core of college campuses extending to the Great Park’s sports facilities. The design team has closely worked with the developer on “edge integration” issues, such as reinforcing park spaces along Lennar’s campus main street.

In another eco-conscious approach, parking lots will be placed at the perimeter, with a system of shuttles to all major facilities—a strategy adopted by none other than Disneyland. (“That’s one of the rare forms of public transportation that many Southern Californians use,” Smith said.) The shuttles will link to a streetcar system with stops in the park, to be constructed as part of Irvine’s planned urban rail network.

The most critical ingredient for any park is a strong constituency. To that end, designers have rolled out the 27-acre Preview Park, anchored by an orange helium balloon that has taken tens of thousands of visitors aloft on free flights. It has also hosted concerts, art exhibits, and kite-flying events around picnic areas and a five-acre meadow. Indeed, aggressive public outreach has drawn an outpouring from user groups eager to become a part of this grand experiment, from fly-fishing enthusiasts to model-airplane buffs. Almost 2,000 county residents have weighed in on their favorites among dozens of potential park programs.

It remains to be seen whether one park—however ambitious—can reinvent the Orange County suburbs. “You ask yourself whether the next phase of development for this area will come along with higher density,” Lehrer said. “Do people appreciate the opportunities and potential sacrifices of not having their own palace?”

Across America, smarter growth is increasingly a question not of if but when. As planners complete portions of the Great Park over the next five years—a full build-out is expected to take a decade—they will knit together a sustainable fabric of landscape and architecture, nature and culture. As a new Central Park for a much different time and place, it’s the best argument yet for Orange County’s greater, greener good.

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Share the Road

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
Tom Vanderbilt
Knopf, $24.95 

Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic
David Engwicht
Envirobook, $23.00 

The High Cost of Free Parking
Donald Shoup
Planners Press, $59.95

When my wife and I visited Lebanon in 1998, we rented a little Renault and spent a couple days on the road, and saw one working traffic light the entire time. The streets of Beirut were packed with a chaotic tangle of aggressive, pushy cars, and I was sure we’d hear steel shrieking on steel the moment we rolled off the car rental lot. We safely got out of the city, and while driving on the winding, two-lane Damascus Road in the foothills of the Chouf mountains, we found ourselves driving next to another car, each going at a good clip. Just then, a third car roared between us, making its own lane. I realized at that point on Lebanon’s roads, all bets were off. And yet, for the rest of our visit, I became more and more convinced that this was one of the safest places I’d ever driven: It was predictably unpredictable.

The time many of us spend getting from one place to another comprises most of our interactions with fellow citizens; it is as much a social experience as anything else. Since time in the car shapes our impressions of each other and of our cities, it might explain the appeal of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).


Vanderbilt adroitly navigates a mountain of findings and opinions from traffic engineers, economists, psychologists, and even entomologists. Like an excited and precocious teenager, he parenthetically mentions one psychological study while describing another, adding, “more on that later.” But far from being overwhelmed, the reader is swept up in his enthusiasm.

Traffic is the latest in a series of books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point that draw on diverse and sometimes arcane academic fields to create a coherent narrative for the lay audience. But I hope Vanderbilt will reach more than the casual reader: Planners, architects, and policymakers would do well to read his book.

Perhaps Traffic can best be summed up by one of its innumerable takeaways: You don’t drive as well as you think you do. And if you knew this, you’d drive better. But we don’t even know what we don’t know. That Rumsfeldian quip alone sums up so much about how we behave on the road that awareness of it on our part would make us safer as motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Also, awareness of behavior among the people who design our roads and set transportation policy could change our cities for the better. Traffic engineers—who, for the most part, do not appear to be familiar with many of the psychological studies cited in Traffic—try to make our roads safer with more signage, wider lanes, shoulders, and gentler curves. But a growing number of dissidents are pointing out that a safe environment, surprisingly, is one that appears to be dangerous, because it forces us to be more attentive.

The idea that the perception of danger is good for us runs counter to standard reasoning in road design, which argues that since people will make mistakes, the road should provide a comfortable margin of error. This is generally thought to have worked well on highways and arterials, but in cities and towns where different types of users vie for a share of the same space, designing a margin of error into a road for the benefit of motorists is dangerous. They’ll just typically drive faster around that turn, and they’ll be less attentive in that wider lane. To paraphrase the late Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer whom Vanderbilt interviews, when you treat people like idiots, they will behave like idiots.

Monderman also features prominently in David Engwicht’s Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic, a slim and entertaining read that, while nowhere near as broad in its scope as Traffic, is nonetheless insightful. Engwicht, an Australian traffic consultant whom Vanderbilt discusses, had grown increasingly frustrated with the standard traffic-calming measures like speed bumps, neckdowns, and chicanes, and began to develop strategies to deal with aggressive driving in a completely different way. Rather than use negative stimuli to get people to slow down, he argues for positive stimuli—intrigue, uncertainty, and even humor—to engage motorists in their social environments. In other words, pull motorists out of the “traffic world” and into the “social world”—make them interact with each other and with others on the street via eye contact.

In Mental Speed Bumps Engwicht describes how, in his work with neighborhood groups all over the world, he advocates that everyone reintroduce the social world to their streets: bring their chairs outside into the car’s realm, and let their kids play there. In one city, a traffic engineer insisted that cones be placed in the center of the street to separate vehicle traffic from the neighbors socializing and playing, and that signs be erected to warn passing motorists. “It was without doubt the most dangerous street event I have ever conducted,” Engwicht writes, because “the signs and cones were a [false] promise of predictability and certainty.”

The streets of New York City display engineers’ best efforts to introduce predictability for motorists into a town rich in intrigue and uncertainty. They seem always to be fighting an uphill battle: There is nothing to be done about falafel guys pushing their carts in the streets, or brooding hipsters jaywalking while glued to their iPhones. Unfortunately, some of New York’s long-standing policies reinforce the misguided efforts of traffic engineers, and are pulling us out of the social world and into the traffic world. As Donald Shoup observes in his excellent book, The High Cost of Free Parking, the off-street parking minimums that city planning departments require of builders wildly distort the transportation market and wreak havoc on the public realm and on real estate development. The transportation market is distorted because motorists receive a benefit at low cost, subsidized by everyone. When presented with free goods, we consume them.

A professor of urban planning at UCLA and an economist by training, Shoup, who is also profiled in Traffic, is an engaging and passionate thinker, and The High Cost of Free Parking, while it looks thick enough to stun an ox, is as entertaining as it is informative. The book pulls the curtain aside, revealing all the parking space calculations for what they are: best guesses, often padded, and often based on just a single survey of actual conditions. Or, as Shoup says, “pseudoscience.” This pseudoscience is driven by the notion that parking lots should be able to handle peak demand. A Toys R’ Us parking lot has to accommodate shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. But what about the other 364 days of the year?

Parking is essential to transportation in any city. As Shoup points out, though, “food also produces enormous benefits, but this does not mean that we need more food, or that food should be free.” Economists, Shoup says, “do not define the demand for food as the peak quantity of food consumed at free buffets where overweight diners eat until the last bite has zero utility. Nor do economists, when asked for policy prescriptions, recommend that restaurants should be required to supply at least this quantity of free food no matter how much it costs. Yet planners do define parking demand as the peak number of spaces occupied at sites with free parking, and cities do require developers to supply at least this number of parking spaces, whatever the cost. Planning for parking is planning without prices.”

This might seem irrelevant to New Yorkers, whose neighborhoods are more likely to have parking maximums than minimums; however, there are a surprising number of minimums in place, especially for new development. Even plans for dense areas of New York—Hudson Yards, Willets Point—include shockingly high numbers of parking spaces. As Shoup argues, parking not only meets demand, it fuels it.

Traffic, Mental Speed Bumps, and The High Cost of Free Parking are all testaments to the complexity and centrality of social interactions and behavioral economics to our public lives and the fabrics of our cities. Drawing primarily from observations about psychology and economics, these authors show us that what characterizes our cities is much more than an aesthetic experience, traffic flow, or standard land-use metrics. The best urban thinking is done by those who truly observe and understand how we behave.

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Willets Point-Man
Queens council member Hiram Monserrate announced his newfound support for the mayor's Willets Point plan.

It looked as though the Bloomberg administration's proposal to transform Willets Point was bound for the City Council's axe, but a deal announced yesterday all but assured its passage.

Since the project's inception, local council member Hiram Monserrate had campaigned vociferously against the proposal in part for its lack of affordable housing and threatened use of eminent domain against the area's 260-odd businesses. But at a November 12 news conference, he and a handful of his colleagues urged passage of the plan today, when the council is scheduled to vote on it.

Famously portrayed as the Valley of Ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the 61-acre area adjacent to Shea Stadium eventually developed into the Iron Triangle, a pothole-strewn neighborhood lined with auto body shops, scrap yards, and factories both small and large. The city's Economic Development Corporation hopes to transform it, into a bustling mixed-income, mixed-use community. Highlights here include a convention center and LEED-rated housing and office developments.

Monserrate said the city's agreement will include historic levels of affordable housing—35 percent of the 5,500 units—a new 850-seat school, a workforce retraining program, and relocation funds for small businesses.

"Today we stand together in support of a plan that puts people first, the people of Queens,” Monserrate said. “This new and improved plan reflects the true potential of large-scale development projects. It proves that we can include the best long-term planning and the smartest allocation of resources while keeping our moral responsibility to the families and workers affected.”

Monserrate was joined by Christine Quinn, the speaker of the council; Melinda Katz, a fellow Queens representative and chair of the council's land-use committee; Helen Marshall, the Queens borough president and a longstanding supporter of the plan; Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development; and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

(According to PolitickerNY, it is only the second time Bloomberg has made an appearance at a council press conference—the first was the passage of congestion pricing—underscoring how important he considers the project, for which he has taken a number of other unusual steps, like personally lobbying council members.)

Now that it has the support of the local representative, the plan—which had been opposed by 31 members, a majority—will almost certainly pass. There will likely be a few symbolic opposition votes, but members typically defer to local interests. And with the support of the powerful Quinn, the project seems doubly assured of passing.

The last contentious rezoning vote came from Harlem, when a similarly last-minute deal was brokered with Council member Inez Dickens on the future of 125th Street. Then, too, more affordable housing was added to the initial proposal.

Some of the project's advocates are couching their support in terms of the recent financial crisis. “As we find ourselves in the midst of an economic downturn, I urge my fellow members to support responsible and visionary developments like Willets Point," Quinn said. "As we confront such hard economic times, these important projects will create jobs, generate revenues and help keep our City moving forward."

But this is the same rationale critics have been using to attack the project, saying it eliminates well-paying blue collar jobs in favor of minimum-wage service work. Back in June, a number of unions brokered a deal with the mayor to ensure a "living wage" for hotel and retail workers, but those same critics continue to question how such a bargain could be enforced. Also, in light of the current economic climate, some question the decision to evict 260 companies employing 1,700 workers.

Whether or not it impacted his decision today, it should also be noted that Monserrate was elected to higher office last Tuesday. He will join the New York State Senate come January.

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Concrete Is Forever
Rudy Ricciotti's Villa Navarra in Le Muy, France.
Philippe Ruault

Concrete inspires numerical superlatives when describing its ubiquity: Slightly more than a ton of concrete is produced every year for each human on the planet—over six billion—with Americans responsible for 2.5 tons per citizen. Produced at an estimated rate of five billion cubic yards per year, concrete is the second most widely consumed substance on earth after water. Concrete is the world’s oldest man-made building material. Yet, it’s the material’s dual personality that makes it both ubiquitous and appealing. Since the Industrial Revolution, concrete has been the robust, utilitarian workhorse for constructing bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, sidewalks, roadways, and barriers. Modern concrete is reinforced with steel and other materials, poured-in-place, precast, pre- and post-tensioned, tinted, molded, embossed, polished, and drilled. In its most modest state, it provides a building’s structure, which is then hidden behind a prettier skin. But it can also be a glamorous material, especially when it performs simultaneously as structure, form, and surface.

Earlier this month, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation hosted a conference called Solid States: Changing Time for Concrete. A series of panel discussions explored the dual personality of the material with some stunning examples of form following innovation. French architect and engineer Marc Mimram presented his study of what he calls “living infrastructure,” a project underwritten by Lafarge, one of the world’s largest producers of cement, concrete, aggregates, and gypsum, and the conference’s sponsor. Mimram’s work focuses on reconciling a city’s infrastructure with the inhabitants. He is currently investigating that uneasy relationship by designing four hypothetical bridges for four cities, using Lafarge’s high-performance, fiber-reinforced Ductal concrete.

Ductal is indeed glamorous, which makes it a high-profile achievement in the realm of concrete innovation. French architect Rudy Ricciotti designed the Footbridge of Peace entirely out of Ductal in 2002. The pedestrian bridge crosses the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, with a 400-foot arch, no middle supports, and a deck only a breathtaking 1 1⁄4-inches thick.

The “world’s first” anything always captures the public’s imagination. Although many exquisite feats of engineering and design were presented at the conference, much attention was given to how much priorities have shifted with regard to building materials and construction. Global environmental imperatives are now at odds with concrete’s numerical superlatives. Not all large numbers are desirable. For example, the production of concrete uses approximately one trillion gallons of water each year—a devastating impact on many societies, especially if water becomes a diminishing resource, as scientific research suggests.

The environmental impact of manufacturing concrete is not lost on the industry. In 2000, the U.S. concrete industry’s Strategic Development Council (SDC) conducted a workshop to discuss the past, present, and future of concrete. A year later it published Vision 2030: A Vision of the U.S. Concrete Industry, a guide to the future presenting ambitious goals. First of all, it establishes the concrete industry’s commitment to sound energy use and environmental protection. Secondly, it commits the industry to improving efficiency and productivity in all concrete manufacturing processes. Research in new materials, processing technologies, delivery mechanisms, and applications of information technology is being developed to ensure that concrete remains the construction material of choice based on life-cycle cost and performance.

Vision 2030 is particularly focused on finding ways to unify a diverse and localized industry, which will have a positive environmental impact. The guide admits that because the industry is fragmented, it has been “slow to investigate new technology options, reluctant to invest in research, and hesitant to adopt new technology as it becomes available.” Risk aversion slows innovation, but there are external obstacles in play as well. For instance, transportation accounts for 20 to 50 percent of the cost of ready-mixed concrete. And yet, many communities have adopted a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude toward heavy industry, so concrete and cement plants and aggregate sources are forced to move farther away from delivery points.

According to the industry, manufacturing operates in a prescriptive rather than performance-based environment. Thus, the full potential of concrete often is unrealized. And yet, as long as concrete procurement favors the lowest bidder, manufacturers will have to keep costs low to be competitive. As a result, they have little incentive to spend money on the research and development of improved performance.

Extenuating circumstances such as these are not always apparent when discussing how all industries must reduce their impact on the environment. While the challenges are great, they are not insurmountable. A year after Vision 2030 was published the Concrete Research and Education Foundation produced Roadmap 2030, an initiative to assist implementation of the SDC’s goals. Roadmap 2030 is frank, detailed, and includes a myriad of alternative constituent materials, delivery systems, and manufacturing processes. It appears that the concrete industry would like to realize its goals in its own way before environmental compliance regulations do it for them, potentially reducing market share. Progress since 2001 is hard to quantify, but the SDC’s Accelerating Implementation Team has several promising initiatives underway, including the long overdue adoption of performance-based specifications.

There’s another way to think about concrete. It has been in existence for thousands of years, because it is so flexible. It has accommodated every era’s technological progress. Its recipe allows for all sorts of material substitutions, including industrial waste. For example, typical production of one ton of Portland cement releases one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere, which accounts for about seven percent of all greenhouse gases. Increasingly, however, cement is being made of waste, such as fly ash (a byproduct of coal burning), slag cement (a byproduct of metal smelting), and silica fume (a byproduct of silicon metal production). Christian Meyer, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia, and one of the organizers of Solid States has been researching how to make all kinds of waste valuable for concrete production—glass, carpet fibers, and even the highly contaminated dreck at the bottom of New York Harbor. The simple theory being, one industry’s detritus is another industry’s valuable resource. Waste—the new renewable resource.

Sara Hart is a writer in New York City who contributes regularly to Architectural RecordArchitect, and other publications.  


Concrete Poetry 

To survey the latest advances in concrete applications, AN presents ten projects that explore its structural and expressive potential. Whether for high-performance uses or elegant finish effects, these works show that the oldest construction material is still the most fluid.

With contributions from Alan G. Brake, Jeff Byles, Matt Chaban, Anne Guiney, Julie V. Iovine, and Aaron Seward. 

Villa Navarra
Philippe Ruault

Pont du Diable
Courtesy Agence Rudy Ricciotti

Villa Navarra / Le Muy, France
Pont du Diable / Hérault, France
Agence Rudy Ricciotti 

Two projects from French architect Rudy Ricciotti are among the first to explore the structural potential of Lafarge’s high-performance Ductal concrete. With its visor-like roof jutting from the Provencal landscape, the Villa Navarra marks a boldly framed villa and gallery space for collector Enrico Navarra. Featuring a stunning, 25-foot cantilever, the roof is composed of 17 fiber-reinforced Ductal panels, each engineered to take into account thermal expansion, wind resistance, and size restrictions due to transportation of the units, which were precast by Montpellier-based Bonna Sabla using metal molds fabricated by an aviation-industry supplier. Each 7.7-foot-wide panel is edged by two lateral inertia ribs, which taper toward the cantilever and are joined together with a resin-injected socket. A silicon joint keeps the upper portion of the ribs waterproof, while perforations along the structure’s edge—which measures just over 1 inch thick at its tip—allow light to penetrate the porch-like gallery below.

Ductal’s compressive strength is taken more dramatically to task in Ricciotti’s Pont du Diable, a footbridge spanning 236 feet across a gorge in the Hérault district of southwestern France. Composed of 15 sections weighing 10.5 tons each (also precast by Bonna Sabla), the sleek structure, completed in August, makes a low impact upon this world heritage site along the route of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. JB



Dean Bierwagen

Ultra-High Performance Concrete Pi-Girder Bridge
Aurora, Iowa
Federal Highway Administration 

In building infrastructure, and especially bridges, the Federal Highway Administration does not choose a preferred material; it makes choices based on site-specific performance issues such as safety, construction speed and ease, and rate of deterioration. The new ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC)—in the U.S., Lafarge’s Ductal is the only one currently available, although Densit in Denmark and Bouyges in France have also developed UHPCs—makes the most sense for locations where weather conditions are subject to random freezes and sudden thaws. In late October, a UHPC was used for the first time in the U.S. for a bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa. The Aurora bridge differs from conventional concrete usage in that both beams and deck were fabricated off-site. Once cast, the bridge was assembled on-site in less than a week. “The advanced concretes are inherently more durable, quicker, and safer to use,” said Benjamin Graybeal, a research engineer for the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). Additionally, UHPC lends itself to a new girder shape developed by the FHA in collaboration with MIT, known as the Pi-Girder, where pier and deck plate are of a single piece, an added efficiency. “It’s a shape that optimizes the properties of this particular concrete and its abilities to address structural demands,” said Graybeal, noting that Ductal is still too expensive to be considered for widespread FHA use. JVI



Peter Mauss/Esto

College of New Rochelle, New York
Ikon.5 Architects 

As part of a new wellness center for the 100-year-old College of New Rochelle, Princeton-based Ikon.5 Architects used concrete to create a modern-day grotto, sandblasting the material in order to emphasize the rough texture of its aggregate content. A double shell vault spans 80 feet without structural interruption, with the exterior casing operating as both waterproof barrier and green roof container. Mechanical ductwork, fire suppression material, and lighting are contained within the poche, allowing the grotto space to maintain its raw simplicity. The concrete mix contains recyclable blast furnace slag, reducing the admixture of less sustainable Portland cement by 50 percent. There was a challenge when it came time for the concrete pour. Due to the natatorium’s irregular elliptical curve it was difficult to make a concrete without air pockets at the bottom. “Based on a site mock-up, the problem was solved,” said Joe Tattoni of Ikon.5, “by widening the back of the form—which was invisible—to a shape somewhat like an elephant’s foot, it allowed for a more generous flow. And that worked perfectly.” JVI




One Madison Park
New York
Office of Metropolitan Architecture

For its first highrise condominium in Manhattan, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture put high-strength reinforced concrete to the test with a 30-foot cantilever graduated in steps extending over ten stories. The structural system, according to project architect Jason Long and developed with WSP Cantor Seinuk, is a shear tube or “3-D reinforced box system with concrete column sections like Vierendeel trusses” that thicken depending on the changing load (from a thickness of 4 feet 8 inches to 10 inches at the top). Rem Koolhaas described it as a “structural corset” squeezing the building’s midsection, from the 6th floor, where forces are transferred to the sidewalls, to the 15th floor at the maximum point of the cantilever. Openings in the sheer tube expand and contract the maximum amount allowed in relation to stresses, forming apertures for windows. The use of a structural tube system also meant column-free interiors, always a plus in residential work. While the architects wanted the condo to possess a certain urban toughness and hoped to reveal the structural concrete on the facade, the client balked (“If we were in Portugal the quality of concrete work might have made it possible,” said Long). Now the facade is to be finished in fiber reinforced concrete held in place with a polished stainless steel grid. JVI



Courtesy Reiser + Umemoto

Reiser + Umemoto

With its concrete structure pulled to the exterior as a latticelike shell, Reiser + Umemoto’s 22-story Dubai office tower dispenses with conventional interior columns and walls. While freeing the core from the burden of lateral forces, the efficient, load-bearing shell also offers an appealing shading solution for exposed glass towers in the region’s blazing sun. Working with New York structural engineer Ysrael Seinuk, the architects modulated the tower’s circular openings to manage both structural requirements and sun exposure, cutting down on direct light while still permitting strategically placed views. A one-meter-deep cavity between the shell and building enclosure also creates a chimney effect, drawing hot air away from the building and cooling the tower’s inner glass surface. The perforated shell is created by pouring super-liquid concrete around a mesh of woven steel reinforcement, resulting in a structure that is roughly 60 percent solid and 40 percent void. The 1,326 apertures in the shell are achieved by introducing computer-numerically-cut polystyrene void forms into the rebar matrix, then siding the voids with modular steel slip forms prior to the concrete pour. The shell’s thickness tapers from 1.9 feet at the tower’s base to 1.3 feet at the parapet, offering a ruggedly refined addition to the Dubai skyline. JB



Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Vanke Center
Shenzhen, China
Steven Holl Architects 

The 1.3-million-square-foot mixed-use office, hotel, and condominium is depicted by its architect Steven Holl as a recumbent Empire State Building. Supported on eight legs, this floating skyscraper is unusual in that it takes a concrete structural frame and transforms it into a suspension bridge-type structure with elevator and mechanical shafts serving as piers. Now under construction and due to be completed in late 2009, the building hovers on 50-meter spans from core to core. Steel cables in stiffening tubes support the bottom deck suspended above a tropical garden, with a high-strength composite concrete structure rising five stories above. The bamboo formwork used on parts of the exterior adds a modest decorative effect. Before construction began, a full-scale mock-up was created and subjected to maximum simulated shaking to make sure this novel concrete megastructure would be tsunami-proof. JVI



Courtesy Allied Works Architecture 

Clyfford Still Museum
Denver, Colorado
Allied Works Architecture 

Brad Cloepfil, like so many notable architects before him—Le Corbusier, the Smithsons, Tadao Ando—has been fascinated by the limitless possibilities of working in concrete. “I always think about concrete as witchcraft,” he said. “No one knows everything you can do with it.” Starting with his earliest work, the Maryhill Overlook on the Columbia River Gorge, the Portland architect has always pushed the boundaries of concrete. Now, with Allied Works’ designs for the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, he is attempting to render it as the very earth from which it came. To evoke the prairies from which the museum rises, Cloepfil is developing a unique pouring process that will create geological bands of concrete within the walls. “The feeling is that it’s almost carved out of the earth,” he said. Using a monolithic pour, the design team has been experimenting with varying the types of aggregate, dryness of the mix, and time between pours so that each pouring, which takes place in 12- to 36-inch bands, takes on its own character. Cloepfil said he has never encountered such an application before, and he thinks he knows why—it is incredibly challenging to get right. After 30 4-foot-by-8-foot mock-ups, he’s still experimenting. “It’s like a choreography,” he said. “We’re doing a dance, and it’s got to be perfect, but that takes an unbelievable amount of work.” MC



Courtesy Toshiko Mori Architect

Darwin Martin Visitor Center
Buffalo, New York
Toshiko Mori Architect 

In the otherwise all-glass Darwin Martin Visitor Center, the designers at Toshiko Mori Architect inserted a solid concrete wall at the back of the space to conceal bathrooms, kitchens, and other non-public spaces. Rather than settle for a blank screen, they wanted the wall to respond to the Frank Lloyd Wright house which the facility serves, and so introduced horizontal banding across the surface to match the Roman brick and recessed mortar joints of Wright’s work. Achieving a materiality that the designers were satisfied with turned out to be more work than they expected. They experimented with nine different mixes of architectural concrete and conducted numerous studies to realize a smooth finish. The mix they wound up using employs a superplasticizer, which increases the material’s fluidity by softening the mix before it hardens and reducing the amount of water needed, thus increasing compressive strength. The method of installation also required extensive testing, as avoiding bubbles in the surface was made more difficult by the horizontal bands. In the end, the contractor injected the concrete into the base of the custom-made forms, filling them from the bottom to the top, and used an internal vibrating machine to shake out excess air. AS



Rien Van Rijthoven

Congregation Beth Sholom Synagogue
San Francisco
Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects 

The ark-like form which is the distinguishing feature of Congregation Beth Sholom’s new synagogue in San Francisco presents a perfectly smooth and solid face to the street that belies the difficulty in creating a 24-foot-high, 24-inch-thick concrete double shell. According to Neil Kaye, project manager at Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects, to achieve the incredibly fine finish that they wanted for both interior and exterior of the volume which holds the sanctuary, they built several full-scale mock-ups and tested everything from the form release to the way the sealant affected the concrete’s color. “It was a very plastic mix because we had to keep a certain level of liquidity during the lift in order to get fine cold joints,” said Kaye. The outer shell went up first in three separate lifts, and then the rebar was laid in; the inner shell came last. On the interior, Saitowitz made use of concrete’s plastic qualities and incorporated the acoustic baffles into the walls themselves. The acoustician, Charles Salter, had determined that a 15 degree offset would be optimal for the space, and so when the formwork for the inner shell was going in, they inserted pre-fab fiberglass liners. The resulting panel-like forms incorporated into the sanctuary’s walls serve a second and valuable function of decoration, as they shape sunlight as well as sound. AG



Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing

SOS Children’s Village Lavezzorio Community Center
Chicago, Illinois
Studio Gang 

With material costs rising and a fixed budget of $3.5 million, the architects at Studio Gang had to rethink their design for this community center, stripping away the planned brick screen. That left the double-cantilevered concrete structure exposed. “We thought, ‘let’s investigate the fluidity of concrete,’” said managing architect Mark Schendel. To express this structurally, the architects used three different strengths of concrete in alternating bands for the 12-inch-thick walls. They used chemically stiffened concretes with very low slump, or viscosity, so that even after vibration, the bands kept their wavy appearance. Each of the seven bands was a separate pour, or lift, and each is reinforced according to the strength of the concrete (if the wall had been constructed conventionally, it would have been poured in two lifts). Working with general contractor Bovis Lend Lease and engineer Thornton Tomasetti, the architects choreographed the elaborate sequence of pours to keep costs low. “Bovis was working on Trump Tower at the time, so whenever they had a truck with the strength of concrete we were looking for, they would pull it out of the line and send it to our project,” he said. That allowed them to leverage the economy of scale from the massive skyscraper project. In addition, the architects economically tested their ideas by using the elevator core as a mockup. AGB

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No Building Left Behind
Michael Maltzan Architecture's Inner-City Arts.
Iwan Baan

Inner-City Arts
Los Angeles, California
Michael Maltzan Architecture

Inner-City Arts was founded in 1994 to supplement arts and cultural education for downtown Los Angeles students at schools where such programming had been cut. The final phase of its new campus opened on October 2 with a parade of pinwheel-waving kids led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Located on a one-acre site in the heart of Skid Row, one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, Inner-City Arts represents a 15-year collaboration between Michael Maltzan Architecture, landscape designers at Nancy Goslee Power and Associates, and environmental designers at Ph.D, who each donated their time over 15 years to the continuously-evolving project.

Iwan Baan

The first phase, completed in conjunction with Marmol Radziner + Associates in 1994, included an adaptive reuse of a 10,000-square-foot abandoned auto body shop. The most recent additions—which include the Rosenthal Theater, a state-of-the-art black-box performance space, a ceramics studio, and a DreamWorks-sponsored animation studio—are raw spaces that employ inexpensive materials like stucco, wood, and concrete, and are painted defiantly and completely white with abstract orange lettering by Ph.D. The angular, low-lying buildings are arranged into a unique indoor-outdoor layout that “cracks open,” according to Michael Maltzan, along the perimeter. Students catch glimpses into the outlying neighborhood, and locals can see in, said Maltzan, so “it doesn’t feel like an isolated incident in the middle of Skid Row.”

The indigenous gardens within the courtyard include elements like a tiled fountain, a dry creek bed planted like a local arroyo, a teaching garden, and a labyrinth, all inspired by drawings the students made when asked to sketch their visions of the new school. The completed design of Inner-City Arts creates a place for serious art making, said Maltzan, but is also an example of how an optimistic environment can impact a depressed area. “We’ve tried to make an entire campus which can be seen as a microcosm for a transformative experience,” he said.

Alissa Walker


AF Payne Photographic 

Bioscience School
Phoenix, Arizona
Orcutt/Winslow Partnership 

Under the design leadership of local firm Orcutt/Winslow Partnership, with input from science specialists and the local community, the Phoenix Union High School District recently opened their new comprehensive Bioscience High School in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Orcutt/Winslow’s design is strategically located within the Biomedical Research Campus, including the Translational Genomic Institute, where students participate in internships. The school’s pedagogical and physical organization models itself after these research laboratories, encouraging collaboration, team teaching, independent learning, and a “rigorous and relevant” science and math focused curriculum. It also integrates a historic one-room school house that now serves as the school’s administration center.

AF Payne Photographic

Seven laboratories (six indoors and one on the roof deck) are the focal point of the campus, and around these are clustered the student “studios” (not unlike architecture studios), teacher work areas, and, at the extremities on two levels, naturally illuminated, flexible-dimension classrooms. A multi-level space called Town Hall is the heart of the school—serving as the locus for presentations, the cafeteria, and a link to the desert courtyard.

In support of scientific understanding, the open-web structure and mechanical systems are laid bare to the eye. Desert-specific environmental strategies include solar heated water, east and west facing tilt-up concrete “fossil” walls, and provisions for a photovoltaic array.

Beth Weinstein


Gary Wilson Photo/Graphic 

Rosa Parks Elementary School
Portland, Oregon
Dull Olson Weekes Architects 

Since it opened in 2006, Rosa Parks Elementary in Portland has been a community magnet. Part of the broader New Columbia neighborhood, a large and formerly run-down affordable housing enclave that has become the largest redevelopment project in Oregon history, the 66,863-square-foot, LEED Gold–rated K–6 school is also host to a Boys & Girls Club that opens when classes end and is available to other organizations in the evenings.

The school, designed by Portland’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA), is oriented around a series of existing legacy trees. As a result, said DOWA’s lead designer Karina Ruiz, “It doesn’t take the shape of a traditional double loaded corridor building.”

The classroom wing is divided into what are called “neighborhoods,” two per floor, with five classrooms, a resource room, and a shared common area. The glass-enclosed west side of the building also opens out onto the trees with a small park-like green space and a bioswale. The configuration allows classrooms to receive natural light on both sides.

The school’s sustainable features include a stormwater management system that keeps all water on site, an array of photovoltaic solar panels, displacement ventilation, and extensive daylighting. Designed to be 25 percent more energy efficient than code and in actuality performing 30 to 35 percent better, Rosa Parks is the most efficient building in the Portland Public Schools system. “It’s not just to save energy, but to connect students to their world,” Ruiz said.

Brian Libby

Tim Griffith

Trinity School
Menlo Park, California
Mark Cavagnero Associates 

Mark Cavagnero Associates designed a 1,200-square-foot expansion for one of the K–5 school’s existing 1960s Bay style buildings, as well as a new 4,800-square-foot Enrichment Center containing classrooms for music, science, and the arts.

The project, pointed out Cavagnero, creates a much-needed connection between the school and its lush new yard and play areas, which are separated by a steep slope. A dramatic, canopied stair between the existing and new buildings has become the center of campus life. Large landings on either side of the stair as well as weaving terraces serve as perfect places to rest or eat lunch, and also function as places to sit for assemblies.

Tim Griffith

The glazed, rectilinear addition to the existing building—which provides a much-needed extra classroom—edges into the hill and abuts the left side of the stair. Meanwhile the new building, clad in stained cedar with copious glazing, welcomes plenty of light and cross breezes thanks to its narrow floorplate and its orientation perpendicular to prevailing ocean breezes. Building this structure against the hill, said Cavagnero, was meant to make it feel as if it were “floating out from the hill and reaching out to trees.” None of the new construction uses air conditioning, and heating is by means of an underfloor system.

Sam Lubell

David Wakely 

The Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex
Hillsborough, California
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

With this 27,000-square-foot addition to an independent pre-K–8 school, Leddy Maytum Stacy has created a multifaceted environment that encourages learning and curiosity. Guided by the school’s mission to instill “a passion for lifelong learning” and a commitment to the environment, the design takes every opportunity to engage students with the world around them.

“Our goal was to create a great educational environment,” said William Leddy, design principal. “Sustainability was a crucial element, but to succeed, we needed a more layered design response that considered the role that day-to-day experience plays in education.”

David Wakely

The new complex expresses a strong connection to the 33-acre campus landscape and community. The three program elements—classrooms, library, and student center—occupy separate buildings, arranged around a plaza to form a hub of student life that stitches the 40-year-old campus together. The open, single-loaded buildings benefit from natural light, and living roofs totaling 10,000 square feet provide new habitats for native species, including an endangered butterfly. “X-ray” windows expose the building systems within, and a man-made “arroyo” activates the plaza during rainstorms. Finally, the LEED Gold complex teaches by example, using 65 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than a typical new school in the U.S., and generating 21 percent of its electricity needs through a 30kw photovoltaic array. Resource-efficient materials, 36 percent sourced locally, include non-native cypress trees removed from the site and milled for the building’s benches, screens, and decks.

Yosh Asato