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Gray Organschi Architecture

A cottage in Guilford, Connecticut.
all photos by bo crockett

Gray Organschi Architecture
New Haven, CT

The husband-and-wife team behind Gray Organschi Architecture aims to instill the robust traditions of design-build with a lighter but no less hands-on approach. Using expressions such as “pre-staged,” “lightly pinned,” and “on the site as little as possible,” Elizabeth Gray explained the firm’s philosophy of developing low-impact building practices in tandem with innovative technologies in the service of an architecture of elegant simplicity. A near state-of-the-art fabrication shop at their New Haven studio has helped them undertake ambitious prefabrication efforts, from a 75-foot footbridge in a hilly forest to the glue-laminated arches for an acoustical plywood shell within a brick firehouse turned recording space and auditorium.



interior of guilford cottage.
 
 
 

Gray and her husband Alan met at the Yale School of Architecture (where the barn-raising approach to design-build has a long history), graduating in 1994. Following a grand tour of sorts with stints in Indonesia, London, and Berlin, they returned to New Haven in 2000 and set up their practice in the Ninth Square, a notoriously seedy quarter but also home to many sturdy 19th-century brick warehouses ideal for an expanding design practice with a need for heavy machinery.

More than half of the firm’s built work so far has been residential, including a guest cottage in Guilford completed in 2008 for a couple with expanding space needs but a desire not to disturb their gardens. Gray Organschi responded with a discreet structure (it had to pass zoning as an “accessory building”) that combines the camouflaging effects of a sedum green roof with the bursting energy of dematerialized glass seams and bamboo-clad folding planes. A storage barn for a landscape contractor turns a simple shed into a thing of beauty by simply stacking materials—with dimensions derived from the size of a pallet—around a void determined by the turnaround space needed for a loading tractor. Ground-source heat pumps and electricity are powered by rooftop photovoltaic panels, with surplus energy to spare.

Moving on to a larger scale, the architects are now working on a residence and chapel for a community of Jesuits at Fairfield University. The 20,000-square-foot center, which includes an administrative wing and student dining room, needs to be both publicly active as well as a serene place of meditation and privacy. The architects tucked the building into the shoulder of a sloping hill, with a garden green roof and a public porch facing east and the Jesuits’ own rooms gathered around a courtyard facing south. “Our goal is to first analyze the program as honestly and as in-depth as possible, and then honor it,” said Gray.

Julie V. Iovine


A storage barn in rural connecticut.
 

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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Metal

Ghenet by Rickenbacker & Leung with Monk Design
Amy Barkow/Barkow Photo
 

A-Val Architectural Metal Corporation
240 Washington St.
Mount Vernon, NY
914-662-0300
www.a-val.com

Airflex Industries
937 Conklin St.
Farmingdale, NY
631-752-1234
www.airflexind.com

Astec Architectural Bronze
Via dell’Artigianato, 30
Dosson di Casier
Treviso, Italy
+39-0422-490183
www.astec.it

B.J. McGlone
40 Brunswick Ave.
Edison, NJ
732-287-8600

Bamco
30 Baekeland Ave.
Middlesex, NJ
800-245-0210
www.bamcoinc.org

Berlin Steel Construction
76 Depot Rd.
Berlin, CT
860-828-3531
www.berlinsteel.com

Centria Architectural Systems
1005 Beaver Grade Rd.
Moon Township, PA
800-759-7474
www.centria.com

Chef Restaurant Supply
294-296 Bowery, New York
212-254-6644

David Shuldiner
35 Irving Ave., Brooklyn
718-386-5200
www.davidshuldiner.com

Empire Architectural Metal
14–50 118th St., Queens
718-321-1697

Gratz Industries
1306 Queens Plaza South
Long Island City
718-361-7774
www.gratzindustries.com

J. Frederick Construction
71 Commerce Drive
Brookfield, CT
203-740-2989
www.jfcstudios.com

KD Ironworks
60 Saint Casmir Ave.
Yonkers, NY
914-709-9821 

Maloya Laser
65A Mall Drive
Comack, NY
631-543-2327
www.maloyalaser.com

Mecachim
5, Rue de la Roche Grolleau
Lusignan, France
+33-(0)5-49-89-30-77
www.mecachim.com 

Metropan Systems
85–06 89th Ave.
Woodhaven, NY
917-359-3626 

Milgo/Bufkin
68 Lombardy St., Brooklyn
718-388-6476
www.milgo-bufkin.com

Monk Design
338 Berry St., Brooklyn 

Quality Metal Craft
135 Old Colony Ave.
Quincy, MA
617-479-7374 

Silvercrane
738 Grand St., Brooklyn
718-812-5794
silvercranellc@gmail.com

Skyline Steel
8 Woodhollow Rd.
Parsippany, NJ
973-428-6100
www.skylinesteel.com

Super Steel
7900 West Tower Ave.
Milwaukee, WI
414-355-4800
www.supersteel.com

UAD Group
299 Vandervoort Ave., Brooklyn
718-599-0350
www.uadgroup.com

Veyko
216 Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA
215-928-1349
www.veyko.com

Wilson Conservation
100 East 5th St., Brooklyn
718-852-8894

 


landmarc by clodagh design with j. frederick
 
eric laignel
 
 

“We’ve used Paul Yam of Chef Restaurant Supply for all kinds of custom stainless steel projects, and each time, he’s delivered a well-crafted piece regardless of the constraints. He’s even been flexible enough to tolerate a Saturday morning delivery, where he and his crew had to tango with a 500-pound wet terrazzo polisher.”
John Hartmann
Freecell

Empire Architectural Metal had a huge scope for the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. They manufactured all the custom aluminum window frames, and canopies that double as signage with aluminum letters, which they water-jet-cut and welded together. They re-did several things that we had some issues with. They are very accommodating and committed to making it right.”
Lyn Rice
Lyn Rice Architects

Gratz Industries is legendary. They fabricated Mies’ Barcelona Chair, and they are as good as it gets.”
Ed Rawlings
Rawlings Architects

Maloya Laser’s bread and butter is building heaters for de-icing airplanes before they take off, so they have really high-end laser cutters and CNC milling equipment. On the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism project, they sat down with their knowledge of how steel bends and the properties of various alloys, etc., and worked out the details with a high level of precision. Honestly, it’s hard to find people like this.”
Scott Marble
Marble Fairbanks


toni stabile student center at columbia university by marble fairbanks with maloya laser
 
COURTESY marble fairbanks
 
 

“We used Metropan’s custom zinc panels to clad two walls that flank the back porch of our West Village townhouse. I’ve seen these go in very sloppy on other projects, and this was just a jewel-box-like installation. It’s very clean and beautifully detailed.”
Jeffrey Murphy
Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects 

J. Frederick can fabricate just about anything out of metal; they’re amazing. We spent time in their shop with their blowtorches and chemicals to get some incredible patinated surfaces. Kevin really knows what he’s talking about.”
John Henderson
Clodagh Design 

“Mark Chagnon of Quality Metal Craft is a true problem-solver and a craftsman at an affordable price. He did the custom metal folding and fabrication for our Fin’s restaurant in Boston. All the laser-cut steel bends were really complex. We basically brought him a paper model, and it didn’t scare him away.”
Hansy Better Barraza
Studio Luz Architects

 

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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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Gold Medal for Murcutt
Courtesy AIA

“Since most of us spend our lives doing ordinary tasks, the most important thing is to carry them out extraordinarily well.” Those may be words that the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt likes to live by, but the truth is that there is nothing at all ordinary about his deceptively simple looking body of work. Projects like the Marie Short House (1974), one of his earliest, with an open plan and a curved roof to keep the cool air circulating, and the Marika Alderton House (1994) for an aboriginal artist where wide eaves, stilts, vertical fins, and pivoting tubes protect the structure from heat and tidal surges, demonstrate how far ahead of the current curve Murcutt has always been when it comes to sustainable design.

And so it seemed as much timely as about time that Murcutt, 71, was awarded the 2009 AIA Gold Medal today, just seven years after receiving the Pritzker Prize. In a letter of support for his nomination, Tadao Ando wrote that “recently our architectural field experienced an ‘ecological boom.’ However, without relation to such a trend of time, Glenn Murcutt has always been focusing on the geographical and regional conditions, from the very beginning of his career.”


MARIKA ALDERTON HOUSE, northern territory, australia (1994)
 
COURTESY AIA
 
 

Though he seems to be the Ur Australian, Murcutt was born in London in 1936—his parents were on their way from New Guinea to the Berlin Olympics—and grew up in the remote Morobe district of New Guinea. Despite an architecture degree from the University of New South Wales and a few years in the office of Ancher, Mortlock, Murray & Wooley in Sydney, Murcutt’s true education came from his travels through Europe, especially to Finland, and a walkabout in Tasmania. He has been a sole practitioner, rendering all aspects of a project in his own hand, since 1969.

While his mostly residential projects combine the rigor of Mies van der Rohe with the nature-derived materiality of an Aalto, Murcutt was possibly just as influenced by the house his own father built up on stilts with a corrugated tin roof.

Though hailing from as far away as any prominent architect could come, Murcutt has continued to travel widely, lecturing with inspirational fervor and drawing equally from the modernist canon and the works of Freud and Thoreau.

With today’s announcement, Murcutt becomes the 65th AIA Gold Medalist, following most recently in the footsteps of last year’s recipient, Renzo Piano. The award’s official presentation will take place at the American Architectural Foundation’s gala in February.
 


Magney House, new south wales, australia (1984)

Along with the Gold Medal, the AIA announced the winners of two other annual accolades. Seattle-based Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects was awarded the 2009 AIA Architecture Firm Award, for a portfolio of work reaching back more than three decades that has bridged nature and culture, artfully setting modern forms into the Pacific Northwest landscape.

And Adèle Naudé Santos was awarded the 2009 Topaz Medallion for excellence in architectural education. Santos, currently dean of the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, previously taught at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, and was founding dean at the UC San Diego School of Architecture. In a career spanning both teaching and practice, she has worked to blend residential and environmental design.

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Megastructures Reload
A derelict old German mint in Berlin has been taken over until November 2 by Megastructure Reloaded an exhibit of  1960's visionary architecture drawings, models, and films. Descending into the mint’s basement/bunker Archigrammer Dennis Crompton has created an installation that includes Yona Friedman’s la Ville Spatiale, a film of the Archigram guys walking around The Centre Pompidou with Cedric Price, and a toy-like model of a Constant Nieuwenhuijs skyscraper. The dilapidated ground floor has series of interpretations of the themes by young megatsructuralists like New Yorkers Tobias Putrih and Katrin Sigurdardottir. A weekend symposium with young architects and activist planners took place in an inflatable bubble by raumlabor_berlin who provided wonderful waffles with fresh figs and pomegranates.  Planners serving waffles in their own inflatable, transportable bubble. Something funny is happening in Berlin.

Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

NON-SENSE & SENSIBILITY

We are feeling rather serenissima ourselves after a trip to beautiful and improbable Venice for the Biennale. This benevolent mood will no doubt be of short duration, and will not keep us from our appointed rounds, which include a moment to marvel at the wall text that folks put up next to their installations. Remember, if it’s not really confusing, people won’t think you’re smart! Right, Juergen Meyer H.? We swear we hadn’t had a drop of Campari when we came across the Berlin architect’s very beautiful and very orange wallpaper based on data protection patterns in the first room of the Italian Pavilion. But perhaps we should have, because we’re wondering how it “thickens the skin of discretion.”

WIGLEY’S WHACK-A-MOLE

Don’t mess with the Mark, people: At an afternoon conference at the Biennale including the artist Matthew Ritchie, Paola Antonelli, and Greg Lynn, Columbia’s Mark Wigley declared that “architecture isn’t about people.” An outraged Brit in the audience wasn’t having it, however, and stood up and shouted, “Yes it is! Architecture is about people, and art is about metaphor—this is Rubbish!” Unfazed, Wigley responded, “If you would just self-loathe for a minute and let me finish…”

ARCHITECTURE BEYOND BUILDINGS, DINNER BEYOND TABLES

We managed to smile our way into a fancy dinner on the roof of the Peggy Guggenheim villa held by Thomas Krens in honor of Frank Gehry’s Golden Lion. Things were going smashingly until we were told to sit at table 16, only to realize that the table numbers stopped at 15. Feeling Cinderella-ish, we sat ourselves down at the table indicated by a frazzled if reassuring Guggenheim staffer. A glamorous Gallic guest had different ideas, however, and told us that her seating card indicated that we were interlopers, and implied that this would simply not do. We considered offering her the lap of our handsome young neighbor, Andrew Yang, thought better of it, and were about to suggest that everything would surely be fine when she declared, “WE are FRIENDS of JEAN NOUVEL!” Indeed! Since WE are NOT, we decided not to push our luck and skedaddled off to an empty-looking table before we got into any more trouble.

WE SHOULD HAVE HAD A SPRITZ: SEND GOSSIP AND CAMPARI BY THE CASE TO EAVESDROP@ARCHPAPER.COM.

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The $6,000 House
A completed 10X10 house (right), with another under construction.
Courtesy UK College of Design

The Pritzker Prize has often been called, or at least explained as, the Nobel Prize of Architecture. If that is the case, then the Curry Stone Design Prize could be considered architecture’s Peace Prize. Established this year by the University of Kentucky College of Design through a generous gift from architect Clifford Curry and his wife H. Delight Stone, the prize honors innovative achievements in humanitarian architecture and design.

MMA Architects of South Africa took the top prize of $100,000, which was announced today by the school. The firm, based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Berlin, won for their 10X10 house, an extremely affordable structure built using sandbags and timber. It requires no tools or advanced construction knowledge and can be built for slightly more than $6,000, while still presenting a striking, modern design.

“We feel it’s important to give back to the community we come from,” Luyanda Mpahlwa said in a telephone interview. “Most black people in South Africa come from the projects, and the shantytowns are actually growing. No one should be living in shantytowns. So anything we can do to help that, we will.”

Mpahlwa, who shares the firm with Mphethi Morojele, said that a key component of the house was to provide not only shelter but also social justice and pride. The house was originally designed for an affordable housing competition last year that required architects to devise a house for 50,000 rand ($6,200), which required some very unusual thinking. “My view is that there is no way you can use conventional materials and methods if you want to resolve the housing crisis that plagues the world,” Mpahlwa said.

In addition to utilizing inexpensive and locally accessible building materials, which required not even a single electrical outlet to put together, the designers turned to the community to build the houses, the first of which was recently completed, with nine more planned for a community in Cape Town. Mpahlwa said that this approach not only saves on labor costs but gives an added sense of ownership to the occupants and work for those in a community that is riven with unemployment.

Other finalists included Shawn Frayne, who designed the world’s first non-turbine wind-powered generator; Wes Janz, an architect and professor at Ball State University who builds “leftover places” with scavenged material; Marjetica Potrc, an artist who has designed a number of clever devices for impoverished communities, including a “dry toilet” in Caracas and rainwater harvesting system in New Orleans; and Antonio Scarponi, a Venetian architect who constructed a “Dreaming Wall” in Milan that allowed people to text social messages onto it. Each runner-up receives a $10,000 prize.

“From the jury’s point of view, it was both a conventional and unconventional firm doing conventional and unconventional work,” David Mohney, secretary for the prize, said. “They saw it as an inspiration to other conventional firms that they could start doing unconventional work themselves, that they can bring a high level of design and comfort to a project that doesn’t usually have access to it.”

To call MMA unconventional could be considered an understatement. As one of only a handful of black firms in the country, they have long struggled to get work. “Old prejudices die hard,” Mphahlwa said. “Some people take one look at me and do not believe I can build them a house.” The firm took a number of government commissions out of a sense of civic pride and duty but also because they had little choice. Thanks to the success of those projects, including embassies in Berlin and Adis Ababa, they have been able to afford more humanitarian work.

As a testament to MMA’s commitment to that work, when asked what he would do with his share of the money, Mpahlwa said he would probably buy a few more 10X10 houses and send some underprivileged kids to architecture school. On top of the two he has already sent.

Matt Chaban


sandbags HELP FORM THE STRUCTURAL CORE OF THE HOUSE.
 
 

MMA has plans for ten houses in a housing project in cape town, arranged somewhat like in this model, where some houses have been combined into double-wide units.
 
 

Mphahlwa admires his work...
 
 

As do a group of local boys.
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Glass Dynamics
Jim Brady

In the Clear: Taking Advantage of Glass’ Two-Way Street

By Aaron Seward

The great pursuit in glass architecture, and thus the technology that feeds it, is and has been for energy efficiency. More specifically, it is the elusive quest to design the most transparent building possible while at the same time mitigating heat gain and glare delivered by the sun. The failure thus far to achieve a balance between fulfilling this architectural ideal and creating an environmentally responsible and comfortable built environment was aptly illustrated by the recent backlash against glass condos. The Wall Street Journal ran an article this August chronicling a spate of horror stories from residents who didn’t anticipate what it means to live in a glass house at the beginning of the new millennium. The harrowing details included faded furniture, the impossibility of watching television during the day, peeping Toms ogling daughters, Windex sizzling to an impossible-to-remove gunk, and cooling systems unable to compensate for the unfettered glory of the sun.

Aside from these issues of individual comfort and livability, it seems clear that, when looking at how we might reduce our overall carbon footprint, glass (our most ubiquitous contemporary building material) is a good place to start. A study issued by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, estimates that windows are responsible for 2.15 quadrillion BTUs of heating energy consumption and 1.48 quadrillion BTUs of cooling energy consumption within the United States annually, or 30 percent of building electrical loads nationwide. The same study estimates that an overnight replacement of the nation’s window stock with existing high-insulating glass technologies, such as low-emittance coatings and multi-pane units, would result in energy savings of approximately 1.2 quadrillion BTUs, while a similar upgrade to future technologies, currently under research and development at LBNL, could save a potential 3.9 quadrillion BTUs.

Oddly enough, these future technologies seek to improve energy ratings by taking advantage of the very quality that seems to be glass’ greatest weakness: its transmissiveness. “Glass is one of the few building materials out there that allows energy to flow both ways at the same time,” said Chris Barry, technical director at glass manufacturer Pilkington. “In the summer that can be beneficial by allowing heat to escape the interior, while in the winter it lets in the sun’s warmth.”

Ever since the oil embargo of the 1970s, when energy costs went through the roof, the industry has been trying to make glass walls behave more like brick walls in terms of insulation values. This has been successful to the point that today people who have installed low-e solutions in their homes are complaining that when they sit in their breakfast nook in the morning they feel cold. The alternative to this approach is what is commonly known as “smart glass” or “switchable glazing,” in other words, a glass unit whose opacity or reflectiveness can be altered to deflect or transmit more or less of the sun’s energy, thus creating a dynamic barrier that can be optimally tailored to environmental conditions as they change throughout the day or the year.

Smart glass has been developed in a number of varieties, including polymer dispersed liquid crystal, suspended particle, and electrochromic devices. Liquid crystal glass has become popular for privacy screening (it was famously used inRem Koolhaas’Prada stores), but it has no energy-saving benefits. Basically, two layers of glass sandwich transparent electrical conductors enveloping a thin layer of liquid crystal droplets. When in the “off” position, the liquid crystals scatter light, giving the unit a milky white appearance, but when an electrical current is applied the crystals align according to the electric field and assume a transparent state. The change between these two states is instantaneous and there is no middle ground between them.

Suspended particle glass is almost identical in its assembly, except that microscopic rod-like particles, rather than liquid crystals, float in a fluid between the conducting and glass layers. Without an electrical current, the rods fall into random organizations and tend to absorb light, whereas when a current is applied they align to allow light to pass through. Unlike liquid crystal, suspended particle devices can be dimmed to allow more or less light and heat to pass through. Both of these systems require a small but constant electrical current to remain transparent, while the third system, electrochromic, requires a current to affect the change in transparency, but once that change takes place the current is no longer needed. This system is currently the focus of most smart glass research at LBNL. The system works by passing a burst charge through several microscopically thin layers on the glass surface, activating a layer of tungsten oxide and causing it to turn from clear to dark. The reverse change takes place when the charge is passed the opposite way. A mirror system has also been developed that transitions from clear to reflective. Electrochromic systems remain transparent across their switching range—between approximately five and 80 percent transmittance—and can be modulated to any intermediate state.

According to Eleanor Lee, a building technology expert at LBNL, electrochromic glass is on the cusp of being ready for large-scale use, but there are still several impediments. “It’s an emerging technology,” said Lee, “people don’t know about it, it costs more than available systems, and there are many unknowns.” The building industry is notoriously sheepish about using new materials, as the cost of a major failure could be ruinous, but what the technology needs to get off the ground is exactly the type of investment that a large project would provide. Lee pointed out the New York Times Building, which significantly boosted the research and development of external and motorized shading systems. “Manufacturers are willing to do a big project,” she said. “That amount of money would give them the start up cost to bring in the people to engineer the product.”

Another sticking point, of course, lies with the architectural leadership, who will have to decide whether or not they’re willing to allow the external aspect of their buildings to be tossed about willy-nilly by the whimsy of occupants and the demands of the passing sun.

Aaron Seward is an associate editor at AN.

 


  


David Franck

 

Trumpf Gatehouse
Ditzingen, Germany
Barkow Leibinger Architects with Werner Sobek

 Trumpf, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of machine and laser tools, won’t open its 90,000-square-foot expansion in Ditzingen, Germany until mid-2009, but one can get a sense of what’s to come from the spectacular Gatehouse, which was designed by Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin and opened on the Trumpf campus in late 2007.

A honeycombed membrane of stainless steel cantilevers 60 feet over and floats above a 400-square-foot rectangular glass box that houses a reception and waiting area. The roof is a pattern of triangles that compress based on the changing structural forces over its surface. The roof, which was fabricated in-house at Trumpf, is an interesting formal experiment and a celebration of Trumpf’s advanced laser technology, but it is the Miesian glass box beneath that endows the sizeable overhang with its dramatic effect.

With engineering consultant Werner Sobek and manufacturer Glaszentrum Schweikert, Barkow Leibinger developed a 12-inch double non-bearing facade of two layers of low-emission float glass that gives the impression that the planar roof hovers in thin air. However, as Frank Barkow explains, the dynamic roof sits on a core of four columns inside the box while connected to the glass facade by an accordion-shaped rubber gasket that was developed by the team of engineers and architects specifically for this pavilion. Between the two glass surfaces of the facade, the architects stacked Plexiglas tubes of varying diameter, which provide subtle shading to the interiors. The team developed a custom detail of dark Plexiglas structural posts that run vertically between the glass sandwich panels, which are stronger than glass and make the whole facade read as a transparent plane. The interior glass panel is operable to allow for the occasional cleaning of the tubes, which are glued together for easy access. Together, the double facade, the tubes, and the screens lower the cooling costs of the pavilion. It is at night, when the honeycomb roof is lit by LED lights and when the Plexiglas tubes trap the light from the interiors between the layers of glass in an eerie-looking blurry effect, that the Gatehouse appears ready to drift off in a world of its own.

David van der Leer is a frequent contributor to AN.

 


  


Courtesy Simone Giostra/Arup/Ruogu

 

Xicui Entertainment Complex
Beijing, China
Simone Giostra & Partners with Arup

The buildings designed for the Beijing Olympics hardly lacked in spectacle, but New York architect Simone Giostra created one that is aimed more toward the gallery crowd than gym-goers. The 24,000-square-foot media wall called Greenpix, which covers the entire facade of the six-story Xicui Entertainment Complex, is an all-glass facade that collects solar energy during the day and gives off tantalizing patterns of vibrant colors at night. Unlike many similar (though smaller) media walls, typically used for display advertising, this one was created to showcase video works. For its opening, Greenpix’s lead curator Luis Gui worked with Shanghai-based curator Defne Ayas, who commissioned pieces by artists Aaaijao and Shi Chieh Huang of China, and Varara Shavrova of Russia.

However inspiring it may be from an aesthetic perspective, it is the system’s sustainability that is of most interest to Giostra, who developed the wall in collaboration with Arup. Together with two German glass manufacturers, Schueco and Sunways, they created a technology to laminate polycrystalline solar cells into glass panels. “It is the most radical example of photovoltaic technology applied to an entire building envelope,” said Giostra. The solar panels have been embedded in the glass panels, some of which are set at an angle, in a pattern of varying density that depends on the nature of the spaces inside and their requirements for daylight. These solar cells provide energy to the roughly 2,300 LED light points, which are intentionally distributed at a lower resolution than generally used for media walls, contributing to the wall’s special abstract quality.

The standard media wall is designed to have an even light intensity throughout the course of a day, but the brightness of Greenpix’s diodes depends on the weather. After a gray day the facade glows subtly at night, whereas a sunny day results in a feast of color. Arup tested over 200 different full-scale prototypes on site in Beijing for more than a year to see what combinations of interlayer, treatments, thickness, solar cells, and textures provided the highest possible performance. The combination they finally installed is projected to maintain 80 percent of its nominal efficiency for the next two decades, during which the wall is expected to become a platform for site specific works made by future generations of video artists.  DVDL

 


 


Scott Frances

 

1099 New York Avenue
Washington, D.C.
Thomas Phifer and Partners

With its strict height limits and bevy of bureaucratic institutions, the District of Columbia has long favored architectural harmony and conformity over innovative design. How refreshing, then, to see a commonplace glass-box office building raise the bar for design in the Capital without disrupting the city’s intended uniformity.

Designed by New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners, 1099 New York Avenue is an eleven-story, 173,000-square-foot office building, developed by Tishman Speyer, with a crystalline facade that expresses its materiality and, thanks to meticulous detailing, offers what Phifer calls a subtle “sense of surprise.” “Jerry Speyer wanted a special building with a unique skin,” said Phifer, “and he wanted to do it in D.C.” On first glance 1099 might look like a particularly well wrought version of the ultra-glassy office building— at times perfectly transparent, at others so reflective as to nearly disappear—such as SOM’s World Trade Center Seven. As you get closer, however, you see that rather than striving for a pure planar surface, Phifer has created something, literally, more multifaceted.

Rather than using a curtain wall system, Phifer opted for a custom window wall over the building’s thin concrete frame (Washington’s height limits make ultra thin floor plates a must). Each pane of glass is tilted six inches in both plan and section, giving the building a sense of depth and shimmer. “We wanted it to be a detail, rather than a gesture,” Pfifer said. “If it had been a big gesture, that would give away the sense of surprise.” A cast stainless steel clip, visible from below, supports the pane. “The clip expresses the weight of the panes.” The five-inch deep by eight-inch long clips also add to the texture of the facades.

The large twelve-and-a-half-feet long by five-and-a-half-feet wide low-emission Viracon panes function like shingles, allowing water to run down and drip off the facades during storms. At ground level, an installation by artist Matthew Ritchie helps enliven the streetscape. The building, which follows the contour of the lot where the Washington grid is bisected by a diagonal avenue, responds to its site, respecting its context while showing that even a small speculative office building, with the right attention to detailing, can reflect higher ambitions.

Alan G. Brake is an associate editor at AN.

 


 

  
M. Moulinet/Polkop/Courtesy Rolinet & Associes

 

Chapelle des Diaconesses
Versailles, France
Rolinet & Associés

In Versailles, in a park dotted with trees, sits the Chapelle des Diaconesses, a cocoon of superimposed pine wood strips inside a triangular glass structure. The small chapel, which opened to the public in 2007, replaced a large cloth tent that the Protestant Community of the Deaconesses used over a period of 20 years for its largest ceremonies. French architect Marc Rolinet’s modern interpretation of religious architecture subtly refers to this former place of worship. The sisters of the parish requested a chapel that would be firmly rooted in the 21st century, and that “offers modern people an interior that combines beauty, intimacy, and celebration, and that invites them to reflect and find peace.”

Rolinet set out to design a lightweight glass structure that follows the hilly topography of the site and provides an arcade between the wood and glass that is now used for quiet reflection. The envelope, made out of laminated safety glass with a structural interlayer by DuPont and manufactured by Saint-Gobain, protects the wooden chapel from the weather and forms an optimal acoustic barrier to the railroad station close by. Stronger than conventional laminating materials, the interlayers help create safety glass that protects against bigger storms, larger impacts, and more powerful blasts. The layers become an engineered component within the glass, holding more weight, so the glass can serve as a more active structural element in the building envelope. And they do all this while increasing framing system design freedom and improving long-term weather resistance. Marc Rolinet stated, “The structural calculations performed by DuPont and Saint-Gobain Glass enabled us to reduce the glass thickness, increase the pitch, and lighten the supporting structure.” Without the structural interlayer, the glass would have been thicker—and therefore more expensive. It also allowed for a direct integration of the fixing devices into the laminated inner glass layers. The structure spans a large distance, and allows for a minimal number of steel girders. But in the end it was the mirror-like effect that convinced Rolinet to use this material instead of conventional laminated glass—an effect that now at certain points of the day allows for a spectacular reflection of the charming park surrounding the chapel.   DVDL

 


  


Jim Brady

 

LOFTS @ 655 6th
San Diego
Public

Lofts @ 655 6th, a seven-story, mixed-use project that opened last December on the edge of San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp districts, uses an innovative glass system to distinguish what is a fairly simple structure from the city’s many other new residential buildings.

The project is one of the few new rental properties in a city awash in high-end condos. In order to save money, maximize space, and create a more authentic loft-like ambience than the traditional configurations that are dressed up to look like lofts, and which are so common today in San Diego, local firm Public built a huge concrete box at the core of the 106-unit building. The 100,000-square-foot structure then steps down to the east to address the neighborhood.

The infill glazing system cladding the core is made up of a varied pattern of small and large glazed squares. All are very transparent, but highly energy-efficient, with a U-value of .41. To further animate the facade, Public hung an irregularly spaced clear tempered glass screen system over the project’s west-facing balconies. The screen is fitted with a perforated vinyl film—similar to the films used to create many billboards—that displays a sepia-toned photo-abstraction of live oak trees, created by photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann. Not only does the screen add complexity to the building, but its shading helped the building pass its state-mandated requirements for solar gain.

When the film needs to be replaced in about five years, the firm hopes the developer will hold a call for entries to find a new artist, thus ensuring a new look for the building. “Our only agreement with the city is that the new image not be distasteful or commercial,” said firm principal James Gates. The building has been a hit, and is fully leased, despite being completed just prior to the recent economic doldrums. “We’re very proud of what we were able to get for the money,” said Gates.

Sam Lubell is AN’s California editor.

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Interior Motives
The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin (1850) by Eduard Gaertner.
Courtesy Cooper-Hewitt

The 71 watercolor drawings showcased in the exhibition House Proud: Nineteenth-century Watercolor Interiors from the Thaw Collection, on view at the Cooper-Hewitt, invite museum-goers to leave the darkly paneled galleries of Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion and enter into the salons, drawing rooms, winter gardens, libraries, studies, and bedrooms of 19th-century European royalty, nobility, and the emerging haute bourgeoisie.

Painted by both amateur and professional artists, these intimate watercolors, paired with related objects from the museum’s collection, trace the evolution of domestic interiors, ranging in style from Neoclassicism to exoticism to Gothic and Rococo revival, and document the social, cultural, and aesthetic development of domestic life. The drawings are similar in composition to the photographs that appear in the shelter magazines of today, and with their obsessive detailing of architectural elements, furnishings, and bric-a-brac, appeal to the developing consumer culture of the era.

The exhibition includes examples of drawings that were published in building guides and other books authored for those designing interiors; however, the majority of the works were commissioned by proud homeowners and collected in albums as heirlooms, presented as gifts to visiting dignitaries, or prominently displayed in the house itself.




Top: The Circular Dining Room at Carlton House, London, Charles Wild (1819). above: The Dressing Room of King Ludwig I at the Munich Residenz, Franz Xaver Nachtmann (1836).
courtesy cooper-hewitt

 
 

Jules-Frédéric Bouchet’s A Small Salon in the Montpensier Wing, Palais Royal (1830) shows King Louis-Philippe’s penchant for the French-Empire style. Renovated by Pierre Fontaine, the room reflects Empire trends in furniture arrangement, with a table placed in the center of the room and a reclining sofa located in the corner. This style became popular with members of the noble and upper class, as seen in Hilaire Thierry’s watercolor, A Salon in the Empire Taste (1820–1830), that details mythological scenes above the doorway and tea-related objects, similar to those designed by Percier and Fontaine for Napoleon and Josephine.

The watercolors document private interior spaces, as well as those that are used for public occasions. John Nash’s Chinese Gallery As It Was (1838) shows couples promenading past Chinese porcelains in the exotic gallery of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, designed for George IV. The popular chinoiserie style is seen in Eduard Gaertner’s The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin (1850), with its bright yellow upholstered furniture, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, and pale blue ceiling covered with birds. Though uninhabited, the room is filled with life and personality, and the viewer can easily project himself into the scene, settling into a bamboo armchair for tea.

Anna Alma-Tadema intimately depicts the library at Townshend House, London, decorated in the “aesthetic” style by her father, the Dutch painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. The watercolor captures the comfort of the room, with its Japanese porcelain, inviting sofa covered with a fur throw, and mullioned casement windows. Adjacent to Alma-Tadema’s work are spectacular metamorphic library table-steps, as well as imported bark cloth, similar to that seen in the watercolor. Not to be missed, however, is the spectacular shellwork bouquet in the final gallery. Hermetically sealed under a glass dome, this curiosity illustrates how the meticulous attention to detail common in 19th-century objects could produce strange yet awe-inspiring examples of high design.

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Glass Dynamics
Scott Frances

In the Clear: Taking Advantage of Glass’ Two-Way Street

By Aaron Seward

The great pursuit in glass architecture, and thus the technology that feeds it, is and has been for energy efficiency. More specifically, it is the elusive quest to design the most transparent building possible while at the same time mitigating heat gain and glare delivered by the sun. The failure thus far to achieve a balance between fulfilling this architectural ideal and creating an environmentally responsible and comfortable built environment was aptly illustrated by the recent backlash against glass condos. The Wall Street Journal ran an article this August chronicling a spate of horror stories from residents who didn’t anticipate what it means to live in a glass house at the beginning of the new millennium. The harrowing details included faded furniture, the impossibility of watching television during the day, peeping Toms ogling daughters, Windex sizzling to an impossible-to-remove gunk, and cooling systems unable to compensate for the unfettered glory of the sun.

Aside from these issues of individual comfort and livability, it seems clear that, when looking at how we might reduce our overall carbon footprint, glass (our most ubiquitous contemporary building material) is a good place to start. A study issued by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, estimates that windows are responsible for 2.15 quadrillion BTUs of heating energy consumption and 1.48 quadrillion BTUs of cooling energy consumption within the United States annually, or 30 percent of building electrical loads nationwide. The same study estimates that an overnight replacement of the nation’s window stock with existing high-insulating glass technologies, such as low-emittance coatings and multi-pane units, would result in energy savings of approximately 1.2 quadrillion BTUs, while a similar upgrade to future technologies, currently under research and development at LBNL, could save a potential 3.9 quadrillion BTUs.

Oddly enough, these future technologies seek to improve energy ratings by taking advantage of the very quality that seems to be glass’ greatest weakness: its transmissiveness. “Glass is one of the few building materials out there that allows energy to flow both ways at the same time,” said Chris Barry, technical director at glass manufacturer Pilkington. “In the summer that can be beneficial by allowing heat to escape the interior, while in the winter it lets in the sun’s warmth.”

Ever since the oil embargo of the 1970s, when energy costs went through the roof, the industry has been trying to make glass walls behave more like brick walls in terms of insulation values. This has been successful to the point that today people who have installed low-e solutions in their homes are complaining that when they sit in their breakfast nook in the morning they feel cold. The alternative to this approach is what is commonly known as “smart glass” or “switchable glazing,” in other words, a glass unit whose opacity or reflectiveness can be altered to deflect or transmit more or less of the sun’s energy, thus creating a dynamic barrier that can be optimally tailored to environmental conditions as they change throughout the day or the year.


  

 

Trumpf Gatehouse
Ditzingen, Germany
Barkow Leibinger Architects with Werner Sobek

 Trumpf, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of machine and laser tools, won’t open its 90,000-square-foot expansion in Ditzingen, Germany until mid-2009, but one can get a sense of what’s to come from the spectacular Gatehouse, which was designed by Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin and opened on the Trumpf campus in late 2007.

A honeycombed membrane of stainless steel cantilevers 60 feet over and floats above a 400-square-foot rectangular glass box that houses a reception and waiting area. The roof is a pattern of triangles that compress based on the changing structural forces over its surface. The roof, which was fabricated in-house at Trumpf, is an interesting formal experiment and a celebration of Trumpf’s advanced laser technology, but it is the Miesian glass box beneath that endows the sizeable overhang with its dramatic effect.

With engineering consultant Werner Sobek and manufacturer Glaszentrum Schweikert, Barkow Leibinger developed a 12-inch double non-bearing facade of two layers of low-emission float glass that gives the impression that the planar roof hovers in thin air. However, as Frank Barkow explains, the dynamic roof sits on a core of four columns inside the box while connected to the glass facade by an accordion-shaped rubber gasket that was developed by the team of engineers and architects specifically for this pavilion. Between the two glass surfaces of the facade, the architects stacked Plexiglas tubes of varying diameter, which provide subtle shading to the interiors. The team developed a custom detail of dark Plexiglas structural posts that run vertically between the glass sandwich panels, which are stronger than glass and make the whole facade read as a transparent plane. The interior glass panel is operable to allow for the occasional cleaning of the tubes, which are glued together for easy access. Together, the double facade, the tubes, and the screens lower the cooling costs of the pavilion. It is at night, when the honeycomb roof is lit by LED lights and when the Plexiglas tubes trap the light from the interiors between the layers of glass in an eerie-looking blurry effect, that the Gatehouse appears ready to drift off in a world of its own.

David van der Leer is a frequent contributor to AN.

 


  

Xicui Entertainment Complex
Beijing, China
Simone Giostra & Partners with Arup

The buildings designed for the Beijing Olympics hardly lacked in spectacle, but New York architect Simone Giostra created one that is aimed more toward the gallery crowd than gym-goers. The 24,000-square-foot media wall called Greenpix, which covers the entire facade of the six-story Xicui Entertainment Complex, is an all-glass facade that collects solar energy during the day and gives off tantalizing patterns of vibrant colors at night. Unlike many similar (though smaller) media walls, typically used for display advertising, this one was created to showcase video works. For its opening, Greenpix’s lead curator Luis Gui worked with Shanghai-based curator Defne Ayas, who commissioned pieces by artists Aaaijao and Shi Chieh Huang of China, and Varara Shavrova of Russia.

However inspiring it may be from an aesthetic perspective, it is the system’s sustainability that is of most interest to Giostra, who developed the wall in collaboration with Arup. Together with two German glass manufacturers, Schueco and Sunways, they created a technology to laminate polycrystalline solar cells into glass panels. “It is the most radical example of photovoltaic technology applied to an entire building envelope,” said Giostra. The solar panels have been embedded in the glass panels, some of which are set at an angle, in a pattern of varying density that depends on the nature of the spaces inside and their requirements for daylight. These solar cells provide energy to the roughly 2,300 LED light points, which are intentionally distributed at a lower resolution than generally used for media walls, contributing to the wall’s special abstract quality.

The standard media wall is designed to have an even light intensity throughout the course of a day, but the brightness of Greenpix’s diodes depends on the weather. After a gray day the facade glows subtly at night, whereas a sunny day results in a feast of color. Arup tested over 200 different full-scale prototypes on site in Beijing for more than a year to see what combinations of interlayer, treatments, thickness, solar cells, and textures provided the highest possible performance. The combination they finally installed is projected to maintain 80 percent of its nominal efficiency for the next two decades, during which the wall is expected to become a platform for site specific works made by future generations of video artists.  DVDL

 


 

 

1099 New York Avenue
Washington, D.C.
Thomas Phifer and Partners

With its strict height limits and bevy of bureaucratic institutions, the District of Columbia has long favored architectural harmony and conformity over innovative design. How refreshing, then, to see a commonplace glass-box office building raise the bar for design in the Capital without disrupting the city’s intended uniformity.

Designed by New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners, 1099 New York Avenue is an eleven-story, 173,000-square-foot office building, developed by Tishman Speyer, with a crystalline facade that expresses its materiality and, thanks to meticulous detailing, offers what Phifer calls a subtle “sense of surprise.” “Jerry Speyer wanted a special building with a unique skin,” said Phifer, “and he wanted to do it in D.C.” On first glance 1099 might look like a particularly well wrought version of the ultra-glassy office building— at times perfectly transparent, at others so reflective as to nearly disappear—such as SOM’s World Trade Center Seven. As you get closer, however, you see that rather than striving for a pure planar surface, Phifer has created something, literally, more multifaceted.

Rather than using a curtain wall system, Phifer opted for a custom window wall over the building’s thin concrete frame (Washington’s height limits make ultra thin floor plates a must). Each pane of glass is tilted six inches in both plan and section, giving the building a sense of depth and shimmer. “We wanted it to be a detail, rather than a gesture,” Pfifer said. “If it had been a big gesture, that would give away the sense of surprise.” A cast stainless steel clip, visible from below, supports the pane. “The clip expresses the weight of the panes.” The five-inch deep by eight-inch long clips also add to the texture of the facades.

The large twelve-and-a-half-feet long by five-and-a-half-feet wide low-emission Viracon panes function like shingles, allowing water to run down and drip off the facades during storms. At ground level, an installation by artist Matthew Ritchie helps enliven the streetscape. The building, which follows the contour of the lot where the Washington grid is bisected by a diagonal avenue, responds to its site, respecting its context while showing that even a small speculative office building, with the right attention to detailing, can reflect higher ambitions.

Alan G. Brake is an associate editor at AN.

 


 

  

 

Chapelle des Diaconesses
Versailles, France
Rolinet & Associés

In Versailles, in a park dotted with trees, sits the Chapelle des Diaconesses, a cocoon of superimposed pine wood strips inside a triangular glass structure. The small chapel, which opened to the public in 2007, replaced a large cloth tent that the Protestant Community of the Deaconesses used over a period of 20 years for its largest ceremonies. French architect Marc Rolinet’s modern interpretation of religious architecture subtly refers to this former place of worship. The sisters of the parish requested a chapel that would be firmly rooted in the 21st century, and that “offers modern people an interior that combines beauty, intimacy, and celebration, and that invites them to reflect and find peace.”

Rolinet set out to design a lightweight glass structure that follows the hilly topography of the site and provides an arcade between the wood and glass that is now used for quiet reflection. The envelope, made out of laminated safety glass with a structural interlayer by DuPont and manufactured by Saint-Gobain, protects the wooden chapel from the weather and forms an optimal acoustic barrier to the railroad station close by. Stronger than conventional laminating materials, the interlayers help create safety glass that protects against bigger storms, larger impacts, and more powerful blasts. The layers become an engineered component within the glass, holding more weight, so the glass can serve as a more active structural element in the building envelope. And they do all this while increasing framing system design freedom and improving long-term weather resistance. Marc Rolinet stated, “The structural calculations performed by DuPont and Saint-Gobain Glass enabled us to reduce the glass thickness, increase the pitch, and lighten the supporting structure.” Without the structural interlayer, the glass would have been thicker—and therefore more expensive. It also allowed for a direct integration of the fixing devices into the laminated inner glass layers. The structure spans a large distance, and allows for a minimal number of steel girders. But in the end it was the mirror-like effect that convinced Rolinet to use this material instead of conventional laminated glass—an effect that now at certain points of the day allows for a spectacular reflection of the charming park surrounding the chapel.   DVDL

 


  

 

LOFTS @ 655 6th
San Diego
Public

Lofts @ 655 6th, a seven-story, mixed-use project that opened last December on the edge of San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp districts, uses an innovative glass system to distinguish what is a fairly simple structure from the city’s many other new residential buildings.

The project is one of the few new rental properties in a city awash in high-end condos. In order to save money, maximize space, and create a more authentic loft-like ambience than the traditional configurations that are dressed up to look like lofts, and which are so common today in San Diego, local firm Public built a huge concrete box at the core of the 106-unit building. The 100,000-square-foot structure then steps down to the east to address the neighborhood.

The infill glazing system cladding the core is made up of a varied pattern of small and large glazed squares. All are very transparent, but highly energy-efficient, with a U-value of .41. To further animate the facade, Public hung an irregularly spaced clear tempered glass screen system over the project’s west-facing balconies. The screen is fitted with a perforated vinyl film—similar to the films used to create many billboards—that displays a sepia-toned photo-abstraction of live oak trees, created by photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann. Not only does the screen add complexity to the building, but its shading helped the building pass its state-mandated requirements for solar gain.

When the film needs to be replaced in about five years, the firm hopes the developer will hold a call for entries to find a new artist, thus ensuring a new look for the building. “Our only agreement with the city is that the new image not be distasteful or commercial,” said firm principal James Gates. The building has been a hit, and is fully leased, despite being completed just prior to the recent economic doldrums. “We’re very proud of what we were able to get for the money,” said Gates.

Sam Lubell is AN’s California editor.

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Fitful Sleep
Introductory panel to Episode 3: The Tower (The Fall), 1980, Bernard Tschumi.
Courtesy MoMA

Dreamland: Architectural Experiments Since the 1970s
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through March 2, 2009

After viewing Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling at MoMA, do not overlook Dreamland: Architectural Experiments Since the 1970s, on exhibit a couple of flights down in the architecture and design galleries. Drawn primarily from the permanent collection, the show focuses on visionary architecture from the seventies that reckoned with New York, including works by Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Raimund Abraham, Superstudio, and others, and culminates with contemporary works influenced or inflected by these visionary ideas.

Many of the early works are large, meticulously rendered drawings of the city altered by radical architectural interventions, which, though some are iconic, such as Superstudio’s Continuous Monument (1969), seem remarkably fresh. Most involve superstructures inserted into a dense and chaotic urban fabric. For all these works’ radicalism, a nostalgic atmosphere pervades much of the 1970s work: Koolhaas’ Plan of Dreamland, Coney Island, New York, New York (1977), for which the show is named, is a plan for the historic amusement park, a place filled with real and invented memories.


 
 

COURTESY MoMA
 
Plan of Dreamland, 1977, Rem Koolhaas (top); Church of Solitude, transverse section, 1974-1977, Gaetano Pesce (above).
 
 

This somewhat paradoxical backward-looking atmosphere is underscored by the old-timey music playing in the gallery tracked to Madelon Vriesendorp, Teri When-Damisch, and Jean-Pierre Jacquet’s animated film Caught in the Act (1979), depicting the seduction of the Chrysler Building by the Empire State Building. Stills from the film, which until recently was thought to be lost, illustrate Koolhaas’ book Delirious New York, which curator Andres Lepik uses as the intellectual frame for the show.

“Many Europeans were coming to New York, seeing it as a field for experimentation,” Lepik told AN while walking through the exhibition. The city was then in a period of decline and crisis, so perhaps these architects saw their visions as redemptive forces, or at least saw the city’s degraded condition as rife with potential. Gaetano Pesce’s astonishing Church of Solitude, New York, New York, transverse section (1974–77) project includes tiny classical ruins at the mouth of his enormous church, hollowed out of the ground like a geometric cave. Interestingly, much of the 1970s work seems to reject a tabula rasa approach, signaling that though these architects were still thinking big, they had internalized the problems of large-scale urban renewal without lapsing into historicist recreations or capitalist capitulations—there isn’t a festival marketplace in sight.

The show loses steam as it moves toward the present and as its geographic range widens. Non-Cartesian formal investigation becomes a stand-in for the visionary. A large table of models fills the center of the room, and while they are a joy to see, many also feel like filler (Steven Holl’s Bridge Houses Project, Melbourne Australia [1979–82] is a notable exception). Most of the contemporary projects are houses, which Lepik argues are expressions of the persistent architectural fantasy of bringing urbanity to the countryside. But is Lindy Roy’s Sagaponack House really all that visionary? Many of the recent specimens included seem more like fashion, vestiges of the previous chief curator’s enthusiasms.

New York, it seems, is no longer the petri dish of architectural experimentation it once was. But though China and the Middle East may hold out the promise of endless possibility, a tabula rasa view of urbanism also seems to have returned to the work of many practitioners, including some included in the first part of the exhibition. Though absent from the show, these locales are hinted at, perhaps inadvertently. A model of Peter Eisenman’s Max Reinhardt House, Berlin (1992–93), prescient of the CCTV Tower with its contorted loop form, sits in the center of the room, prompting the question: Has Koolhaas’ dreamland evolved into a contemporary nightmare?