All posts in City Terrain

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Proof of Concept

Elon Musk to bypass environmental review for test tunnel in L.A.
Billionaire Elon Musk and his Boring Company are moving forward with plans to build an underground network of personal vehicle tunnels below the streets of Los Angeles.  After drilling a preliminary tunnel below the Tesla and SpaceX company headquarters in nearby Hawthorne, California, the company is now moving forward with an additional 2.7-mile “proof-of-concept” tunnel for a “zero-emissions, high-speed, underground, alternative means of transit for personal vehicles and/or single-rider use” that will run under Sepulveda Boulevard on L.A.’s Westside. The test tunnel will begin at 2352-2356 South Sepulveda Boulevard, a property owned by The Boring Company, Urbanize.LA reports. From there, it will run roughly 30-70 feet below ground to an area below the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City. The tunnel will not daylight at this point, according to initial documentation.   The tunneling depth will allow the engineers to avoid underground utilities and other potential obstructions and is subject to change as conditions closer to the surface permit. Though the route has been vetted for the potential existence of archeological and paleontological materials, plans for independent monitors will be put in place should any sensitive resources be discovered over the course of work on the tunnel. In order to build the tunnel, The Boring Company has received a preliminary reprieve from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) restrictions at the behest of the Los Angeles City Council, which will also take up the final approval for the concept on behalf of the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering if the test tunnels are successful. Further sections beyond the test tunnel will be subject to a variety of environmental and community reviews.  The test tunnels will not be available for public use and will be used solely for testing of a proposed “skate” technology that could eventually be used to ferry automobiles and passengers throughout the system.  The test tunnel is expected to be completed in nine months; a final timeline for approval and construction of a usable tunnel has not yet been released. 
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Fix it, pass it, build it

Controversial California housing bill is amended for both pro-housing and tenant advocates
California State Senator Scott Weiner has unveiled a slate of new amendments aimed at shoring up support behind his controversial housing bill—SB-827—that could potentially spell the beginning of a detente between pro-housing and social justice-focused advocacy groups in the state. In a Medium post published Monday night, Weiner laid the groundwork for this potential reconciliation by addressing some of the thorniest aspects of the bill critics have lamented thus far, while also proposing the addition of key new elements. Additions to SB-827 include mandatory affordable housing requirements, strengthening demolition controls outlined specifically by the bill, and doing away with the most significant height increases allowed by SB-827. Weiner’s bill has been heavily criticized from multiple angles since it was introduced earlier this year. On one side, NIMBY groups have decried the intended effects of the measure—densification along transit stops and an erosion of parking and height limits associated with development in these areas—while groups that represent low-income residents and communities of color have targeted the bill as yet another instance of top-down exploitation. In response to the latter set of critiques, Weiner added a bevy of pro-tenant fixes to the legislation several weeks ago, proposing a so-called “right to remain” that would require developers to offer new units to existing tenants for projects that benefit from the bill’s new development standards, among other fixes. The most recent crop of changes aims to further soften the edges of the bill, while making explicit elements that were only hinted at before. The biggest change comes from the addition of an affordable housing requirement for all but the smallest projects. The bill will now require between 10 and 20 percent of new units constructed to be set aside as deed-restricted affordable housing, with specific allotments made for “low income” and “very low income” households within these new guidelines. The highest inclusionary requirements are triggered for mixed-use projects consisting of 25 percent or more office space, according to the post, with projects made up of nine or fewer units exempt from inclusionary rules. While the proposed bill did not initially propose to strip away local control over building demolitions, the updated language would penalize developers who utilize California’s controversial Ellis Act provision to evict tenants from rent-controlled units. In a significant win for rent-stabilized households, the bill will halt the issuance of a demolition permit on properties that have recorded an Ellis Act eviction within the last five years, meaning that landlords will not be allowed to evict rent-controlled tenants in order to demolish an existing structure to make way for market-rate or luxury development. Going one step further, the bill will also aim for a so-called “no net loss” strategy that will force developers to replace any demolished rent controlled units lost in the process of redevelopment. These protections will apply in addition to the right-to-remain and inclusionary requirements, so if, for example, an existing 10-unit, rent-controlled structure is demolished, the new development must include 10 new rent-controlled units, add roughly one new deed-restricted affordable unit, and allow all ten existing tenants to take up their old leases at similar rents as before, with however many remaining new units set aside as market-rate homes. The new compromises represent a victory for social justice groups and low-income tenants and could potentially smooth out opposition to the bill in some of these communities, though that is yet to be seen. Another key change is that the bill would no longer totally eliminate parking requirements for transit-adjacent areas, but allows up to 0.5 parking stalls per unit for developments located along high-frequency bus routes and for developments located more than a quarter-mile from a rail stop or a ferry terminal. The bill will also require developers to issue monthly transit passes to building tenants. The new bill would also scrap a previous 85-foot height limit imposed on transit-adjacent properties in order to “focus the bill on 45- to 55-foot wood frame buildings,” which Weiner contends are more affordable to build than the steel structure buildings that would be required at the higher limit. The additional height limits will also no longer apply to rapid bus-adjacent sites, though those parcels will still benefit from lower parking and higher density restrictions. The bill is making its way toward formal hearings on the California State Senate floor. For more information on the changes, see Weiner’s post.
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Post-Industrial Oasis

Sasaki and Studio-MLA to redevelop Port of L.A. waterfront
Designs for a transformative make-over of the Wilmington waterfront at the Port of Los Angeles are steadily moving forward as new renderings for the project offer a glimpse of what will soon be two of L.A.’s newest public spaces. Renderings unveiled by the Port of Los Angeles showcase views of the Avalon Promenade and Gateway and the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade projects, two new open spaces designed by T.Y. Lin International and Boston-based Sasaki, respectively, on adjacent sites in conjunction with the Wilmington Waterfront Masterplan project. L.A.-based landscape architects Studio MLA is assisting with the design of the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade project. The two public spaces will cap off an L-shaped spine of new open space and future commercial development envisioned by the master plan for the formerly-industrial areas that ring the port. The nine-block plan area includes the 30-acre Wilmington Waterfront Park, also designed by Sasaki, which opened in 2011. For T.Y. Lin International’s Avalon Promenade and Gateway component, plans call for vacating sections of three streets and removing a pair of storage tanks to create a large landscaped open space that will connect the city’s urban fabric with the Wilmington Waterfront to the south. The 13-acre site will contain a public plaza at its northernmost point and will be traversed by a sculptural promenade that runs to the waterfront. The project would involve constructing a new bridge over an existing depressed rail yard, with renderings showing a new cable-stayed pedestrian bridge crossing the gap. The nine-acre Wilmington Waterfront project will be located at the end of this path abutting the harbor. Here, Sasaki and Studio MLA are working to craft an interconnected series of plazas, piers, and restaurants, including a four-acre event space and playground, according to Curbed. A below-grade section of the park will contain a cluster of accessible bathroom facilities. Renderings for these areas showcase a central lawn and plaza fronting the ocean, with active uses located at the site’s corners. The central plaza area gives way to rough-hewn boulders that step into the water, according to the renderings. The developments join a cluster of recently-announced waterfront redevelopment efforts, including the Altasea development by Gensler. Both projects are well into design and are expected to break ground later this year, in anticipation of a 2019 opening.
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50% Affordable

Dying Cupertino mall could yield 2,400 housing units under Rafael Viñoly-designed plan
Sometimes you just have to go for broke and hope for the best. At least, that seems to be the route the developers behind a massive Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed project slated for the dying Vallco mall in Cupertino, California have in mind, as they push forward with a new, denser version of their long-stalled Vallco Town Center project. Developer Sand Hill Property Company unveiled a new vision for the 55-acre site yesterday that invokes the recently-passed SB-35 state law, a measure that allows developers to override local opposition and certain environmental controls for projects that meet local zoning code and set aside a specified percentage of their proposed housing units as affordable homes. In the case of Vallco Town Center, Sand Hill Property Company is proposing a total of 2,402 units, with 1,201 of those set aside for extremely low- and low-income residents. The eye-catching project proposes replacing the city’s cratered mall with a sprawling mixed-use town square-style district containing 400,000 square feet of retail and entertainment functions, 1.81 million square feet of offices, as well as the aforementioned housing element. The entire thing, according to new renderings unveiled in tandem with the SB-35 plan, will be capped by a parabolic, publicly-accessible rooftop garden. According to a project website, the community park will feature walking and jogging trails, playing fields, picnic areas, orchards and organic gardens, children’s play zones as well as a “refuge for native species of plants and birds.” A series of public squares will also populate the retail areas, while super-sized entry portals will demarcate the development from adjacent, single-family home areas. Regarding the decision to take the SB-35 path, Reed Moulds, managing director of Sand Hill, told The Mercury News, “It has now gotten to a point where we do not have any confidence that this process can come to a conclusion in a timely manner,” adding, “This housing crisis needs to be resolved in a manner that actually provides near-term solutions, and sites like this have an opportunity to do a lot of good for the housing situation.” Under the latest plan, the Vallco development would help Cupertino surpass a state-mandated affordable housing production goal set of building 1,064 affordable units by 2022, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. The city has so far approved just over 800 affordable units via other projects. The developers have been working with community stakeholders and municipal authorities since 2015 on various versions of a proposed redevelopment plan, with the most recent reboot prior to the latest effort occurring in late-2016. Although the developers are pushing for aggressive expansion and a faster timeline with their latest version of the project, Sand Hill “does not intend for its SB-35 application to upset the ongoing planning process,” according to the project website. Under the new SB-35 regulations, local authorities have between 90 and 180 days to approve compliant projects. That gives the municipality three to six months to hammer out a compromise with Sand Hill, a prospect that is unlikely given the strong anti-housing bias city residents and officials have taken to this and similar projects. An updated construction timeline has not been provided.
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Level Up

Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne to become L.A.’s chief design officer
Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has been named chief officer of design for the City of Los Angeles. Hawthorne‘s appointment comes at the end of a 14-year tenure with the LA Times that has been marked by a pointed and persistent emphasis on the changing nature of Los Angeles urbanism. In a post announcing his new job with the city, Hawthorne said, “what links quintessential Los Angeles design is a marriage of optimism to pragmatism, of experimentation to economy.” News of Hawthorne’s change in job title comes as the region and the city grapple with an ever-increasing housing affordability crisis, a worsening homelessness epidemic, and as the city repairs to host the 2028 Olympic games. Hawthorne will have his work cut out for him, as there is no shortage of major infrastructural projects—or public funding—that could be made better from being inspected by someone with a discerning eye for design. Among other projects, the city is continuing to build out its nascent mass transit system, planning for high-speed rail, working on new zoning guidelines, and is aiming to fulfill its so far unreachable goal of eliminating pedestrian traffic deaths via its Vision Zero plan. In his new role, Hawthorne will focus on assisting other City of Los Angeles officials like Deborah Weintraub at the Bureau of Engineering and Seleta Reynolds at the Department of Transportation in their efforts to imbue progressive design qualities in the new civic and infrastructural works being built across the city. The role comes as a natural progression for Hawthorne, who has spent years working on understanding and communicating the changes Los Angeles is undergoing as it matures into the 21st century. Though it might seem strange to have a journalist and critic ascend to City Hall from the newsroom, Hawthorne would not be the first to make such a move. In the early 2000s, Chicago Sun-Times design critic Lee Bey made a similar move, jumping ship from the newspaper to become deputy chief of staff for urban design under Chicago mayor William M. Daley. Hawthorne, a Berkeley, California native, earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale. Prior to his work with the Los Angeles times Hawthorne was architecture critic for Slate. Hawthorne is expected to join the Garcetti administration next month.
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Wood Boom

Can mass timber help California build its way out of the housing crisis?
If California’s gubernatorial candidates are to fulfill their ambituous goal of adding up to 3.5 million new housing units across the state over the next eight years, new efforts will need to be undertaken to streamline and reform the state’s sagging construction industry—Could this effort create an opening for mass timber construction to take hold in the Golden State? It might, and here are a few reasons why. For one, there’s a growing push for new urban housing in California that could soon make the mid-rise apartment the state’s quintessential dwelling type. There’s strong reason to believe that if proposed regulatory changes go as planned, cities in the state could see a flowering of the kinds of four- to eight-story multi-family structures mass timber excels at delivering. With construction times running 15 to 20 percent faster than conventional building, there’s a potential mass timber technologies could help bring new units online very quickly, especially if minimum dwelling standards are set and municipalities streamline permitting and approval. Secondly, mass timber is becoming more widely-accepted as a building approach, reflecting a growing awareness of its inherent structural and fire-safety benefits. The nascent industry is cheering recent changes to the 2021 version of the International Building Code that will allow mass timber construction for structures up to 18-stories high. The shift could bring down the cost of building dense housing in the medium-sized city centers—downtown Long Beach, Glendale, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland, for example—where lots of growth could happen but has so far been lacking. At these heights, it’s possible mass timber buildings could be more affordable to build than conventional structures while still delivering the height and structural resilience formerly only possible through concrete and steel frame construction. With San Francisco and L.A. building out larger transit systems and the state’s high-speed trail line on the way, it will be important to add high density nodes throughout the state to meet climate and housing goals. Cory Scrivner, a mass timber specialist with Structurlam, explained via email that with the coming changes to IBC and looming reforms to local zoning, “The market for mass timber will be growing significantly over the next few years.” With disruptive and new tariffs on foreign-grown softwood and imported steel and aluminum, its possible there could be further financial incentives to build structures made from regionally-grown timber, as well. Katerra, a Menlo Park, California-based construction technology and services start-up, is busy constructing a 250,000-square-foot factory in Spokane, Washington where it will produce mass timber products including cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. The company, which seeks to bring many aspects of the construction process—design, engineering, materials, manufacturing, and assembly—under one name while also modernizing the construction trades, is well-poised to play a role in California’s housing recovery. The company—which already has a functioning factory in Arizona—is growing, having just received a boost of $865 million in investment capital as it seeks to build out its network of regional manufacturing facilities Furthermore, because mass timber manufacturing is typically performed indoors with fewer workers and in advance of job site installation, mass timber construction also potentially holds the promise of side-stepping the state’s vexing shortage of skilled construction workers, one of the many unsolved structural repercussions of the Great Recession. According to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra’s architecture unit, the company’s factory-focused business model means that fewer—and differently-trained—workers are required on site. Instead of hammering nail to wood on a desolate job site, Katerra’s equipment operators and workers produce interior and exterior wall panels, roof truss assemblies, floor systems and countertops, among other building components in a factory. On-site, a crane and a well-trained team of workers assemble each new building in a fraction of the time compared to normative building practices. Curtis said over telephone, “[Addressing California’s housing crisis] is exactly the type of problem we are trying to solve—everyone deserves to live in a well-designed home delivered at an affordable price point.” And lastly, because each mass timber assembly is made to order, the so-called “mass-customization” potential of mass timber construction could also be a boon for the urban character of cities and residents alike, potentially resulting in a rich variety of building approaches and unit types. Might this variable approach even do away with the dreaded “stucco box?” Only time will tell. California’s housing shortage is a watershed event several generations in the making that will require proportional measures if it is to be adequately addressed. Given current understanding of what the mass timber industry is capable of producing, a rising wave of zoning reform, and growing funding sources for affordable housing construction, it might be time for municipalities and developers alike to take a look at this new building technology.
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Concrete Plans

Facade fragment of Robin Hood Gardens will be shown at Venice Biennale
Few buildings are as quintessentially British and Brutalist as Robin Hood Gardens, a London housing estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1960s. And now, remnants of the complex are heading to Italy, where the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) will present a facade section of the demolished icon as part of the Venice Biennale. (It's actually a return to Venice for the late architects, who displayed billboard-sized images of the under-construction buildings at the Biennale in 1976.) The Robin Hood Gardens housing block has never been far from the center of the debate of social housing since the Smithsons first unveiled plans for a concrete mass of residences linked by "streets in the sky." And now that it's being demolished to make way for a new development—all while cities around the globe struggle to house growing populations—that controversy is more in the news than ever. Though Peter Smithson himself expressed his regrets about the failures of the design, Robin Hood Gardens found a legion of supporters, if not strictly for its Brutalist design, then for its place within the conversation about urbanism. In fact, an all-star lineup of contemporary architects including Richard Rogers, Robert Venturi, Toyo Ito, and the late Zaha Hadid, came together to protest the buildings' demolition. When it became clear that plans would move forward, the V&A stepped in—on the urging of London firm Muf architecture/art—to acquire a nearly 29-foot high by 18-foot-wide by 26-foot-deep cross-section of the housing complex. The museum will be presenting a fragment from the estate at the Pavilion of Applied Arts in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale, from May 26 to November 25, 2018.   The  segment will be displayed on a scaffolding system designed by Arup, the firm that engineered the original Robin Hood Gardens, while a film by artist Do Ho Suh will document the structure. Additional documents and interviews will give context to the social history of the complex. ‘The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion, it is being torn down," said pavilion curators Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner in a joint statement. "Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithsons’ original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing."
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Save Suburbia?

L.A. mayor flips on housing bill, says dense housing “doesn’t look right”
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is catching heat this week for making comments that expose his continued embrace of unproductive, NIMBY-fueled, anti-housing rhetoric. At issue is a reversal in Garcetti’s support for a controversial state housing reform bill known as SB-827, a measure that would lift arbitrary restrictions on building heights and abolish costly minimum parking requirements for development sites located up to ½ of a mile from rapid transit stops across the state. Although rough estimates indicate the bill could add millions of new units to California’s anemic housing stock, the bill has elicited widespread concern over the potential displacement and erasure that communities of color could see as a result. Opposition is most fierce in Los Angeles, where fears run high that hard-fought economic protections for working class neighborhoods could be wiped away by the bill. A coalition of 37 community groups called ACT LA recently stated its opposition to the measure in a letter, saying, “The antidote to segregationist low-density zoning imposed upon and against communities of color is not an ‘open the floodgates’ approach.” In response to these concerns, State Senator Scott Weiner—one of the politicians behind SB-827—has proposed a series of pro-tenant amendments that would keep local demolition controls in place, allowing cities to forbid the destruction of rent-controlled housing or historic structures, for example. The bill will now also allow local inclusionary zoning plans to remain in place, ensuring that developers will continue to meet prescribed affordability requirements. The biggest addition will require developers to guarantee the so-called “right-to-remain” for existing residents, where developers pay people to stay in their neighborhoods despite new market-rate developement. While it is yet to be known if these amendments will assuage displacement fears within the state’s economically-vulnerable communities, the changes seem to be immaterial to Garcetti. After initially supporting the bill with the condition that tenant protections be included, the mayor has flip-flipped and is now seeking protections for single-family zones, as well. Describing the bill’s potential impacts on L.A.’s urban fabric, a spokesperson for Garcetti emphasized that the bill “is still too blunt for our single-family home areas.” Parroting a common—and classist—NIMBY talking point, Garcetti explained at a luncheon on Wednesday that dense housing in single-family neighborhoods would look out of place and that “we have plenty of space and land” to continue suburban-style development. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti said, “Can you imagine, three blocks in, in a single-family neighborhood, you could go 10 stories automatically. It wouldn’t look right.” Garcetti has long-supported single-family zoning, but his expectation that measures like SB-827 preserve this type of housing struck some activists as a new and unwarranted position. Mark Vallianatos of Abundant Housing LA said, “I don't know why [Garcetti] decided to move the goalposts and insist that SB-827 not change single-family only zoning, even after his concerns about rent-stabilized apartments had been largely addressed by amendments.” Aside from seeking to keep L.A. locked into its suburban past, the mayor’s view that major housing legislation focus on preserving single-family zoning is seemingly at odds with the commonly-accepted solutions to California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis. Experts agree broadly that the crisis is chiefly one of under-building resulting from the type NIMBY-fueled sentiment Garcetti expressed at the luncheon. Across the state, an overabundance of single-family zoned land and a resulting deficit in construction of new multi-family units, especially near high-capacity transit routes, is pushing housing out of reach of millions, burdening households with high rents, and forcing thousands into homelessness. Schools are closing in the Bay Area because families can’t afford to live there. Critical personnel—school teachers, medics, firefighters—face excruciating commutes because the only affordable communities are far-flung. 58% of Angelenos are rent-burdened, nearly 56,000 people in Los Angeles are experiencing homelessness, and California was recently ranked last in terms of quality of life in a recent U.S News and World Reports survey. The list of negative impacts resulting from the housing crisis goes on and on. And yet, to Garcetti, dense housing still doesn’t quite fit. The human cost of the crisis aside, Garcetti’s views miss the mark environmentally-speaking as well because single-family zoning bakes in auto-oriented lifestyles, fuels traffic congestion, and drives transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Today, transportation emissions make up the bulk of California’s contribution to climate change. As has been said repeatedly, without greater investment in mass transit and density, the state will be unable to meet its ambitious climate goals. Garcetti’s comments also fail from an investment value-capture point of view—How can the state benefit from billions in new transit investments when only a select few have access to new metro lines? Given that the mayor strongly championed the multibillion dollar Measure M transit initiative in 2016, it would seem prudent to invest in—or at least allow—density near those lines. But instead, with the insistence that single-family zones be preserved, Mayor Garcetti risks undermining these new transit improvements in addition to extending the negative effects of the housing crisis even further. And for what? Whether the mayor is willing to accept it or not, if California is to truly embody the progressive ideals so many of its state and local leaders espouse, it must drastically reduce the amount of urban land dedicated to single-family housing. There is simply no other way around it. If he wanted to deflect development energy from single-family areas, the mayor could issue any number of constructive reforms, like lifting the prohibition on housing in L.A.’s commercial corridors, for example. Given Garcetti’s comments and track record so far, however, this seems unlikely. Instead, the conversation will continue to focus on the specious claims of housing-secure residents unwilling to make room for others.
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Trade Up

Fearless Girl likely to move to the New York Stock Exchange

New York’s Fearless Girl statue is likely to move to the New York Stock Exchange, according to a city representative knowledgeable about the pending relocation.

The bronze sculpture by Delaware artist Kristen Visbal has been a popular attraction since it first appeared in Manhattan’s Financial District on March 7, 2017.

Depicting a defiant girl with chin out and hands on her hips, the statute was placed in a public plaza, Bowling Green, at Broadway and Morris Street. It stands opposite a much larger sculpture installed in 1989, Charging Bull by Arturo Di Modica, as if daring the bull to run at her.

Fearless Girl was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors to highlight the company's initiative to bring more women onto corporate boards. The firm wanted it in place by March 8, International Women’s Day, which commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

The city initially allowed the statue to stay in place for several weeks under a temporary permit. Mayor Bill de Blasio later announced that it could stay at its current location until March 8, 2018.

With that deadline approaching, city officials said last month that the sculpture would remain on public view somewhere in the city, but not at Bowling Green, because the space isn’t large enough for the amount of traffic and number of visitors it draws.

Although numerous sites have been considered, the New York Stock Exchange at 11 Wall Street has emerged as the leading candidate, according to the city representative who is privy to the deliberations but not authorized to discuss the move. More details are expected before March 8.

“We are discussing various approaches to ensure this statue continues to be a part of the city’s civic life,” Natalie Grybauskas, a representative of the mayor’s office, said in a statement. “The message of the Fearless Girl statue has resonated with New Yorkers and visitors alike.”

The city is also considering plans to move the Charging Bull statue, either to keep it with Fearless Girl or to make it separate. The bull initially appeared in front of the Stock Exchange in 1989 and was later moved to Bowling Green.

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Greens on Greens

Mini golf on Park Avenue? Architects say it's possible

Mini golf is not an activity usually associated with New York's Park Avenue. But at the behest of a real estate company, that's what a pair of architects have proposed for the grassy medians that divide the avenue, one of Manhattan's most prestigious streets.

Fisher Brothers, a real estate firm with deep ties to Midtown East, recently sponsored a competition to rethink the Park Avenue medians in the neighborhood. More than 150 urban planners, landscape architects, and architects submitted proposals that ranged from reasonably do-able to fantastically ambitious: In addition to mini-golf idea, other winning plans included a mid-avenue aquarium, pictured below, and an elevated park, kind of like a High Line crossed with SANAA's Grace Farms.

For their part, Michelle Schrank and Dijana Milojevic, the architects behind the putt-putt idea, would like to see a mini-golf course installed from from 46th to 57th streets.

Fisher Brothers will fête its winner with a $25,000 prize, but the people will get to vote on all 17 entries in a separate competition. The victor there will score a $5,000 prize, the New York Times reported.

While it's not unheard of for real estate execs to sponsor design competitions, Fisher Brothers doesn't actually own the medians—the city does.

"The point is not necessarily to create the practical idea that will get funded and built," competition jury member Vishaan Chakrabarti, founding principal of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, told the Times. "The point is to focus our attention on things that are right in front of us and the possibilities there are."

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L.A.’s Big Dig

L.A. breaks ground on next leg of Purple Line subway extension
Officials in Los Angeles broke ground late last week on the second leg of a long-planned 9.1-mile extension of the city’s Purple Line subway. The so-called Section 2 extension will bring an additional 2.59 miles of underground track and two new stations to the line in addition to the 3.92 miles currently under construction for Section 1 of the extension, The Source reports. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) began construction on the Section 1 extension in 2015 and is currently 30 percent done with work on that leg. Work on Section 1 is expected to be completed by 2023, with Section 2 wrapping up in 2025, and a planned Section 3 completed the following year. Metro is aiming to finish the entire 9.2-mile extension before the year 2028, when Los Angeles is due to host the Summer Olympics. Section 1 of the extension will thread the heavy rail line to the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega, just west of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. Sections 2 and 3 will bring the line to Century City and the Veterans Administration campus in Westwood, respectively. Metro recently awarded a $1.37-billion construction contract to joint venture contractor Tutor Perini O&G to build the Section 2 subway; Another joint venture contractor—Skanska-Traylor-Shea—is building Section 1. Work on the line has already begun to impact the areas around the extension, with many new high-rise projects currently in the pipeline for sites immediately surrounding Wilshire Boulevard. The expansion has also spurred new construction of luxury-oriented housing adjacent to existing stops, as well. During a public presentation earlier this month, Metro officials detailed construction activity for the extensions, providing an update on utility relocation work, detailing which street tree specimens would need to be removed—and replaced—to facilitate construction, and also debuted preliminary renderings for the above-ground elements of several new transit stations. Renderings for these new stations depict glass canopy-topped subway entrances surrounded by hardscaped plaza spaces. Next, Tutor Perini O&G and several utility companies will work on reorganizing the maze of pipes and conduit below city streets for Section 2 areas, while work on a staging site that will be used to begin drilling the subway tunnel takes place. Work on the Section 1 extension will continue as planned.
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It Takes Two

New renderings revealed for Portland’s 970-foot twin towers
Portland, Oregon–based William Kaven Architecture (WKA) has revealed the full vision behind the firm’s eye-catching proposal to add a pair of interlinked high rise towers to downtown Portland’s 32-acre mixed-use Broadway Corridor site. The updated plan comes in response to an RFQ put forth by economic redevelopment agency Prosper Portland meant to generate ideas for how to best reconnect the city’s Chinatown and Pearl District neighborhoods. WKA revealed the tower component of the proposal late last year. Prosper Portland’s vision calls for demolishing an existing central postal facility and removing an on ramp to the NW Broadway bridge in order to spur more transit-oriented development, reorient the neighborhood around an expanded central greenway, and promote equity and sustainability goals within the heart of the city. Under WKA’s vision, the site, currently co-owned by the Postal Service and the Portland Housing Bureau, would give way to a nearly five-million-square-foot redevelopment scheme that includes not just the pair of high-rise towers, but also calls for a new covered market hall, a new museum, a public reflection pool, and several low- and mid-rise housing towers. Describing the project, WKA partner and founder Daniel Kaven said, “This is a historic opportunity to revitalize a core area of our city. Our vision is to develop an urban district capable of accommodating Portland’s rapid growth and provide the building blocks of future transportation resources. It is our hope to work with the City of Portland and its stakeholders to fully realize a vision that will both be an architectural draw to Portland and spur economic and cultural development far beyond the scope of the project.” If built according to plan, the scheme’s twin tower component would reshape the Portland skyline. The interlocking towers differ in their heights, with the tallest of the two slated to rise 970 feet. The rectilinear and diagrid-wrapped towers would be connected 680 feet up by a truss-supported bridge containing an indoor botanical garden, among other programs. If completed as planned, the towers would be the tallest in the city and among the tallest on the West Coast. New renderings released for the proposal show a neat grid of mid-rise structures surrounding the expaanded  greenway, with a site plan indicating that the new developments will be connected by a new underground transit station. The transit station is delineated along streetlevel by a large butterfly roof structure capped with moss. It is expected that a full build-out of the project would include additional design teams. Prosper Portland is expected to reveal a shortlist with project finalists in March of this year. A timeline for full implementation of the project has not been released.