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New York–based architect Jennifer Carpenter recently teamed up with Lukas Lighting to create a collaborative working environment for digital marketing software company MediaMath at 4 World Trade Center.
The inspiration for the design has a lot to do with the company’s strengths. MediaMath employs a lot of mathematicians who find patterns in seemingly random data. “The lounge ceiling is a sea of hexagonal fixtures, some lit and some unlit, in a pattern that looks random but is in fact calculated,” Carpenter said. “The fixtures run parallel to each other and are organized along two groups of intersecting parallel track lines.”
“The client liked the notion of using different geometric shapes to identify the various collaborative spaces,” she said. Linen was chosen for the shades to create a diffused lighting quality that would produce a calm space for workers to gather and socialize. In the three smaller lounges, a combination of thin rectangular pendants and acoustical panels are hung to distinguish the quieter, more work-oriented spaces using hard-edged geometry.
In terms of working directly with the manufacturer, everyone did his or her part, especially in regard to deadlines. Carpenter remarked that she “provided renderings of the concept early on, but did not have specifications for the materials or how the pieces would come together—Lukas really brought that to the table.”
The most intense parts of the design process included the onsite layout of over 80 fixtures. Carpenter and the electricians spent a sizeable amount of time drawing a full-size template on the floor using chalk and butcher paper. Afterward, they used lasers to mark attachment points onto the ceiling, and install (which involved some tricky conduit work). Additionally, the schedule for the project combined with the manufacturing process didn’t allow for extensive prototyping. The shades required laminating all of the custom linen fabric at once to ensure consistency, and time didn’t allow for a mockup installation.
There is quite a bit on the horizon for Carpenter in 2016, including hospitality projects, a series of restaurants for fast casual company Honeygrow, and a new flagship store for menswear brand Ubiq. She will also continue to work with MediaMath on their global offices.
The employee lounge at the MediaMath offices at 4 World Trade Center.
The most strategic pathology of modern architecture is its split personality. While it is the profession that lays claim to perhaps the most basic human need, it long ago traded in the staid certainty of presiding over dwelling in favor of the vitality of an identity crisis. Leon Battista Alberti famously breathed life into the modern architect from the cadaver of the “mere carpenter” that he himself had simultaneously decapitated, destabilizing the discipline by counterpoising thinkers and doers. The resulting tension between the serious business of laying bricks, springing vaults, and putting bread on the table and the cultural popularity contest of authorship and ideas became the strong force that still glues together a volatile and vibrant discipline. To keep the schizophrenic discipline vigorous, this tension must be regularly stoked. Open Source Architecture is a recent fillip.
The Thames and Hudson–published non-book is the elaboration of an eponymous article that Carlo Ratti and a cohort of “adjunct editors” first assembled for Domus in 2011. The text masquerades as an open source experiment itself as a printed “wiki”—one to be thought of “not as a book, but as a debate, or a joke, or a brainstorming session.” The ambition is no less than to dump the “top-down, comprehensive design” model of the “Promethean architect” typified by Le Corbusier, the Albertian par excellence, for the “Choral Architect [who] weaves together the creative and harmonic ensemble,” an editorial authority that sits somewhere between top-down and bottom up to orchestrate a networked design process fit for the mechanics and mental theatre of the 21st century. If architecture can now be digitized into data, it goes, then the Molotov cocktail of Creative Commons licensing, crowd funding, and open source sharing fueled by the Internet will become an explosive enough force to recover the participatory ambitions that failed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Albeit cloaked in the drag of collaborative, third person, circumstantial, and equivocal rhetoric, this is a manifesto. Manifestos construct an image of reality into which readers are to be thrown hoping they will stay there and ultimately construct it. Speed is vital; anything to remove friction is permitted. Twisting the facts and bungling history are encouraged. Open Source Architecture plays by the rules of its genre, but while the picture it paints for the future of architecture is clear, its understanding of the open source world it cops from to do so undershoots present reality. For a book published in 2015, it presents an antiquated model, underestimating the present and thereby underselling the future, the capital sin of a manifesto.
A contemporaneous text from outside of architecture by blogger Venkatesh Rao provides a benchmark. Invited by Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm cofounded by the cofounder of the first commercial web browser, Rao spent a year studying the Silicon Valley habits of practice and mind from its epicenter. The study resulted in “Breaking Smart,” a series of essays published freely online that construct an explicit discourse from the largely tacit knowledge embedded in the same new software-driven complex of ownership, sharing, funding, and networking that drives Ratti’s text. The difference is that for Ratti, “the success of software is a direct provocation for architecture’s paradigm shift,” whereas for Rao, architecture is precisely that which cannot participate in the software revolution.
Presenting software as the third “soft technology” after writing and money, Rao’s text diagnoses the effects of its democratization from the military-industrial-academic scale of the latter half of the 20th century to the desktop of most American teenagers, forcing a shift in ethos from the distribution of scarce resources to one that “must be approached with an abundance mindset.” The figure that will “wield disproportionate influence on the emerging future” is the hacker, the new problem-solving archetype that brandishes an iterative, trial-and-error, pragmatist approach that will eclipse the “architect”, which for Rao is the hacker’s idealist, purist, and anachronistic opposite. Whereas Ratti’s formula relies on drawing a homology between architecture and software, Rao’s presents their fundamental incompatibility: the power of software is in-dissociable from its softness and architecture will always be hard.
Ratti’s label for the outmoded dinosaur still practicing “starchitecture” in pursuit of the “Bilbao Effect” to be extinguished by software relies on the two-and-a-half century old idea inscribed in Goethe’s “Prometheus,” the first text to recast the Titan from a cautionary tale of the Renaissance to the exemplary genius for the artist. In the same year, 1772, Goethe wrote an ode praising Erwin, the name of an architect inscribed on the Strasbourg Cathedral that the young writer mistook to be singularly responsible for the towering marvel, a collaborative gothic creation built over generations. Goethe revived Prometheus while making of architecture a frozen and flawed image to fit his imperative. Ratti does the inverse, calcifying the myth to throw forward a new architect over its dead body. But myths can’t be killed, they are trans-historical weapons to be refashioned as needed, and Prometheus has recently risen again. As Rao tells it: “Through the seventies, a tenuous balance of power prevailed between purist architects and pragmatic hackers… As a result of pragmatism prevailing, a nearly ungovernable Promethean fire has been unleashed.” Prometheus has been adopted by the very open source movement Ratti invokes, and precisely, as Rao’s analysis illustrates, by claiming its transcendence of architecture.
This lexical pedantry may seem frivolous, but if the stakes are the very figure of the architect, then Prometheus is well in play. While he was writing the first architecture treatise since Vitruvius, Alberti also penned Momus, a satire featuring an anti-hero explicitly modeled on Prometheus that historians Manfredo Tafuri and Mark Jarzombek have used as a cipher to decode a more complex agenda than canonical history has allowed. While Ratti’s impulse to invoke the Promethean in projecting a new architect in the age of software is well founded, a closer reading of both contemporary techno-culture and architecture history is wanting. As architect and Yale professor Keller Easterling warned in her contribution to the book, “Wiki as encyclopedia is easier than wiki as manifesto.”
Concrete architecture is currently enjoying a revival with young creative types. Social media is buzzing with feeds of concrete buildings from twitterati like @BrutalHouse and @brutalust, tumblr sites like f*ckyeahbrutalism, research blogs like #SOSBrutalism, and the support of Jonathan Meades—the doyenne of the British architectural avant-garde—who even wrote a two-part television documentary on it last year, Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness.
Heroic is part of this revival, born as a research project in 2008, in response to the call for the demolition and/or sale of Boston City Hall by the city’s then-mayor, Thomas M. Menino. The architectural community curated an exhibition of Boston’s concrete buildings at pinkcomma gallery, which has now been turned into book format thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The middle section of the book, “Buildings,” is still very much in exhibition format, consisting of 25 concrete monstrosities/icons (according to taste) built in Boston between 1960 and 1977. For concrete fanboys and postwar architectural historians like me, this is a great contribution to our trans-Atlantic database. I enjoyed the photographs and occasional construction drawing more than the rather arid factual accompanying text—perhaps it’s best to describe this as an introductory reference rather than a racy blockbuster.
All the key buildings, whether demolished or extant, are here: The Boston City Hall by Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles, the Government Service Center by Paul Rudolph, Harvard’s Carpenter Center by Le Corbusier, and the Aquarium by the Cambridge Seven Associates, alongside other lesser known but equally adventurous works like Mary Otis Stevens and Thomas McNulty’s Lincoln House and Studio, now sadly no longer with us. The story of The Architects’ Corner on Brattle Street was news to me, as was the existence of the Boston Architectural Center—“the first modern building in the United States designed and built exclusively for the professional study of architecture”—constructed predictably and appropriately from the misunderstood material that excites architects and alienates the public in equal measure.
On either side of the exhibition are words: Five essays on concrete and Boston historically situate and introduce the book, and seven abridged interviews with the main protagonists complete it. These are all good reads. Joan Ockman is always insightful, and almost entirely correct in saying that "no other twentieth-century architectural –ism has been such a moving target." However, while it is true that Brutalism as a movement has been appropriated and re-appropriated by architects and critics both for and against it, without even a whisper of Post-Modernism, this quote is uncharacteristically sweeping. Ockman uses the B word to ground Boston’s new concrete architecture in the British context of the 1950s, but we should not simply conflate concrete with Brutalism. In fact, the editors of the book are careful to translate the British bombast of Brutalism into the more optimistic Heroic. Like the strong silent protagonist in a Hollywood movie, concrete can indeed be characterized as heroic, although Stevens complains that the term is “too loaded,” “feeds the critique by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and others,” and is monumental. She prefers the polar opposite term anti-heroic. This is more in line with Alison and Peter Smithsons’ more ethical definition of Brutalism, closely related to the everyday, although the British couple themselves would, I think, aspire to heroism. The Smithsons’ ethical dimension of Brutalism has been largely ignored in favor of Reyner Banham’s more picturesque aesthetic. As Ockman astutely points out, “an image travels faster than an ethos.”
Lizabeth Cohen then narrates the story of the Boston Redevelopment Authority: In 1960, John F. Collins became the mayor of Boston and recruited the rising star of urban renewal, Edward J. Logue. Peter Chermayeff explains that it was “bewilderingly exciting” for young architects to be handed the opportunity to rebuild the world in their image—the real apogee of modern architecture. Working with and still having the confidence of politicians, they cast a “New Boston” out of concrete—the material of heroes and a move away from traditional brick and stone. Concrete represented progress, democratic monumentality, and confidence in the future. Boston City Hall was the jewel in the crown, but many other heroic structures followed, both governmental, and at the famous universities of Harvard and MIT, where many of the architects trained or taught. These links were crucial, and the roll call of architects is relatively tight—many, like Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, or Sert, Jackson and Associates, or The Architects’ Collaborative, were handed repeat commissions. Indeed, it was claimed that during this period in Boston, “These aggressive concrete buildings are sufficiently plentiful to be considered a local vernacular.”
The interviews of the third section offer a rare and welcome reflection on the period—real “memoirs of a survivor” and often different to historians’ tidy narratives. Henry Cobb, a partner with I.M.Pei, is damning of his own Harbor Towers, for example, and rejects the Brutalist tag. And Tician Papachristou of Marcel Breuer’s office, talks frankly of the “burden” that concrete became. In the late 1970s concrete fell out of fashion with magazines and the general public, and became too expensive and risky compared to steel. And as modernism waned, people’s interest in heroism waned too, and architecture went to sleep… until woken by an MIT postgraduate and his mates who turned the material into a book.
San Francisco, California
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects / Auerbach Glasow French
Pelli Clarke Pelli’s $1.89 billion Transbay Center in San Francisco, set to open in 2017, promises to catalyze the redevelopment of its downtown neighborhood, centralize the Bay Area’s vast transportation network, and serve more than 100,000 rail, subway, and bus passengers a day.
San Francisco–based Auerbach Glasow French (AGF) designed the lighting scheme for the four-block-long project. The goal was to accentuate the architecture and make the glassy structure glow from within. “The building wants to feel like it’s filled with light,” said AGF principal Larry French. Achieving this effect came with its challenges. One, the project is aiming to be one of the most energy efficient transit structures in the country, so daylighting had to be a large component of the design. Two, towers surround the site, casting long shadows. In answer, the design team developed an inventive method to pull in as much natural light as possible while using the most efficient fixtures available.
The centerpiece of the 1.5 million-square-foot, five-level project is the Light Column, a massive steel structure that pierces the building’s multi-story Great Hall. The column is uplit and downlit by powerful fluorescent spotlights mounted on its frame. Similar lighting is attached to the building’s exterior columns and beams. Thus far LEDs are not powerful enough to fill the hall’s vast volume, said French, but that may change as technology advances, so the fluorescents may be switched for LEDs before construction starts. “Trying to keep the technology current is very difficult because of the very long lead times,” said French. The team began working on Transbay eight years ago, and the first construction documents were completed four years ago.
Most of the building’s vertical surfaces are washed with LED fixtures, emphasizing their planes and bouncing light out of the building. LEDs also line the railings of the escalators and stairs, and are present in gaps between areas with lower ceilings, such as in the bus deck below the rooftop park. French chose moderation over excess when it came to distributing the fixtures. “We tried not to have too much going on. A building can get busy very quickly,” he said.
During the day, the artificial light supplements the natural illumination enabled by the design. Glass curtain walls on all four sides of the building are covered with perforated metal “awnings” that allow dappled light to filter inside in geometric patterns.
Natural light flows in from above through three elliptical skylights, with ceramic fritting to limit heat and maximize privacy. The two smaller skylights measure about 65 feet by 40 feet, while the largest, hovering over the Light Column, measures 85 feet by 65 feet. Daylight also enters through a translucent and multi-layered 150-foot-long glass floor, which is part of the center’s 5.4-acre rooftop park. The Great Hall has its own glass floor that admits light into the center’s lower levels. It is a similar system to the rooftop, but measures about 40 feet in diameter.
Sunlight is balanced during the day with strategically placed fixtures, which were calibrated through extensive lighting studies. “You don’t want to bring in too much natural light and have dark contrast areas,” explained Heather Kim, a senior associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli.
The combination of natural and artificial light is punctuated by “Parallel Luminous Fields,” a light sculpture designed by James Carpenter for Shaw Alley, a covered pedestrian passage leading to the center’s main entrance. The piece consists of 54 illuminated pairs of cast acrylic resin glass pavers set into the wave pattern of the ceiling and illuminated benches set into the pre-cast concrete floor. These two planes of light will create a sense of movement leading people into the center.
This varied combination of light sources is meant to aid with wayfinding and make users feel as comfortable as possible. But it doesn’t hurt that it adds a little “magic,” as French put it. “It’s exciting. The building is really going to be quite striking,” he said.
Sam Lubell is AN’s West Editor.
Pioneer Village Station
Alsop Architects, SGA / IBI Group, Realities United
When The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) opens six new stations along its Toronto York-Spadina Subway Extension, subway riders in Canada’s biggest city will not only be connected to an extra 5.3 miles of track. Thanks to an installation that doubles as platform lighting and a work of art, riders at the Pioneer Village Station will also gain a glimpse into the personalities of their fellow train riders.
Working from 3D models developed by station designers Alsop Architects and SGA/IBI Group Architects, Berlin-based Realities United created a station-specific art installation that allows visitors to broadcast a written message on an LED scroll displayed above the train platform. Dubbed LightSpell, the piece is composed of 40 LED chandeliers, organized into a row of 16-segments capable of displaying letters, numbers, and special characters.
According to the artists’ project description, “LightSpell is an experiment in public interaction and will entail various aspects of the theme of the freedom of the individual versus the interest of the larger group.” The intent is to anonymously display what riders type into the station’s five message kiosks, without filtering or oversight from TTC. That is still up for discussion, said Realities United’s Jan Edler, but he hopes “to come to a fruitful agreement with the stakeholders.”
“It is a democratic installation: Any wording—however rude, stupid, offensive—will inevitably also be the light source serving the demands of the community of other waiting people,” continues the project description. “We do believe that the interest to use the system in a stupid way will diminish once the students notice that there is NO censorship and hope that it will rather be used creatively,” Edler told AN by email.
The station sits at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Northwest Gate on the edge of York University’s campus. Lighting is an integral part of the station’s design. “It’s a true hybrid between an art installation and function,” said Bruce Han, an architect with IBI Group.
While the illuminated messages of LightSpell comprise the bulk of the lighting along the subterranean platform, a conical opening in the roof at the platform’s center conveys natural light from above. Elsewhere in the station, the design team worked to include natural light wherever possible. Large triangular windows rise from ground level in the station entrance, filling the circular space with daylight. Metal poles topped with fluorescent fixtures lead visitors into the station, whose jellybean-shaped volume connotes playfulness, said Han.
When completed in fall 2016, the Spadina extension will be the first TTC rail line to span the city limits of Toronto. Pioneer Village Station includes a 1,900-space parking lot as an accommodation to suburban commuters in the adjacent city of Vaughan.
“We wanted to create a new public focal point that would encourage future development as well,” said Han. A swooping, cantilevered canopy shelters a regional bus terminal for York Regional Transit. Together with the train station entrance, the transit hub’s entrances serve as sculptural focal points, bisecting the parking lot.
Taking inspiration from rock-climbing walls, the architects wrapped the weathering steel-clad building with triangular planes and knobby shapes. Inside, above the escalator and stairs leading down to the platform, IBI added a light installation of its own: a cylindrical volume of perforated steel that transmits the glow of tubular LEDs inside through a peppering of small holes at its base.
Pioneer Village Station is not the only station along the York-Spadina extension that has been designed with an integrated art installation. TTC hired artists to enliven all six new terminals along the route, using funds from the “one percent” program it bakes into public construction costs. Whatever opinions subway riders have about the program or the new station’s design surely will not go unheard—just keep an eye on the LightSpell scroll once it is up and running.
Chris Bentley is AN’s Midwest Editor
125th Street Corridor
New York City
West 125th Street in Manhattan between Broadway and the Hudson River has long been a no-man’s land of broken sidewalks and shuttered storefronts, a scar of urban blight in a neighborhood full of them. But it won’t be for much longer. In 2004, the New York City Economic Development Corporation hired New York City–based landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen to redesign the corridor as part of its West Harlem Master Plan. The $14.5 million street enhancement project was developed to improve access to the revitalized West Harlem Piers Park, which runs along the Hudson River between St. Claire Place and West 135th Street, while at the same time preparing the ground for the future development of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion. In March 2014, a decade after the design was commissioned, construction got started. By the end of 2016, this one-time blasted heath should be ready for the safe passage of college students and condo-dwelling urban professionals.
Mathews Nielsen’s design works within the guidelines of New York’s Complete Streets initiative to make the thoroughfare accommodating to people on-foot, cycling, and driving. Signaled crossings and pedestrian refuges aim to make the corridor safer for all, while trees and other plantings soften the urban environment’s hard edge. At the west end of 125th Street there is an intermodal plaza with a bus turnaround and a link to a ferry landing in the Hudson.
As it has done in many of its urban revitalization projects, Mathews Nielsen used existing infrastructure in the area to add flavor to its design. Old rails still imbedded in the pavement from the Third Avenue Rail System, for example, are being preserved as historic markers of sorts. More significantly, the design is making use of two steel arch structures that flank the site—one supporting the elevated tracks of the IRT subway on Broadway and the other the raised section of River Side Drive known as the 12th Avenue Viaduct. “There are these two incredible bookends of the 1 Train structure and the 12th Avenue Viaduct,” said Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen. “We thought about those as a way to create a sequence as one moves toward the water.”
To accentuate this sequence at night, these structures are being illuminated with lighting schemes designed by New York City–based L’Observatoire International. The lighting approach was different for each structure due to their distinct formal qualities as well as the peculiarities of the agencies that maintain them. The MTA, for example, would not allow the design team to attach light fixtures to the IRT structure, so the fixtures are being mounted on U-shaped poles that thread through the subway platform’s arch. NYCDOT, which maintains the 12th Avenue Viaduct, had no issues with the attachment of light fixtures. Here the designers are nestling the fixtures in the hips of the arches, where they uplight the cathedral-like spans.
While both structures are lit with white light, here again there is a variation. The designers chose warm, 3000K white light for the MTA bridge, which is painted beige, produced by four 315W metal halide fixtures with narrow four-degree beam spreads to cut down on glare and light pollution. The subway crossing also features blue light that comes on when a train is approaching the station, produced by eight 28W LED fixtures with six-degree beam spreads.
The team chose cooler 4000K white light for the viaduct, which is painted gray, produced by eight 150W metal halide fixtures. Under the current project scope, the lighting scheme will only be applied where the viaduct crosses 125th Street, but it is modular and could be rolled out along the entire length of the bridge, a proposal that the design team has put forth to the local business improvement district, in case it feels like funding it.
Aaron Seward is AN’s Executive Editor.
The contemporary notion that what is called “research” should be an important component of every architectural practice is one that deserves further interrogation. If we think of research as something done by scholars, academics, and social scientists then what takes place in most architecture offices is most often little more than public relations or simply the instrumental steps in the creation of a design for a building. It is often the case that architecture offices are developing new ideas of building production (like BIM, digital fabrication, 3D printing, etc.) but even these tend to be aimed at specific design projects with clients and therefore not concerned with general professional or goals of the discipline. There is one area however where architects are doing primary research: the development of materials and how they impact design and are themselves changed through creative form making. In issue number seven of the architecture fanzine P.E.A.R. (Paper for Emerging Architectural Research), which comes from a London group of academics, architects, and the Royal Academy of Arts, they call this type of practice “material research” and investigate new models in its evolution. Architects, Adrian Forty argues in his P.E.A.R. essay, have always cared about construction materials, even as he quotes William Morris, who wrote that architects were falsifying their use and meaning—making one thing seem to be another.
This is true, Forty goes on, even if they “make a show of not caring, as Peter Eisenman famously did with his ‘house series.’” In fact, Forty’s concise yet thorough essay makes the point that there is no such thing as a “pure” material—all are the result of mixing human labor with substance “whether naturally-occurring or synthetic.” But his principle point and an important one for contemporary practice is that today digital fabrication has nearly eliminated human labor from the work of processing materials while making infinite variation possible. Architects now, he contends, can more fully concentrate on “what materials are used for—upon the end results.”
The leading edge in architecture ten to 15 years ago were those architects creating primarily in the digital field and staying there, as they were unable to build what they could imagine on the computer. But the students of these mostly academic practitioners have taken their ideas and are now slowly applying them to new and old materials to create a dizzyingly array of spaces, installations, and built forms. Some of these young architects have left the design studio and opened fabrication shops (most with their own CNC milling machines) where, applying the skills they learned in school, they work directly on and with materials. These practices are doing some of the most interesting work in the architectural field. Further, some of these workshops are in fact hybrid studio/machine shops, and thus are able to dig deep into the meaning and use of materials to create new forms and ideas for installation proposals and/or buildings when approached by other architects.
We are, it seems, only at the beginning of this design phenomena and for this reason The Architect’s Newspaper began three years ago its Facades+ conferences where we highlight the leading edge of new research and technological advancement in the field. The material that is most often considered in the Facades+ seminars is glass and its use in curtain walls. In fact, glass, both through industrial and professional research, is perhaps the single most developed material in the building world in the last 20 years, which may explain its ubiquity both in corporate and small scale design in every climatic condition from desert to alpine conditions. The recent Facades+ conference in Los Angeles featured James Carpenter, whose creative glass research, as a consultant to SOM, for the curtain wall of 7 World Trade Center in New York makes him one of the leading practitioners and glass researchers in the field. We will be reporting on Carpenter’s lecture in our next issue, along with other highlights from the conference and beyond.