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The Avenida Fenix Fire Station in Mexico City.
all images Courtesy at103

Mexico City

Julio Amezcua and Francisco Pardo attribute their methodol-ogy to a cross-pollenization of American and Mexican ways of producing architecture. Educated at Columbia University, the duo founded their practice in Mexico City in 2001. “We’re always jumping from computers to physical models,” said Amezcua, “and we do a lot of diagrams, which in Mexico is not very common.” But their firm’s name, at103, roots it solidly to its locale: “a” stands for azotea, or rooftop, where the studio sits; “t” stands for Tiber, the name of the office’s street; and 103 is the street number. While this ego-effacing moniker was chosen to characterize the studio as a place where decision-making is shared equally and no individual has sole control, it also speaks to a studied engagement with the distinct urbanism of Mexico City.

the interior of the fire station.

Emblematic of this engagement is their Ozuluama project, a rooftop addition to an existing apartment building. “In Mexico City, there’s a lack of space,” said Amezcua, “so a lot of the roofs are used for extensions, but they’re not done in a proper way.” Drawn out of an analysis of the existing structure and circulation, the architects decided to create an addition appearing to be one continuous surface that resembles a nomad’s tent clad in large sheets of Corian. The project also exemplified another trait common to working in Mexico—it took four years to complete. “The other thing you always find in Mexico is you have to deal with the government and licenses, and there’s a lot of corruption,” said Amezcua. “If you want to make your project work quickly, you pay money, or you do a slow process.”

The firm’s first big breakthrough came in 2005, when the studio won a competition to design a fire station on Avenida Fenix in Mexico City’s 16th District. After scrutinizing the program, which called for government offices as well as the typical fire station facilities, the architects decided to open up the building to the public, turning the inside into a sort of public plaza where children can come to watch the firemen at work. They also conducted an analysis of the neighborhood and changed some of the traffic lights on the busy thoroughfare to create a more fluid circulation strategy for the district. This amount of care for the urban fabric sets at103 aside from most of its contemporaries, in any country.

Aaron Seward


The Ozuluama House in Mexico City.
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Unveiled: Garden City Roofs
Courtesy SO-IL

“Green jobs” is a catchphrase frequently heard amid talk of economic recovery and the postindustrial landscape. Now one such green employer, Garden City Roofs, is quite literally growing in Queens. Under construction on the roof of an old typewriter-ribbon factory, this 21,000-square-foot space will showcase various green-roof systems, from thin, extensive plantings to intensive roof gardens for crops. Designed by Brooklyn-based SO-IL, the project places each system in a hexagonal module, creating a graphic pattern across the rooftop surface. With exposure to adjacent elevated train lines, as well as along a flight path to LaGuardia Airport, the site presents an unusual opportunity to make green roofs more familiar to the public. “We want to create something very visible, very recognizable,” said SO-IL principal Florian Idenburg. “One of the major goals is to make these systems understandable to people.” 

A 200-square-foot sales and education office (technically a maintenance shed) will house a desk for the proprietor, Beth Lieberman. “We wanted to wink toward Bucky domes,” Idenburg said of the pavilion. The first hexagon has been planted, and the rest will be filled in as green-roof suppliers express interest. Lierberman plans to offer tours to co-op boards, community groups, building owners, and individuals, as well as to open the space to architects and landscape architects and their clients.

Architect: SO-IL

Client: Garden City Roofs

Location: Sunnyside, Queens

Completion: 2009–2010




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nervi’s New Look
Upgrades to the terminal are likely to leave Nervi's famed rooftop silhouette intact.

The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is Italian maestro Pier Luigi Nervi’s sole New York building, and though thousands pass beneath it every day, it’s familiar to only a few. The Port Authority station sits astride the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, where it slips below grade between 178th and 179th streets, just east of the bridge’s Manhattan landing. With buses serving northern New Jersey and beyond, it is a transit hub whose commercial potential has never quite been met, and whose architectural character is easy to miss beneath 45 years of accumulated grunge.

The Port Authority is trying to change all that. In October they released a proposal for a major overhaul aimed at giving the terminal improved services and a lot more retail space. More recently, local political leaders, current retail tenants, and members of the preservation community have sought to influence the redesign, even as the Port Authority plans to begin construction late this year.

“Our aim is to provide a better retail experience for people who live in the Washington Heights area,” said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. The plan as originally announced called for the relocation of several of the small retailers presently on site; after a mid-November meeting with community leaders, the Port Authority revised and clarified that plan, stating that rather than a single big box anchor, a number of new stores would occupy the renovated facility.

The Port Authority will fund a third of the $150 million budget, with developers P/A Associates and Arcadia Realty Trust responsible for the remainder. The developers have selected Robert Davidson of design/build firm STV as project architect, and the choice would appear to be a significant one: Davidson planned the new transit hub for Ground Zero, and he helped select Santiago Calatrava to build the PATH station there. Calatrava has cited the Nervi bus terminal as a major inspiration for his design.

That connection, however, offers no certain measure of how deferential the redevelopment will be towards Nervi’s structure. And P/A’s Carolyn Malinsky gave a qualified assessment of the building, saying that “the Nervi roof is not actually a historical structure,” while insisting the redevelopment would leave the award-winning concrete coffers intact.

That much appears confirmed by the renderings: Save for a realignment of the arrival concourse to provide for more buses, the upper portion, with its winged silhouette, is unchanged. The lower level, meanwhile, will be glassed in, with all buses arriving on the deck above. The Modern Architecture Working Group, a preservation advocacy organization, has been lobbying both city and state landmarks agencies to insure that the building remains true, in its entirety, to the original 1963 design. But as Group co-chair Michael Gotkin observed, “we’ve been pushing for them to landmark the building for ten years. It’s only since the reconstruction was announced that we got a real response.”

Nervi fans may be interested to know that the architect designed one other major public work on the East Coast, an arena in Norfolk, Virginia known as the Norfolk Scope. A near-replica of Nervi's arena for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the structure, designed with local architects Williams and Tazewell, opened in 1971 and was awarded the 2003 Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects' "Test of Time" award.

The terminal's overhaul will feature glassed-in retail space at street level.
STV/Courtesy PANYNJ 
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City on a Hill
Courtesy City of San Francisco

Claiming to be the first city to do so, San Francisco’s government is proposing to establish its civic center neighborhood as a “Sustainable Resource District.” On September 24 at the Clinton Global Initiative, Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled plans to pursue energy and water conservation strategies over the next three years for seven buildings and public spaces in the area, including City Hall and the Civic Center Plaza they surround.

The San Francisco-based Architecture firm KMD, formerly Kaplan, McLaughlin and Diaz, provided pro-bono consulting services to develop an overall framework of green initiatives. The scheme calls for a variety of potential energy conservation strategies, which may include ground source heat pumps, alternative fuels, photovoltaic panels, and wind turbines. Administered by and funded with money from the City’s Public Utilities Commission, supporting engineering has been provided by a team of firms, including Omaha-based HDR for lighting evaluation, the Oakland-based kW Engineers for HVAC assessments, and the Dublin- and California-based Intergy Corporation with the Massachusetts-based Metcalf and Eddy to evaluate water conservation and waste water management.

Several of the district’s initiatives compare favorably with LEED standards. The plan’s goal of an 80 percent water-use reduction in the area is double the LEED maximum in that category. Other goals, all close to LEED guidelines, include a 45 percent reduction in wastewater discharge, meeting 35 percent of peak power demand by renewable energy, and a 33 percent overall reduction in energy consumption. While the initiatives are not currently registered as a LEED project, the city expects to examine its potential compliance following completion of the evaluation process.

According to the Clinton Global Initiative more than 30 states, 600 cities, and 500 universities in the United States are developing comprehensive action plans to reduce heat-trapping gases. San Francisco’s plan aims to reduce the district’s annual carbon footprint by some 2,225 tons, equivalent to the greenhouse emissions of 1,286 San Francisco households. Evidence of the greening of the Civic Center should be visible beginning in late 2009, when the city hopes to complete the early phases of implementation.

Renderings published on Mayor Newsom’s website suggest rooftop photovoltaic arrays on several prominent civic center buildings. Whether viewed by tourists, residents, or official visitors to San Francisco’s Civic Center, the visible evidence of this greening initiative will further the mayor’s efforts to lead by example in the city’s overall goals for energy efficiency, which also include requiring new commercial buildings to employ solar energy methods; streamlining the installation of solar technologies in private homes; creating energy efficiency plans for the city’s major institutions, such as the airport, libraries, and municipal railways; and making a commitment to power all government buildings with renewable resources by 2010.

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Paying Tribute
About 100 onlookers gather at the MAS viewing of the Tribute in Light.
Paul Soulellis/Courtesy MAS

With the possible exception of Las Vegas, New York City could easily claim title to the country’s brightest city. Maybe it is simply the kinetic energy of the City that Never Sleeps, but there is little question that as the sun sets, the city comes most alive. From Times Square to Coney Island, from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty, from candlelit bistros to strobe-lit night clubs, New York is a city of lights.

It is fitting, then, that on the darkest day of the year, New York should turn to two towering beacons of light to remember the people, and the landmarks, lost on September 11, 2001.

“You don’t need someone like me to tell you what these are,” Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, said from a lectern on the roof the Battery Parking Garage last night, where the MAS had staged the Tribute in Light for its seventh, and perhaps final, year. “Everyone sees something different, and that is the beauty of this project.”

An Apparitional Barwick speaks to the crowd.
All Photos BY Paul SoulEllis / Courtesy MAS

The MAS was hosting a semi-private viewing of the memorial last night, attended by the group’s staff and members, the project’s designers, lots of photographers, and a few volunteers from the local Audubon Society—it being migrating season, the birds can become disoriented by the lights—along with some light refreshments. Despite the somber occasion, there was a certain air of awe and even joviality in the crowd owing to the sheer magnitude of the array—88 lights arranged in two 20-foot squares throwing off 7,000 watts each.

The lights had been visible at times throughout the past week while they were being tested, but only last night did they burn from dusk until dawn. At first invisible, the beams quietly materialized like solemn apparitions, standing watch until the new sun rose, and with it, another day in the city. When dust blew threw the beams, happening often on such a blustery night, many onlookers spoke of ghosts or angels.

Massimo Moratti, the lead technician for Space Cannon, the Italian search light company that fabricated the special lamps, told the crowd it was such an honor to be here on behalf of his family. “My daughters, they start school,” he said. “They say, ‘My father go to New York, strike the light for memory, for the Twin Towers.’ Everyone is so proud.” Moratti has made the journey from Italy every year to oversee the “striking” of the lights.

“This quest,” he added, “is very important to remember. Remember every time."

After the remarks, the hundred or so onlookers made their way quietly and carefully around the rooftop, their necks craned skyward. Between laughter and tears, a calm overtook the roof. “I can’t even talk about it,” Richard Gould, one of the consulting architects, said with a pause. “Words don’t suffice.”

Visitors take in the meMorial.

As with anything involving 9/11, everyone had their stories. Aditya Shah had moved to America to study architecture at Penn shortly before the terrorist attack. With a month free before school began, he came to visit New York, including a stop at the World Trade Center on September 8. “I remember getting off the subway and looking up and thinking, Do these things ever end?” he recalled. “Now, standing up here next to the lights, I feel the same thing. Do these lights have an ending? It feels very much the same but also different. It has a very calming effect.”

Shah had brought his new wife, Neha, a recent arrival to the States, who said that the memorial reminded her of American perseverance. “It just gives a great idea of the spirit of the city, the way people have gone about remembering 9/11,” she said. “I think it is just brilliant the way the city has bounced back.”

For others who had grown up with the towers, it was good to have them back, if only for a night. Gustavo Bonevardi, one of four designers who conceived the memorial, grew up in Greenwich Village where “these things were the backdrop to my childhood. We’ve even got home movies full of them.” Within hours of the attacks, Bonevardi said the idea for the memorial was already forming. “There was just something about the sky being violated,” he said. “Being an architect, there was this need to repair the skyline. It was all I could think about.”

The idea for the project was initially rebuffed by Mayor Rudolph Giulliani, but even when his successor, Michael Bloomberg, approved, there was a great deal of concern it would not be well-received by the city. Frank Sanchis, the senior vice-president at MAS and man who spearheaded the memorial, said that the response has been so overwhelming, the group is committed to keep it going at least until the permanent memorial opens, which was the original mandate. With that project incomplete, Sanchis hopes to persevere.

“It really has taken a hold, in New York and beyond” he told AN. “They’re really aware of it around the world. The lights are something America can really be proud of, and in a non-political way.” Down on the street, Sanchis' dream had come true. Firefighters and Chasidim clutched beers hand-in-hand outside pubs. Mourners gathered around impromptu memorials. Tourists, speaking a babble of languages, mobbed Ground Zero. But all, from time to time, silently craned their necks skyward.

Matt Chaban


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Diving Right In
The new look of McCarren Pool.
Matt Chaban

Hipsters, grab your swim trunks, because the new McCarren Park Pool is officially on its way. Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved plans from the Parks Department to restore and renovate the pool to its Moses-era glory, along with new amenities called for by the community. After a three-year reign as North Brooklyn’s premier concert venue, and three decades of disuse before that, the pool should be back to its intended use by 2011.

The plan, designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, calls for a thorough restoration of the original bathhouse, completed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, as well as reconfigured wading and diving pools, a “beach” platform that can accommodate an ice-skating rink, and new year-round recreational and community spaces within. “You have to respect the existing architecture and open space and at the same time create a 21st-century facility,” Jonathan Marvel told AN after the commission voted 7-0 in favor of the project.

Given the pool’s high profile in the Williamsburg community, both new and old, as well as its widespread coverage in the press, the hearing was sparsely attended, drawing only minor criticism from the few preservationists who spoke, all of them in favor but for this minor ahistorical detail or that. “We are sorry to see the Parks Department adopt an agenda that fills so much of the formerly open space with concessions, administrative paraphernalia, and alien attractions,” Christabel Gough, secretary of the Society for the Architecture of the City, told the commission. “It turns a sophisticated design of the 1930s into kitsch with a beach.” One speaker lamented that one walkway would be five feet deeper than its counterpart, disrupting the pool’s symmetry.

Marvel countered that, like all successful restorations, the needs of past and present had to be balanced, a sentiment the commission strongly agreed with. “For the resources the city is dedicating to this, we’re going to need year-round use from this facility,” commissioner Elizabeth Ryan said, responding to attacks on the skating rink. Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea said that the architect’s attention to detail was homage enough. “I think the work is certainly monumental, the amount of work being done to restore this,” he said.

Some feared that the decision to place the swimmers' changing pavilions outside the bathhouse might diminish that monumentality, however. The architects wanted to get them closer to the water and free up interior space for new uses, as well as to create shaded space on the promenade. Though preservationists argued that they distracted from the building’s scale, the commission disagreed. “I was worried they would block the view of the robust building behind them,” Fred Bland, the newest commissioner, said. “But I find they do not cover up too much. The transparency and lacy feel of the design is modern, deferential, and appropriate.”

Marvel said the architects had the good fortune of a nearly complete set of drawings on file at the Parks Department. This is how the decision was made to keep a spray park on the northern side of the pool separate, as drawings and photographs suggested that had always been the case, despite the seeming asymmetry it brought to the overall design. The drawings also allowed for carefully matching new windows and doors that have long been destroyed and boarded up. The designers even hope to peel back decades of graffiti to reveal the original rare bricks, though paint will be used if necessary. “There is a kind of ruggedness of the McCarren complex, and we love that ruggedness but we also want to make it as beautiful as possible,” Marvel said.

Another dispute arose during testimony when some speakers brought up a proposal for a glassed-in, rooftop restaurant, not wholly unlike the architect’s proposal for a hotel atop the Battery Maritime Building. Though the plans had been shown last week to the community and preservationists, a Parks Department official told the commission that the restaurant was not presented today because it would come at a second phase, with a separate review, if it was pursued at all.

As for concerts, Stephanie Thayer, the executive director of the local nonprofit Open Space Alliance, which advocates for park space in the neighborhood, said she remains optimistic for concerts to continue in the pool during the off season—between swimming and skating—as well as during the summer at one of the numerous parks developing along the waterfront. Thayer was also recently hired by the Parks Department, as its North Brooklyn administrator, which could help the new venue become a reality, whether in the pool or elsewhere.

“On a personal level,” Thayer told AN, “I’d like to see it closer to an industrial zone. Three years ago, this area was industrial, but now it’s beginning to bump up against some other spaces. I obviously want it to happen, but the problem is finding the right space. It’s out there. We just have to find it.”

Matt Chaban

The new changing facilities.
An interior view.
Before and after shots of the pool, with minimal changes. The beach/rink can be seen in the foreground of the bottom shot, with the changing pavilions to the sides.
The proposed Second-phase restaurant.
East and west elevations of the pool with glass additions for restaurants.
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A New Start. Finally.
Courtesy WWCOT

Downtown Los Angeles’s Edward R. Roybal Learning Center (aka Central Los Angeles High School #11), a colorful new high school just blocks from the heart of the city’s skyline, finally opened its doors for students on September 3 after a roughly 20-year wait. Yes, 20 years.

Formerly known as the Belmont Learning Center, Roybal, which sits over part of the Los Angeles Oil Field just west of the 110 Freeway, is one of the most notorious building projects in California history. Since its inception in 1988 the school, which has cost almost $400 million, has been delayed, partially demolished, in limbo, and then, finally redesigned by local architects WWCOT.

First designed by McClarand Vasquez & Partners, the school was largely complete when construction, which started in 1997, was halted in 1999 after tests revealed methane and hydrogen sulfide gases in the ground. Later examination in 2002 showed that the site sat on a major earthquake fault. The school’s fate was unclear until WWCOT took over in 2003, starting construction in 2006. The contractor was Hensel Phelps, and the project manager was Rick Hijazi of TBI and Associates, a consultant to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

“Our lawyers advised against it,” said Andrea Cohen Gehring, design principal at WWCOT. “But we decided that someone had to step up and something positive had to happen on the site.” The result, she said, was incredibly rewarding. “It’s probably the most interesting, complex, and exciting thing we’ve ever done in the history of this firm,” she said.

And certainly one of the most challenging. First the firm led the removal of mold and vermin and the replacement of deteriorating systems from the long-abandoned site, which Gehring referred to as a “new ruin.” To manage underground gases the team built a mitigation system that traps gases through sand, soil, and a plastic membrane and when levels are high vents them through conduits located in and around the school. To manage the earthquake threat the firm ensured that all buildings were set back the minimum fifty feet from the fault. That meant demolishing one of the school’s four classroom buildings and its administration building. Brand new replacements include another classroom building and a multipurpose building that includes a cafeteria, a library, a bookstore, music and dance rooms, and the school’s maintenance offices.

The final result of the 2,800-student, 310,000-square-foot, 104-classroom high school is a thoughtful merger of the new buildings and the original four-story design. The aborted first attempt at the school cost about $175 million and the new work cost $200 million, said Hijazi. To save (now limited) money the firm maintained the original staggered structures, which line Beaudry and 1st avenues, wherever possible. They covered the school’s formerly red colors with a patchwork of green, white, yellow, and beige meant to reflect the city’s desert environment and create visual interest. “We decided to create a tapestry that would be less bulky and create a strong pattern,” said Gehring. Its colors and composition are further echoed in the landscaping, by Rios Clementi Hale, a centralized series of pathways and green spaces dominated by draught-tolerant plants. The lower-lying and sleeker new buildings lie on one side of this inviting central green and the bulkier, more institutional original buildings wrap around the other.

The firm also decentralized the once behemoth school, creating small learning communities that are differentiated inside by color and each have their own administration facilities (some classrooms were turned into offices to facilitate this). To take advantage of the climate, WWCOT not only centered activity on the large green courtyard but built outdoor stairways, cafeteria seating, and covered walkways, and created dramatic overhanging rooftops for the new buildings. A large metal mesh screen on First and Beaudry serves as the main marquee for the school for those in the bustle of streets downtown. From the protected main green one sees the skyscrapers of downtown shoot up dramatically behind the rest of the school.

The 33.5-acre site contains several fields and a large gym, and just next to the school Mia Lehrer Landscape Architects created the rolling 9.5-acre Vista Hermosa Park, which is shared by the school and the local community. It is the first new park in downtown LA in decades.

After so many years on the project everyone involved has finally let out a sigh of relief. “It’s just fantastic,” said Hijazi. The first iteration of the school was a mess, but this time, he added, the project went surprisingly smoothly. “There were arguments, but we worked together seamlessly, like a team, and finally got this thing done.”

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Verizon’s New Clothes
A new look, left, for 375 Pearl Street, right.
Courtesy Cook + Fox

The tower at 375 Pearl Street hovers ominously above its waterfront neighborhood: a stark, largely windowless tower, disparaged by critics and unloved by neighbors. As a phone-company switching station that housed more equipment than human employees, it didn’t need transparency. It was a critical component of the city’s communication infrastructure, but its prime location and the advances in digital miniaturization that have obviated bulky copper wiring make it an appealing site for denser uses. Verizon consequently sold most of its interest in the tower. And soon it will shed an inefficient skin in favor of panoramic views, dramatic environmental gains, and enhanced amenities for tenants.

The developers, architects, engineers, and consultants on this project (and comparable ones like 1095 Sixth Avenue and 1175 Broadway) are not only making old buildings suitable for today’s marketplace, but implementing the principle that the greenest building is the one that is already built. “Existing buildings in New York are our greatest opportunity for creating a sustainable city,” says Peter Aaron, associate partner at Cook + Fox, who is working with principal Richard Cook on the revival of 375 Pearl. “According to the mayor’s PlaNYC, 85 percent of our CO2 emissions in 2030 will be created by buildings that exist now.” Cook + Fox is one of several local firms exploring curtain-wall upgrades and associated renovations to make these buildings better neighbors, creating high-value spaces more quickly and sustainably than new construction allows.

The modernizing of the forbidding 375 Pearl is an unambiguous boon to lower Manhattan. With its blank bulk, its oversized corporate logo, and its 360-degree harbor and river views wasted on inanimate objects , it’s a frequent flyer on lists of the city’s worst skyscrapers. One New York Times reporter recently called it “the tower that has no friends”; practically any change would strike observers as an improvement. But the renovations, set to begin once an anchor tenant is secured, are not limited to aesthetic remediation.

To transform an anti-icon of mid-1970s Brutalism into a lighter, greener component of the skyline, new owners Taconic Investment Partners and Square Mile Capital have assembled a design and construction team including Cook + Fox, Israel Berger Associates, and Tishman, along with structural engineers Severud Associates and mechanical engineers Jaros Baum & Bolles. The plan calls for full recladding on three sides and window replacement on the west face near the core. The curtain wall, made of very clear glass with a heat-gain-reducing custom frit pattern, will display the robust geometry of diagonal steel bracing beams, originally built on the perimeter under the assumption that the interior would never be seen.

Materials recycling here, said Aaron, is “a no-brainer”: some 300,000 square feet of limestone cladding can be “literally quarried from the building” for other uses, along with 40,000 cubic yards of concrete and 18,000 tons of steel. The building has good bones: slab heights averaging 15 feet (23 feet on some levels) allowing for daylight-harvesting lighting systems and energy-efficient underfloor air delivery, 40,000-square-foot floors with an unconventional side-load core creating large unbroken floorplates, clean-finished dustproof and fireproof concrete ceilings, and a framing system (built for racking telephone switches) that allows for inter-floor routing of cables and wiring.

Aaron reports that 375 Pearl will receive a new mechanical system and core with Class A elevators; high-efficiency chillers, pumps, and air-conditioning machines with 95 percent filtered outside air delivered to each floor; and a rooftop rainwater-capture system. The architects are studying additional energy-generating options including photovoltaics and wind turbines. An improved public plaza and a reoriented entrance will strengthen the pedestrian connection to the South Street Seaport neighborhood. This is one reskinning that will extend well beyond skin deep.

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House of the Issue: Taalman Koch
Eight rooftop solar panels provide electricity and hot water.
All images Art Gray

It’s hot, dry, brown, and dusty—and for some, a personal paradise. Welcome to the California high desert, where a pair of Los Angeles-based architects, Linda Taalman and Alan Koch, have finished construction on their own 1,100-square-foot getaway.

An experiment in hands-on minimalism, the house sits on a remote five-acre site in Pioneertown—just beyond the northwestern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park—and two hours east of Los Angeles. A husband and wife team, Taalman and Koch bought the land in 2006, and with the help of friends and family, built much of the house themselves.

It’s a project they had been contemplating since moving their design firm, Taalman Koch Architecture, to Los Angeles from New York five years ago. The couple, who met at Cornell and founded OpenOffice arts + architecture, relocated shortly after completing the design and renovation of the Dia:Beacon museum in Beacon, New York, in 2003. Their move west was precipitated by a desire to experiment with new building materials and construction techniques, and to have a more direct role in seeing buildings they had designed come to life.



The Off-grid iT house is the result of the couple’s latest experiment in mixing prefabricated and on-site construction techniques. The aluminum framing, steel roof, cabinets, and 3-form bathroom walls arrived ready to install, while the concrete foundation and electrical and plumbing systems were fabricated to meet site-specific needs.

Since the house is two miles away from the nearest electric tower, Taalman and Koch engineered an off-the-grid power system that includes eight solar panels, four of which are on the roof and provide electricity, while two additional panels serve as the house’s solar water heater.

A sizable overhang shades rectilinear floor-to-ceiling windows, some of which are patterned with a vinyl decal grid that functions both as a shading device and a privacy screen. The strategy for enclosing the living quarters is equally low-tech: the bedroom area is nestled between a small hill and a cluster of acacia trees. A pair of outdoor courtyards completes the rectangular floor plan, creating the same sense of easy indoor/outdoor living popularized by modernist architects working in California during the 1950s and ‘60s.

The house was designed as a kit around a modular floor plan, with open sections that can be shifted or mirrored to meet the client’s space and privacy needs. Taalman is unsentimental about the notion of site specificity, believing, as many modernists did, that architecture can become more accessible by way of being more generic and, in turn, more easily reproduced. The iT house may seem one-of-a-kind, but the firm has built three others just like it in Villa Park, Paso Robles, and Three Rivers, near Sequoia National Park.

“The idea of the house is that ‘iT’ can be whatever one wants it to be, it’s up to you to fill in the blanks,” explained Taalman.

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The Producers
Jonathan Segal's K. Lofts, a nine-unit residential project in San Diego's Golden Hill neighborhood. The building integrates the structure of the site's former building, a Circle K gas station and convenience store.
Paul Body Photo

Over the last hundred years or so, architects have watched their roles shrink to the point where “master builder” no longer applies. Now they seem relegated to the periphery, edged out of economic and even aesthetic control by powerful developers.

But a few intrepid CAD jockeys are working to take back control as developers of their own projects. While assuming new risks (the possibility of economic disaster) and responsibilities (even more work), they’re also reaping rewards that come with increased artistic and economic freedom. The trend is nationwide, but one of its epicenters is a place not known for architectural innovation. That would be San Diego, where a tight-knit community has developed around this pursuit, producing moderately-sized projects along the edges of downtown, and lending to a city dominated by faux-historic homes and banal high rises a much-needed shot of architectural character and sensitivity.

The Union, also by Segal, is the adaptive reuse of a former textile workers union building. The new steel and concrete-clad project includes 13 new townhouses and the architect’s offices.  PAUL BODY PHOTO

While architects like John Portman and Rob Quigley both dabbled in developing their own San Diego projects years ago, most architects in the city will tell you that the father of the so-called Architect as Developer movement is Ted Smith. Usually a cautious speaker, Smith loosens his reserve when it comes to his architectural pursuits. Like many, he started his career doing the bidding of developers, but soon decided the only way to do what he wanted to do was to do it himself. He attracted buzz in the 1980s with his first developed project, the Go Home—a revolutionary shared house with individual suites and entrances developed in Del Mar, a ritzy area zoned only for single-family homes. He later built more Go Homes with architect Cathy McCormack in the city’s Cortez Hill neighborhood, and has continued to push the envelope with his infill work such as the Essex, a group of for-lease apartments built over a raised parking structure in San Diego’s Little Italy. Another Smith undertaking, the mixed-use Merrimac, is part of the Little Italy Neighborhood Developer’s project (LIND), a collection of varied structures around a small green, each built by a different architect, among them Quigley. Smith is now working on a similar project, creating a “texture of small buildings,” co-developed with such local powerhouse architects as Teddy Cruz, Quigley, and Robin Brisebois, and called Barrio Logan in Logan Heights. “The reason I’ve developed my projects over the years is to have control and to be the artist, not the decorator. To have a blank canvas,” Smith said. As to the market for his edgy work, he said, “We’ve found groups of people who don’t want the normal thing.”

In Smith’s wake have come several loyal followers—some from within his own firm—who decided to develop on their own. His most successful protégé is Lloyd Russell, a young architect with whom he developed and designed the Essex and the Merrimac. Russell, who was awarded the AIA San Diego chapter’s Young Architect of the Year Award last year, has gone on to build his own unique house/art gallery/office in a structure, also in Little Italy, that he calls the Triangle Building for its shape; defined by its odd and quite narrow site. He is working as well on a development project in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood and also one in Portland, Oregon.

Like Smith, Russell said his favorite part of developing is the creative control and the ability to transform the city for the better with thoughtful infill projects that mesh with, instead of ignoring, the urban fabric. He feels for those still stuck in the architectural treadmill. “It’s a sad thing to watch students get out of school and slam against reality. Their beautiful dreams become a mansard roof on a Safeway,” he said.

Todd hido

Jimmy Fulker

dave Harrison
from top: The Merrimac, built by Ted Smith and Lloyd Russell as part of the LIND project; the Essex, a unique mult-family project downtown also by Smith and Russell; the Triangle Building, Russell’s first solo project, has a narrow plan that is shaped, not surprisingly, like a triangle.

The other major force in the architect-as-developer world is Jonathan Segal, who since 1990 has built 15 medium-sized projects downtown or nearby. Using a simple but elegant palette of materials like concrete and raw steel, he designs spaces that feel much larger than they actually are. His projects include K Lofts and The Union, buildings in Golden Hill with rooftop solar panels to help offset energy costs and that combine affordable and market-rate rental housing.

“It’s all about efficiency,” said Segal, who also leads the construction of his buildings, as do most architects/developers (either with their own crews, or in more cases, with sub-contractors). “By doing everything ourselves, we eliminate the grief, the change orders, and the job directives. Not having to deal with all of that takes about 40 percent of the architect’s time and work away, so that we can devote more time and money to the building.”

Working relentlessly, Segal has become the most financially successful of the lot. He said he recently sold 141 of the 171 units that his firm has built for an impressive $45 million. Segal has a garage full of vintage speedster cars, proof that developing your own projects can reap financial rewards. “Ted wants to save the world and Jonathan wants to own the world,” joked Russell.

Of course, Segal and others warn that development is not for the faint of heart. Any project can go awry, causing the architect to lose his or her shirt; and with the market taking a downturn, the risks have only increased. Russell said his bank account sank to $20 when he worked on his first project, the Merrimac, although things are much easier now. Securing funding and making insurance payments can make things difficult to get underway. And the amount of work and stress in managing everything from obtaining loans to cozying up to assessors can be a grind. Segal admitted that he now recruits more help than he did in the days when he worked seven-day, 80-hour weeks, handling everything from drawings to electrical work.

“Sometimes you’re dealing with bills and the bank and with the appraisals and doing other stuff where you’d rather be designing,” said Segal’s former employee Sebastian Mariscal, who is himself now developing the most high-end projects of the group. Mariscal’s Six, an ipê-clad condo project in La Jolla, has units that range in price from $2.3 to $2.9 million.

But Mariscal likes the life. Aside from the chance to maximize his architecture, he said he savors the opportunity to get a comprehensive view of the building trade. “It’s an amazing mental exercise. You really go from A to Z in the whole process,” he said, concluding that “you just have to be organized and you have to give yourself some parameters. You can’t obsess over a detail that will cost too much. It’s all about creating efficiency in construction and design.”

Indeed, these practitioners all claimed that hands-on development brings phenomenal lessons, insights, and benefits. These range from cutting out the middle man to learning when contractors are pulling a fast one, knowing how high to bid on a property or the most efficient means of welding. Mariscal, who has his own crew of contractors, has learned to order materials for multiple projects at once to lock down prices. Russell said that familiarity with the construction side has given him inspiration for design. He constantly gets tips on detailing from his builders; for example, the uneven concrete facade of his Triangle building, a nod to the staggered wooden formwork, he said, was inspired by a suggestion from one of his construction workers.

Sebastian Mariscal's SIX, in La Jolla, includes six condominiums that blur the distinction between inside and out. "Developers think too much about what the market wants. As architects, we can question what the market wants," he said. COURTESY SEBASTIAN MARISCAL  STUDIO

Such lessons are being passed on by Smith, Russell, Segal, and Mariscal. Together, they teach a Masters in Real Estate Development at Burbank’s Woodbury University. Classes are held in the Merrimac Building. The twelve-month, three-semester program is entirely studio-based. For the thesis, students develop finished presentation packages for a project, including market analysis, partnership agreements, funding proposals, architectural designs, and sales and leasing strategies.

Already, several new architect/developers have emerged from the class, including Mike Burnett, who is working on a Golden Hill mixed-use project; Ginger Reyes, who is breaking ground on an infill project in Riverside; and Dominic Chemello who is starting a house addition in Escondido. This adds to a growing number of practitioners in the area, including Kevin DeFreitas, who is working on several lofts and rowhouses around downtown; Graham Downes, a successful designer of local hotels, lofts, restaurants, and offices; and Public Architects (who are actually in the process of moving away from development to design larger projects). Even Kirk O’Brien, president of AIA San Diego, develops his own projects, and is a major proponent of the movement. “I’ve traveled around the country for my AIA duties, and I’ve never seen a community like this,” said O’Brien. Others point to scattered pockets in Portland, Chicago, New York, even Omaha, Nebraska. But nowhere does the phenomenon seem as focused and energized as it does in San Diego.

Ron Radziner, principal at LA-based Marmol Radziner, has developed some of his projects, and his company, which employs over 70 people on its building side, constructs most of them. But he admits that there’s really nothing in LA like the community in San Diego. “There’s a culture of do-it-yourself,” said Radziner, who credits the strong influences of Smith and Segal for pushing the movement.

Russell hopes the culture will continue to thrive, even while the economy slips and downtown development continues to push smaller projects further to the periphery.

He, like others, relishes lower costs for lots, but also feels that the hesitancy of banks to lend money for projects will weed out all but the savviest developers. But regardless, he noted he’ll continue on a path that he not only loves, but thinks could become the future of architecture. “For me, it’s intoxicating to have that connection to the building and the work,” Russell said. “I couldn’t imagine being in my position in life just being a normal architect.”

Hoist Me Up

At the Engineering Transparency conference at Columbia University in September, Laurie Hawkinson, of Smith-Miller+Hawkinson Architects, quipped that with all the glass we are using these days, how will we ever clean it? Her discussion of window washing began and ended there, but the comment revealed an issue that is a growing concern for architects around the world. As buildings use more glazing and become more complex in form, the systems for accessing their facades—not just for cleaning, but also for repair—have had to keep pace. Not that there have been any major revolutions in access technologies, but architects, one hopes, are taking facade access into consideration much earlier in the design process: If you can build that bravely curved or drastically angled envelope, you had better know how to get up there to keep it looking handsome (in an economically feasible way) throughout the life of the building.

Facade access technology has remained basically the same for the past 40 or 50 years. As was done in the time of the Seagram Building, you still hang a basket over the edge of the parapet, drop it down on ropes, and haul it back up. But two things have changed. For one, never-before-seen building profiles and rooftops crowded with mechanical systems have challenged facade access engineers to fit their machines within tighter spaces while pushing them to attain spans of over 100 feet and drops in excess of 1,000 feet. And secondly, this pushing of the envelope (along with code changes) has brought about a convergence of the systems used in the United States and those employed in other countries.

As with many aspects of the building industry, facade access technology developed along different lines in the United States than it did in Europe. This divergence in approach centered on one essential point: Where to put the hoist that raises and lowers the basket? In Europe they favored mounting the hoist on the roof of the building and powering descent and lift from there, whereas here, with our love of individualism and need to be in control, we decided to put the hoist right in the basket.

Both methods have their virtues, of course, and are suitable for a variety of applications. The machinery for self-powered baskets, for example, is quite a bit cheaper than its roof-mounted counterpart. But roof-mounted systems have become more sophisticated and versatile—employing cranes with telescoping booms and articulating heads—capable of reaching 100 percent of a building’s envelope no matter how curvaceous it may be. This factor alone has made these systems a necessity for much of today’s architecture. A quick glance around the recently completed high-profile buildings in New York, including the Hearst Tower, InterActive Corp’s headquarters, and The New York Times Building, will reveal a spate of these European devices. The roof-mounted systems are also more suitable for tall buildings since they store all excess rope, wire, or other necessary tools on the roof. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) code states that rope cannot dangle beneath the window cleaning platform, meaning that self-powered systems must hold all excess rope on the basket. And when an elevation is very high, the amount of rope it will take to reach all the way down can begin to outweigh the lifting capacity of standard hoists.

Someone very recently noticed this problem and, despite the grumblings of the penny-pinching American building market, decided to do something about it. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) A120.1-2006 Revised Standard demands that buildings in excess of 490 feet use a system where the hoist is anchored on the rooftop. Of course, the vast majority of buildings going up across the country are well under 490 feet, and the codes that govern facade access, like most codes in the building industry, are self-enforcing and loosely policed. Furthermore, where there is one code that demands you do the utmost, there is another that allows you to put forth the least amount of effort, not to mention upfront capital cost. The International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA) I-14 Safety Standard allows buildings under 300 feet tall to employ boatswain’s, or bosun’s, chairs—basically a plank dangling from a rope on which a window washer sits.

In fairness, the IWCA standard was targeted at building owners who were not equipping their roofs with any system, an all too common phenomenon that led to workers tying off to vent pipes and then falling to their deaths. Liability concerns aside, facade access consultants, as a rule, do not recommend bosun’s chairs. “Facade access isn’t just about window washing, but about building maintenance,” said Keenan Potter of Lerch Bates, one of the country’s largest facade access consulting firms. “In bosun’s chairs you can’t replace glass, just wash windows.” His point is an important one for those who think about the life cycle of buildings. While expensive, the price of sophisticated facade access systems is nominal when compared to overall building costs. And they get even cheaper when you consider that in 15 to 20 years, when your mullions begin to leak, you won’t have to cover your building in scaffolding just to patch it up.