Search results for "solar panels"

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Imagined Infrastructure
cityLAB, an urban think-tank at UCLA's Department of Architecture and Urban Design, has announced the six finalists of its WPA 2.0 competition. The competition, which stands for working public architecture, invited designers of all stripes to submit proposals for rebuilding our cities' infrastructure as a sort of throwback to the Great Depression-era WPA. Juried by Stan Allen, Cecil Balmond, Elizabeth Diller, Walter Hood, Thom Mayne, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the top-six picks run the gamut from heading off an impending water crisis to creating a softer, gentler version of our infrastructure. One finalist, Urban Algae: Speculation and Optimization, Mining Existing Infrastructure for Lost Efficiencies, proposes to harvest CO2 emissions through photosynthesis. Submitted by PORT Architecture + Urbanism, the solution could be rolled out nationwide on coal-fired power plants and toll booths, but the designers also outlined a scheme for creating a public park on floating pontoons between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook, which would harvest emissions from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Read about the other finalists after the jump. Coupling Infrastructure: Water Ecologies/Economics, submitted by Lateral Office/Infranet Lab, focuses on America's impending water crisis, particularly in southwest cities. Using Salton Sea in California as a case study, the proposal imagines combining recreational activities with economic opportunities such as the production of salt and drinking water on floating "island pods" that serve as platforms. Border Wall as Infrastructure, submitted by Rael San Fratello Architects, investigates unplumbed potentials for the Mexico-U.S. border fence. Costing an estimated $1,325 per linear foot, the barrier structure could incorporate many more useful amenities to offset the negative consequences it has wrought, such as disruption of animal habitat and the diversion of water runoff that has flooded towns. The proposal sets forth 30 alternatives to the plain-Jane obstacle that seek to combat things like the energy crisis and death from dehydration. Some of the suggestions, however, are more artistic in nature, such as the Teeter-Totter wall, which makes a comment on U.S.-Mexico labor relations. 1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees, submitted by UrbanLab, looks into the possibilities created by the Rust Belt's loss of population combined with its abundance of fresh water. The proposal suggests relocating water-starved populations into underused industrial sites in Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. Hydro-Genic City 2020, submitted by Darina Zlateva and Takuma Ono, turns LA's waterworks into energy-generating social nodes. With a lot of solar panels and a little design sense, the proposal creates urban beaches, aquatic parking lots, energy-generating water towers, and mist-infused light rail stations. Local Code: Healing the Interstitial Landscape, submitted by UC Berkeley architecture and urban design professor Nicholas de Monchaux and a team of collaborators, sets its sights on San Francisco's abandoned streets: those no longer maintained by the city. The proposal imagines a network of public parks on these neglected sites, of which there are more than 1,600.
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Moss on a Roll
With 102 planned hotel rooms, the hotel-condo project will boast the highest density in West Hollywood.
Courtesy Eric Owen Moss Architects

After getting approval for a major hotel on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles architect Eric Owen Moss is striking out for still more nettlesome terrain: Venice, California, where he’s now seeking consent for a building 35 feet higher than current planning standards. That mixed-use project, proposed for one of the busiest intersections in the area, pits Moss and his well-connected development team against some of the most effective community activists in LA.

Moss and his firm head into battle with momentum from his August 6 victory in West Hollywood, where the planning commission overruled the recommendation of its own staff and gave the nod to an 11-story hotel and adjoining condo complex, set for a site at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive. Among other things, staffers had cited the scale of the project, which exceeds allowed height limits for the residential street at its rear border by 70 feet, and boasts a FAR of 4.07, the highest approved since West Hollywood was founded in 1984. 

the Sunset Strip project rises above a significantly lower-scale residential context. 

But the commission brushed aside such worries and instructed city officials to negotiate a development agreement for the endeavor. The approval brings valuable transit occupancy taxes from its hotel component, and developer Weintraub Financial Services has agreed to negotiate a similar payment for the project’s 48 time-share units.

In Venice, Moss has proposed a V-shaped plan on a tight, 120-by-125-foot site at 1020 Venice Boulevard, where a roughly triangular parcel is formed where Venice crosses Lincoln Boulevard. The project contains 40 apartments, of which about 30 percent would be affordable, rising five floors above a concrete platform and 5,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space. Each bar of the V would bulge toward its streetwall at midpoint. A narrow, triangular courtyard would cut through the top five floors, providing ventilation for the residential units. Rooftop solar panels would cascade down the building’s south face. 

The venice building's massing is configured to help maximize daylighting in residential units. 

Moss, who is working with developer Valley Heart Group, is seeking several variances for the project, which falls under the purview of the Venice Coastal Specific Plan. If granted, the variances would double the lot's density from 1.5:1 to 3:1. The project will also need to obtain permission for its 65-foot height, which far exceeds the city’s limit of 30 feet.

Representatives of the developer have cited the project’s location on a major transit corridor as a reason for the density boost. In addition, they point out, the project would generate housing stock on a currently vacant lot, provide four units of very low income housing and eight units of workforce housing, and generate solar power.

A cut-away portion of the southwest facade improves cross-ventilation and offers views toward the ocean.

Such arguments have not swayed some Venice residents. “There’s no guarantee that there’s going to be light rail transit on Lincoln,” said land-use activist David Ewing, who is the co-chair of Council District 11’s Transportation Advisory Committee. “It’s one alternative being looked at, but it presents a lot of engineering difficulties.”

Local activists have successfully blocked big projects before, and they have vowed to do the same again. The Venice Neighborhood Council voted to oppose Moss’ designs in June, and while Valley Heart has filed an application with the city, the project has yet to be heard by a zoning administrator.

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Catch the Wave
The undulating, solar-topped canopy is inspired by seismic shock waves.
Courtesy Lundberg Design

While many cities have been working to green their public transportation systems, rolling out hybrid buses, electric-vehicle fleets, and the like, San Francisco is one of the first to tackle that humdrum piece of transit street furniture: the bus shelter.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has cut the ribbon on the first of 1,200 new bus shelters the city plans to install over the next five years, and a third of them will be powered by solar arrays mounted on distinctive, wavelike canopies. The transparent, LED-lit unit, by local architecture firm Lundberg Design, was the winning entry in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s design competition for the shelters, which drew 35 submissions.

The yellow-topped shelters, without solar units in the canopy, are intended for historic districts.
Images courtesy lundberg design

Taking its cue from the shape of seismic shock waves, the canopy is made of recycled, 40 percent post-industrial polycarbonate, with a ribbon of solar cells running down its center. The photovoltaic (PV) material supplies power to a LED arrival-time display and to a push-button loudspeaker for visually impaired riders, with extra power being fed back into the grid. The architects were charged with designing a structure in three different sizes to suit a range of neighborhoods and inclines, so the 70 percent reclaimed steel frame uses a bolted assembly that references the city’s bridges and can expand from two panels to four. Convex bench seats shed debris and moisture, while also discouraging patrons from reclining—perhaps while using the shelter’s handy, integrated WiFi.

The PV ribbons are expected to feed power back into the city grid.

As the remaining units are rolled out over the coming years, the city and project sponsor Clear Channel—which is funding the fabrication of the new shelters in return for a share of the advertising revenue over the next 15 years—expect them to become not only a symbol of San Francisco’s sustainable future, but also a model for public transit systems across the country. And at $25,000 to $30,000 each, they’re also a model of what the right sponsor can do for a city’s image.

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Whither BP?
When BP opened their eco-friendly Helios House gas station on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, it was touted as the future of such facilities, and a coup for a brand whose image was all about conservation. The station, designed by Office dA and Johnston Mark Lee, featured a metal-clad, geometric design, low-flow toilets, solar panels and a floor made of recycled glass, among other features. (it didn't, however, offer alternative fuels..) But it appears that BP may not have had such high regard for their endeavor. A recent drive-by revealed that the station, still unchanged, was no longer a BP but an Arco. Yes, Arco, the Wal Mart of gas. One of the helpful guides at the station explained that BP actually owns Arco, and that the change of label was “an internal business decision,” whatever that means. Looks like green marketing just took one on the chin.
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In Detail: Eleven Times Square
The north and south faces of Eleven Times Square were treated distinctly to respond to their unique contexts.
All images courtesy FXFowle

All architecture, to a certain extent, is a response to the demands of external forces and interior programming. Eleven Times Square, however, a new speculative office tower designed by FXFowle now nearing completion on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, goes further than most structures in deferring to its surroundings while catering to the needs of tenants. In the process, the skyscraper has moved beyond even its most environmentally friendly contemporaries—the New York Times Building, Hearst Tower, and One Bryant Park—to set a new standard for tall building design.

The tower’s sensitivity to the streets and structures around it is immediately apparent upon visiting Times Square. Though it stands 40 stories tall and encompasses 1.1 million square feet, the tower is far from imposing. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable. This is because at the northwest corner, after the sixth floor, the building steps back significantly. Higher up the elevation, it cants out again to regain floor space, creating a skewed profile, but the gesture is highly effective.

The south face echoes the massing of Piano’s Times Building next door, and features a solar shading system and highly reflective glass.
The north face pulls back after the podium to preserve views from the street, then cants out to regain floor space.
Approaching from the west, the neighboring Empire Theater remains in plain sight, as does the Candler Building with its Coke bottle– green windows. The same is true of the opposite approach: Pedestrians can continue to appreciate the view of Raymond Hood’s art-deco masterpiece, the McGraw-Hill Building. These historic structures, so important to the character of the district, would have been obscured if Eleven had jutted straight up into the sky.

Eleven’s highrise neighbors to the north and south also influenced its form. The podium and setback tower motif echoes Arquitectonica’s Westin Hotel across 42nd Street, creating an open gateway to Times Square from the west. Meanwhile, the massing of the building’s south face mirrors Renzo Piano’s Times Building across 41st Street, with its cutout corners, sheer verticality, and horizontal detailing.

Following these disparate design cues created two different aesthetics and, for each, a distinctly defined side to the building. FXFowle harnessed this dynamic to create what might be New York City’s only solar-oriented skyscraper—a factor that added points to the project’s target LEED Gold rating. The south portion of the building features perforated aluminum sunshades—a nod to Piano’s exterior shading system across the street—and the glass is more reflective than in the north portion, which was outfitted with fritting at the upper regions of the vision panels.

Overall, the curtain wall is extremely performative. It is structurally glazed, meaning that there are no exterior mullion caps, which can create heat transfer points. The insulated panels are filled with argon gas rather than a vacuum, further adding to their insulation value.

In addition, stainless-steel spacers were used between the lites at the edges of the panels, where curtain walls lose most of their heat, rather than aluminum, which is one of the best conductors available. Altogether, Eleven’s envelope boasts a U value—or rate of non-solar heat loss—of approximately .28, making it more efficient than the curtain wall at 7 World Trade Center, a previous touchstone for highly insulated glass walls.

While allowing the context to mold their building, the architects did not give short shrift to Eleven’s unnamed future tenants. This meant maximizing flexible floor space, access to daylight, and views. The site itself is L-shaped, an awkward template for a skyscraper, but FXFowle again used the two-faced nature of the building to their benefit.

Like nearly all New York City office buildings in the post-9/11 era, Eleven has a composite structure of a concrete core and steel-framed bays, marrying the security of the former’s rigidity and fire resistance to the versatility inherent in the latter’s long-span capabilities. The architects couched the core in the crook of the L, keeping the street faces open and dividing the north and south sides into distinct spaces, each large enough to accommodate disparate programming.

FXFowle located the core at the crook of the L-shaped Building, opening up the street faces for wide bays and an open plan. The rotation of the north face provides more ample views of the nearby Hudson River.

Eleven’s plan also turned out to be a boon for views of the city. The cutouts made on the south face created a kind of bay window, adding to the panoramas and daylight available to tenants—factors that earned more points in the LEED tally. The north side, however, is even more of a view machine.

FXFowle rotated the canted portion of the building, a volume known as the crystal, by several degrees to the west so that the north-facing windows did not look out directly onto the Westin, but instead opened up dramatically to nearly unobstructed vistas—at least on the upper floors—of the Hudson River and New Jersey. The crystal also features perimeter columns pulled back from the facade, creating cantilevers of as much as 15 feet ending in unbroken expanses of glass.

The architects were also able to avoid placing columns in the building’s many corners, a consideration that will no doubt add to the allure of these locations for offices, while at the same time perhaps opening them up to more than just the upper echelon of the corporate chain.

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Emerald City
What if one block in Texas became the sustainable model for the world? Such was the question posed recently by Urban Re:Vision, a California-based group bent upon creating better cities through rethinking the components that make up a city block. Earlier this month, the organization unveiled the three finalists in one of its latest design competitions: Re:Vision Dallas. Contestants were asked to create proposals for a mixed-use development near downtown that would do "no harm to people or place." Find out more about the finalists after the jump: Each of the three winning proposals boasted strong themes of nature and working the land. Entangled Bank, by the Charlotte, North Carolina, architecture firm Little, features a "sky pasture", where livestock would graze, and a vertical farm. The multi-phased development includes both podium and tower elements, each outfitted with energy-producing technology such as solar panels and vertical wind turbines. The project was also programmed sustainably, including such community resources as a nutrition center, an organic culinary institute, and daycare. Forwarding Dallas, by the Portuguese firm Atelier Data & MOOV, is morphologically inspired by the natural landscape of hills and valleys. The buildings would boast trees and "luxurious" plants in the gullies, and more sturdy vegetation at the higher elevations, with the tops of the promontories bedecked with solar panels and wind turbines. Last but not least, Greenways Xero Energy, by David Baker and Partners Architects and Fletcher Studio of San Francisco, California, rides the line between a public market and a barnyard. Broken into three separated masses, the project would engage its residents as well as its neighbors with public orchards, community gardens, and locally supplied restaurants. Equipped with solar panels, though no wind turbines, Xero also features such energy saving devices as solar hot water, a ground source heat pump, and hybrid desiccant cooling system. While many Urban Re:Vision competitions and projects have been strictly theoretical, Re:Vision Dallas will put the ideas it generates into bricks and mortar. Dallas has already purchased the land for the development and the mayor is backing the plan to bring a paragon of sustainability to Texas.
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Santa Clara 7, SF 0
Kansas City-based firm HNTB'S design for San Francisco 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara.
Courtesy HNTB

The game’s not over yet, but on Wednesday the San Francisco 49ers struck a deal with the city of Santa Clara to build their new stadium there. After more than two years of discussions, the city council approved the terms of a new $937 million facility, to be designed by Kansas City-based architectural firm HNTB.

The 49ers have been itching to get out of their dilapidated digs at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for some time. Last year, San Francisco voters signed off on a sweeping redevelopment plan for the Hunters Point neighborhood, including plans for a new stadium, with developer Lennar agreeing to chip in $100 million towards the new facilities. But the 49ers were already deep into talks about moving 40 miles south, where its headquarters and training fields are located (and where there was much more room for parking and far fewer road improvement issues), leaving San Francisco at fourth and long.

THE PROPOSED SITE IS A 15-ACRE OVERFLOW PARKING LOT for the great american amusement park.

In an intricate investment and revenue-sharing deal, Santa Clara will contribute an amount similar to San Francisco’s proposal: $79 million from redevelopment funds and another $35 million from a special tax at local hotels. After an environmental impact review is completed in the fall, the plan will go to residents for a vote next spring.

The proposed locale is a 15-acre overflow parking lot for the Great America amusement park. “The city planned for an entertainment center right in a core of business parks, so a stadium fits very nicely into that concept,” said assistant city manager Ron Garratt. He anticipates that the project, slated for completion in 2014, will attract new hotel development on seven open acres nearby.

The plans by HNTB, which envision the stadium as more of a multipurpose space, will go through a public design review in the next few months. “The challenge that our owners have set for the architects is to create the next generation of stadium design,” said Steve Fine, director of business communications for the 49ers. “We wanted to create a dynamic concept that wouldn’t date itself quickly.”

THE PLANS BY HNTB ENVISION A MULTIPURPOSE SPACE with large plazas opening the stadium to surrounding views.

The plans reflect the latest thinking in stadium design, replacing a section of the traditional tiered bowl with a stack of suites and club spaces. Instead of ringing the mezzanine level, the suites are all on one side. Four levels of club space beneath are designed to double as extra meeting spaces for the convention center across the street or for other events. On either side of the block of suites, large plazas open the stadium up to surrounding views; they can also be outfitted with temporary seating to expand the stadium’s capacity from 68,000 seats to 75,000 seats.

The stadium is designed for good views from all seats, with a larger percentage of seats in the desired "lower bowl" than any other NFL stadium. Open concourses are designed so that fans can still see the field while buying their refreshments. In the initial designs, the vertical wing will also have a green roof. Solar panels, a paperless ticketing system, and energy-efficient building controls are all envisioned. The vertical facade, which faces the freeway just west, can be used as a scrim to project attention-catching graphics.

With the clubhouse forming its façade, the stadium from a distance will resemble one of the area’s office complexes. It might not be the most distinctive structure, but that could be to its advantage in Santa Clara. Meanwhile, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is sowing dissent, publicly remarking that Santa Clarans should be putting public money into schools, rather than stadiums.

Can Newsom come up with a hail mary to keep the Niners in town?

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Sunny South Side
Exelon and SunPower's solar array would be sited on a long-derelict, 39-acre property.
Courtesy SunPower

Solar power plants are blooming all over the world, each one claiming to be the biggest and most powerful. But instead of the Mohave Desert or the Qaidam Basin, Exelon Generation, an energy company that serves the Northeast, parts of Texas, and the city of Chicago, and SunPower Corporation, a manufacturer of solar systems, plan to develop the nation’s largest urban solar power plant at a former industrial site on Chicago’s South Side.

Exelon is arguing for the importance of finding urban locations for renewable energy in order to provide electrical services in urban areas. The project is planning to lease and make use of a 39-acre brownfield owned by the City of Chicago at the West Pullman Industrial Redevelopment Area. This 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) facility, featuring 32,800 solar panels that will produce enough clean energy to fulfill the annual requirements of 1,200 to 1,500 homes, will displace approximately 31.2 million pounds of greenhouse emissions annually (the equivalent of taking more than 2,500 cars off the road or planting more than 3,200 acres of forest).

As part of the company’s environmental strategy, Exelon Generation will own and operate the plant and market the electricity and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates it generates and SunPower will design, manufacture, and install the solar system. SunPower estimates the system will generate 50 percent more power than conventional solar panels, allowing significant energy production in a constricted urban space.

“The federal loan application went in last month and the project is scheduled for completion by the end of this year,” Jeffrey Smith, a spokesman for Exelon, told AN. The company applied for a federal loan under the federal stimulus legislation from the U.S Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program Office, which, if obtained, will cover up to 80 percent of this $60 million project.

Molly Sullivan, director of communications for the Department of Community Development of the City of Chicago, said that even after remediation the brownfield site would not be suitable for recreational open space for the public. “This site has been unused for 30 years, and didn’t get any interest from anybody else. The prospect of having the nation’s biggest urban solar plant is very exciting for us. We think this project has a lot of potential to bring something positive for the community and the environment.” The city and the energy companies are still working on the terms for the lease, but the project fits the city’s environmental agenda and would bring economic development to an otherwise unused site.

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Crit: Kroon Hall
All photos Robert Benson

With its vaulted roof, communal spaces, and casual materials, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ new Kroon Hall feels more like an oversized house than its monumental appearance in photographs would suggest—albeit a house with ambitions. Its long volume, combined with the project’s hoped-
for LEED Platinum status, evokes the great, sheltering form of an ark, one designed to float Yale into the 21st century, training the world’s future green leaders along the way.

Designed by London-based Hopkins Architects, with local firm Centerbrook Architects & Planners as executive architect, Kroon Hall is Yale’s fourth green building and, as befits the school’s curriculum, its most ambitious in sustainable terms, designed to use 50 percent less energy than a comparable modern building. Didactic features are few, but telling: Touch screens show the status of the building’s ground-source heat pumps, 100-kilowatt photovoltaic roof panel array, rainwater-recycling system, and solar hot-water heaters. Among other high-tech touches, red and green lights on each floor indicate when opening windows would be optimal, and a line of photovoltaics is showcased in clear glass over the central stair.

Despite these sustainable elements, the 58,200-square-foot building as a whole is low-key about its engineering. That sets it apart from most of the highly publicized green buildings of the last few years, particularly those with silvery skins and struts by British architects. There’s a hint of the 1970s ski lodge in the building’s wooden beams and abundant daylight. And Kroon Hall’s modest form is perhaps its most eco-friendly feature of all.

Hopkins’ paramount strategy from both a sustainable and an aesthetic perspective was to make Kroon Hall only 57 feet wide (and 218 feet long). That slimness makes it possible to daylight the entire interior during part of the year, as well as harness the building’s long south side for passive heating, and install operable windows. The result is that the visitor is always aware of the outer walls and the outdoors beyond them, usually glimpsed through layers of glass and oak louvers in a pleasantly constricting way.

That slim profile led to the rest of the structure’s form, with its open, column-free interior and a pitched roof that relates to the surrounding buildings without mimicking them. One adjacent roofline of note is the catenary curve of the Whale—Eero Saarinen’s 1956 Ingalls Rink—now undergoing thoughtful restoration and expansion across the street. Kroon Hall’s soft peak and indented sides suggest the influence of that modern icon on a traditional form, but Kroon’s rooftop PV panels, like oversize slate tiles, seem tame in comparison to the Whale’s swooping lines, and the roof seems a lost opportunity for Hopkins, however hard they were trying to fit in on campus.

Granted, they had another intimidating Yale precedent: Louis Kahn’s 1974 British Art Center, a major point of reference for British architects. What Kroon Hall has in common with Kahn’s masterpiece is simplicity and strength in materials: the oak, the exposed concrete walls and ceilings (the better to absorb and later radiate heat), the clear unfussy form. The building innovates in its entrance facades: three stories of glass shaded by fixed louvers made of Douglas fir. Openness and practicality, homely wood and shiny glazing—it’s the pairing of those elements that give Kroon Hall its interest.

It is where Kroon diverges from the simplicity of Kahn that I have my biggest problem with the design, aside from the lingering sentimentality in that roofline. The south and north facades are faced in sandstone, bright enough to make you squint on a sunny day. The sandstone, its texture rough and ugly, appears nowhere inside the building, and so stands out as alien.

Already, students and faculty have embraced the building as their own, and the top floor (really a top deck) is a hub of chance meetings and chats. The suggested nickname for the Knobloch Environment Center, the Knob, has given rise to a movement to call the adjacent, smaller cafe area the Bloch. In a sign of messy vitality, a competition has already been held to combat the lack of cleanliness of the communal kitchen. Meanwhile, faculty members have overruled the red lights and opened the windows on non-optimal days, deeming the lights unduly authoritarian.

But there’s also a certain blandness about the interiors. All that red oak paneling (50 percent from Yale’s own forests) is beautiful, but a little monotonous. The high-ceilinged Knob, furnished with red rectangles of carpet and dark brown sofas, feels like an ecclesiastical hotel lobby. Dean Gus Speth, whose tenure spanned the inception, construction, and completion of Kroon Hall, reportedly imagined that space as a boisterous, freethinking commons, and has been disappointed that it is the quietest of the public areas. More socializing is getting done in the ground-floor lounge: Its low ceilings and carpeted floor suggest a rec room, and behavior follows.

Kroon Hall is a model of comfortable, even beautiful, sustainable architecture, neither institutional nor fussy, informal in a truly modern way. I can’t put it in the first rank of Yale’s modern architectural wonders, as nothing about it is technically or architecturally stunning. But few buildings can run with that crowd, and several of those (Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, Eero Saarinen’s Morse & Stiles Colleges) were less accommodating to student life from the start. Kroon’s greatest strength may be that it feels designed precisely for student life, with lots of room to make one’s mark.

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Do Not Overlook This!
On Saturday LA residents and park rangers alike celebrated the opening of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City. Located on a hill 500 feet above the city, the new 50 acre state park has probably the most complete view of Los Angeles that exists, with close to 360 degree vistas that stretch from Downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean. The park's visitors center—which contains exhibitions on local ecology and history and offers event spaces and conference rooms— was designed by San Diego-based Safdie Rabines Architects. With a bare bones budget they created  a curved, canopied, exposed concrete, steel, and (floor to ceiling) glass structure that hugs the site, affords incredible visibility, and seems to grow out of its undulating earthscape. They also helped shape that earth, which forms an ampitheater adjacent to the building, imbedded with unique native plants (one of them, the Coastal Sage Scrub, is being saved from extinction). Next to that area curving mounds lead one to a hidden crescendo: the unmatched panorama from the eastern end of the park. The only down side: because the Parks Department is so poor they couldn't afford solar panels or other sustainable building elements. Yes, this is still LA, isn't it?
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Greening the Skyline
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a new plan to retrofit the city's existing building stock.
Spencer T. Tucker

From solar panels to LED Christmas lights, Rockefeller Center is at the forefront of making old buildings new through sustainable technology. It was only fitting, then, that today, on Earth Day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn would choose one of the center’s roof gardens to announce what he described as the “nation’s most comprehensive plan” to green the city’s existing building stock.

“It will do more than anything to reduce our carbon footprint, the equivalent of making the city of Oakland carbon neutral,” the mayor said. “Making existing buildings more energy efficient is the key to our environmental and economic health.”

Through a half-dozen measures—four laws introduced today in the City Council and two provisions in the mayor’s PlaNYC program—the city could reduce its carbon footprint by 5 percent citywide, moving it closer to the PlaNYC goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030. Furthermore, it would create 19,000 “green collar” jobs for the workers retrofitting older buildings, save $15 billion per year in energy costs, and, the mayor hopes, serve as a model for cities worldwide. “Just look at the cigarette tax,” Bloomberg said to drive home the point.

With 80 percent of the city’s greenhouse gases coming from buildings, according to PlaNYC data, they present the best opportunity to reduce energy usage. While it seems new LEED-rated buildings are announced almost every day, far more sit idly by, faucets dripping, windows leaking, lights left on.

The announcement of the new plan was made on the roof of the 620 Loft at Rockefeller Center.
Spencer T. Tucker

The new plan is mostly targeted at larger buildings in the range of 50,000 square feet and up. (For comparison, 2 Columbus Circle measures 54,000 square feet.) Under the new legislation, these buildings would have to undergo an energy audit every 10 years to ensure they meet the current efficiency standards. Any that do not would have to make the necessary upgrades. Second, such buildings would be required to make an annual benchmark analysis so owners know exactly how their buildings are performing and where they might improve. And third, for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, one area that owners would be required to upgrade when a space is renovated is lighting—which generally accounts for 20 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions—and would have to meet the city’s most current efficiency standards.

These three measures would be undergirded by the closure of a loophole in the city energy code that requires buildings to be retrofitted only when major renovations are undertaken. Under the new plan, any renovation would be required to meet the modern standards of the code.

While the larger buildings targeted by the city cover only 2 to 3 percent of the city’s area, they account for 45 percent of its energy consumption, Quinn said. It was also suggested that once the bigger buildings are tackled, the smaller ones will follow.

To ensure that the city has the workers to complete all this retrofitting work, the Economic Development Corporation will be setting up a worker training program in conjunction with NYSERDA, a state body that provides grant money for conservation programs. “Everyone’s been talking about green jobs, but this is the program that will actually do it,” Bloomberg said.

Joining him for the press conference were leaders of top labor unions, whose workers would obviously benefit from the program. “Our workforce is up to the hard job of de-carbonizing the city’s skyline,” said Jack Ahern, president of the New York City Central Labor Council.

One group that is apprehensive about the program is the city’s developers and building owners. “My members all want to make sure we have a green city and green buildings,” Stephen Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a telephone interview after the event. “But the thing is, we don’t want to be stuck with something that doesn’t work.” Spinola said that he had been working with the mayor on the program for the last year, and hoped that any major differences could be ironed out.

Acknowledging the difficulties of the current economic climate, the administration has set aside $16 million of stimulus funding to be used in a revolving loan program to help finance the required energy improvements. This, along with the other five pieces of the program, would go into effect between 2010 and 2013, though the mayor emphasized that the program “pays for itself” and hoped building owners would begin immediately.

Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, said he wished his home state of California had come up with the plan, though he admitted the program would probably make its way out there through the city’s example. “New York City will create the marketplace for energy-efficient technology for the next 50 years in this one single act,” Pope said. “I don’t think we appreciate how drastically this will change the way Americans use energy.”

Today also marked the second anniversary of PlaNYC, and with it the release of its annual progress report (PDF). The mayor cheerfully announced that 85 of its 127 initiatives were on or ahead of schedule.

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Koolhaas Flames Out, Shantytowns Inform
The announcement that Rem Koolhaas would be the keynote speaker for the “Ecological Urbanism” conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), which took place over three days last weekend, raised eyebrows, especially among sustainability-minded architects, landscape architects, and planners. Koolhaas had never shown any particular interest in the subject, and the fire at his TVCC Tower in Beijing was interpreted by many as a symbol of an era that had come to an end, ushering in more sustainable and responsible practices. Those of us who admire and respect his projects, but also believe that our profession needs to go green to adapt to the 21st century, were hoping his speech would redeem his formerly blasé attitude toward sustainability and provide some clarification of why this seemingly odd choice for a keynote was made. No such luck. Despite the disappointing keynote speech, charged with needless attacks against talented colleagues, including Renzo Piano and Norman Foster, and no definitive resolution as to what Ecological Urbanism is or should be, the conference added provocative ideas to the discourse on sustainable architecture and planning. Along with the usual urban farms, solar panels, wind farms, and bioswales, there were innovative proposals that advocated for changes in technological and programmatic aspects of the profession, from Mitchell Joachim’s radical houses made of meat and compact electric transportation systems presented by MIT’s William Mitchell to proposals for highrise cemeteries and prisons in the middle of Manhattan by Spanish architect Inaki Abalos. Probably one of the most enlightening talks, stripped from the glamour of sci-fi technologies or sexy images, was the breakout session on informal cities in Latin America led by Christian Werthmann, Associate Professor and Program Director at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the GSD. He conducts what he calls “dirty work,” a research initiative on upgrading informal cities. Despite the region’s slowing growth rate, lessons can be learned from the formation of favelas, barrios, or shantytowns. “The world has entered the urban millennium. Half the world's people now live in cities and towns. That in itself marks a historic transition,” said then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, according to a 2005 UN-Habitat report. “But what will happen over the next 30 years is just as significant. According to United Nations projections, virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in the urban areas of low- and middle-income countries. How we manage that growth will go a long way toward influencing the world's future peace and prosperity.” Werthmann told AN: “There are two fields of operation regarding informal settlements. One is to retrofit existing informal cities, and the other is how do you control or guide the future of informal cities.” In Latin America, there are examples like Brazil, where the government provides informal cities with communal infrastructure: water, electricity, health, sewage, and roads. But there are no comprehensive strategies. Other approaches involve community endeavors and grassroots movements. But how can cities prepare for this to create healthier communities? “That is a harder task. Nobody wants to give away their own land so people can build on it,” he said. Favelas and slums have received a lot of attention in movies like City of God and Slumdog Millionaire, in which they are depicted as unsanitary and dangerous places. But there is more to them than violence and disease. Interestingly enough slums have many of the qualities that make thriving cities frequently promoted by urban planners: They are pedestrian-friendly, high-density, mixed-use, and made of recycled materials, usually debris from adjacent formal cities. “American and European cities could learn from these informal settlements as an example for low-rise, high-density development. They have an intensive street life, the public space is not much but well used, as opposed to the suburban model, which is completely inefficient,” Werthmann said. “There is a need for an in-between model, that is not the highrise of Manhattan or Sao Paulo.” The overall sentiment of the conference was that urban living is the most sustainable way to live, so it was interesting that the counterpart of retrofitting shantytowns—fixing suburbia—didn’t come up. It would have been nice to see more ideas like that and less of distant, zero-carbon cities for a privileged few, like Foster’s Masdar project in Abu Dhabi.