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Tinsel Town Facades

Gensler's Michael Volk and Olivier Sommerhalder discuss Facades+ LA and the trends reshaping their city
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From November 14 to 15, Facades+ LA will bring regional, national, and international leaders of the AEC industry to Southern California for the fifth year in a row. Hosted by The Architect's Newspaper and co-chaired by Gensler's local office, the conference is split between a full-day symposium and a second day of hands-on workshops. Conference keynotes include MVRDV principal Fokke Moerel and Rojkind Arquitectos principal Michel Rojkind. Other participants at the conference symposium and workshops will include Access Industries, Belzberg Architects, Christopher Hawthorne, CO Architects, FreelandBuck, Front, Gensler, Griffin Enright Architects, Grupo Anima Mexico, HGA, John Fidler Preservation Technologies, Morphosis, Neme Design Studio USA, Omgivning, PATTERNS, RDH, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Walter P Moore, Trammell Crow, Sasaki, Shubin Donaldson Architects, Spectra Company, Studio NYL, WJE, and Zahner. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, Gensler principals and conference co-chairs Michael Volk and Olivier Sommerhalder discussed their firm's recent work and the architectural trends reshaping Los Angeles. AN: Gensler is the largest architectural and design practice in the world. How does this breadth of scale impact design at the regional level? Michael Volk & Olivier Sommerhalder: As an integral part of our firm’s philosophy, our 50 global offices practice as though we are one firm, and we have set up our infrastructure to fluidly support this behavior. We bring our global knowledge and a very deep bench to bear on every endeavor, from large scale international work to regional and local projects. Our dimension is such that it allows us to have in-house expertise in many relevant disciplines, including facade experts, and we bring this capability to the table wherever needed, at any time, making us nimble and innovative designers who add value to our client’s projects. What exciting projects is the Los Angeles office up to, and are you demonstrating any concepts tested at your research institute? In our Los Angeles office, as in all our offices, we are extending our thinking on building design to the scale of shaping the future of cities. At the forefront of this is a design that addresses energy, climate, and housing concerns. Like many things in design, we are finding, however, that low tech and simple solutions are most impactful and meaningful in addressing these issues. Projects such as our office building C3 in Culver City and upcoming projects now on the table for mixed-use and residential high rises downtown and in the Hollywood area are returning to simple passive solar and ventilation techniques, as well as significant integration of public and private green space, to reconsider the “First Principles” of their typologies. Living with nature and consuming less energy and water, while at the same time being in closer proximity to intellectual, economic and recreational capital, are among the positive aspects of urban life research shows to be most valuable and sustaining. Los Angeles is in a certain sense maturing as a city. What do you perceive to be the most interesting trends within the region today? Los Angeles is indeed maturing, and at the same time it’s dimension and urban condition make it an ideal city to be a testing ground for new urban innovations. Housing, density, and mobility are the leading topics, alongside climate change and energy considerations. These topics are often seen hand in hand leading to development in the city. For example, with the expansion of Metro-rail corridors, mixed-use and higher density projects are naturally emerging, bringing with them an integrated, urban lifestyle of live/work/play within a short radius that is somewhat new to Southern California. As another example, long-standing neighborhoods now connected by mixed-use corridors and transportation, are evolving into multi-faceted hubs, rather than the single-use bedroom communities they traditionally have been. This has had the consequence of shrinking the typical radius of commuting and the positive synergistic effect of an organic mix of programs supporting a vibrant daily life, increasing economic and cultural offerings within a denser fabric. Another surprising observation that may seem counter-intuitive considering Southern California’s envied climate: Over the past few years Los Angeles’ built environment seems to have rediscovered the connection to the outdoors. The mainstream has adopted outdoor patios for restaurants, the workplace has begun an extension of the workspace to the outdoors, and new apartment buildings and condominiums have generous balconies and roof terraces. This once-forgotten, but obvious, benefit is having a big impact on the design of buildings, envelopes, and landscapes. Which materials do you believe are changing facade practices in terms of design and performance? The most exciting material, surprisingly, is landscape. Projects like Second Home in Hollywood by Selgascano, and our projects for One Westside, Epic in Hollywood and several mixed-use and residential high-rises we are currently working on in the city are (re) introducing landscape as a major building and space-defining element. The notion of biophilia as a driving conceptual element has emerged internationally in the last years in places like Europe, South East Asia and significantly in Singapore. Now, in Los Angeles, we are beginning to see this design thinking taking place. Landscape as a design element is now becoming foreground - as it can and should in our climate, not just background as it often has been. More conventionally, timber and wood are also emerging on the horizon, not only as a primary structure but also as an envelope. Our project for the Headquarters of the company Alexandria in Pasadena includes a unitized curtainwall made of white oak with a second skin of wooden sunscreens. Further information regarding Facades+ Los Angeles can be found here.
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Plus Pollution

Plus Pool floats a light sculpture to raise awareness of NYC's water pollution problem
Nine years ago, New Yorkers were promised a floating, self-filtering pool on the East River, but all they've gotten so far is a floating light sculpture. Plus Pool Light has been installed, temporarily, in place of Plus Poola floating outline one quarter the size of the original proposal, consisting of LED lights that change color depending on water quality.  “It’s about having people look at something beautiful and coming here if they want to learn more,” said Archie Lee Coates IV, a partner at New York-based Playlab and a cocreator of the public pool proposal. But, as he also told The New York Times “It’s been incredibly difficult, painful and exhausting,” navigating the red tape and blockades associated with publicly funded projects in NYC.  Plus Pool (or +Pool) was conceived in a brainstorming session amongst Coates and his design friends Jeff Franklin, Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu back in 2010. The concept began with the frustration that New York City residents are constantly within walking distance of water, but live largely cut-off from it. The Hudson and East Rivers remain too polluted for safe swimming, and public beaches often take over an hour to get to. While waterways in several other major metropolises have been cleaned up in the interest of the public as well as tourists, like the Seine in Paris, New York’s rivers have been unswimmable for over 70 years. Plus Pool would use a state-of-the-art filtration system to help people reclaim their rivers for recreational use, and even strengthen campaigns to keep the waters clean.  In response to the passing of the Clean Water Act, many liquid assets in NYC were adopted as Superfund sites by the government, but sites like the Gowanus Canal remain in deplorable condition, as the city has yet to adequately update their storm surge systems—a system so inadequate that a 2018 NYT article titled “Please Don’t Flush the Toilet, It’s Raining,” drew viral reactions. All of that intake affects the ecosystem of the East River, and therefore the light show of the Plus Pool Light. When the quality is at an acceptable level, the LEDs shine turquoise-blue, but as sewage and bacteria levels increase, the lights shift to pink. This real-time quality indication comes from data collected by on-site sensors as well as an algorithm developed by researchers at Columbia University and the tech firm Reaktor While Plus Pool has been compared to other “Instagrammable” public projects like The High Line, this environmentally sensitive project may be more about addressing the physical effects of human degradation of the environment than reclaiming leisure space. The Light installation has already turned public attention towards the water by offering an unflinching visual representation of urban pollution, and in the era of Instagram and visual storytelling, potentially generating more attention for realizing the Plus Pool project.  Plus Pool Light will be on view off of Lower Manhattan’s Seaport District until January 3, 2020.
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After Stonewall

Three takes on how New York’s queer nightlife spaces have evolved
This year, New York’s Pride celebrations revolved around a single bar: The Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street. In the late 1960s—before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 made the site historic—the windows would’ve been blacked out, the doors kept closed, the inside kept dark and smoky until bright lights flashed on as a warning for an impending police raid. Now the bar is dressed in dozens of rainbow flags and sponsorship banners from Brooklyn Lager and Sky Blue, and in 2016, it became the first LGBTQ site to be designated a National Monument. As the jewel in New York’s queer history crown, the Stonewall Inn shows how the visibility of LGBTQ venues has changed over the past fifty years. “Bars have long been a key social aspect of gay life,” said Andrew Dolkart, cofounder of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a group that documents significant buildings from New York’s queer history. “At a time when it was very difficult for gay people to find each other, bars served that purpose. There weren’t really alternative places where people could congregate and meet each other.” Many of the sites documented by the LGBT Historic Sites Project are no longer extant; the buildings remain but the inhabitants and businesses that gave them their character have since moved on. Any and every kind of building has the potential to transform, if temporarily, into a queer space: The Gay Activist’s Alliance, formed in the aftermath of Stonewall, hosted meetings and parties in an old firehouse at 99 Wooster Street in SoHo before an arsonist’s fire evicted the group in 1974. In 1983, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion on Sixth Avenue was transformed into the Limelight, a disco club, before becoming a David Barton gym. In the late ’70s, the disused buildings at the Christopher Street Piers permitted men the privacy to sunbath naked or seek sex in the crumbling buildings, before the area was redeveloped in the mid-’80s right as AIDS was ravaging the city and performing an erasure of gay history and memory. “One of my favorites was the Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn,” Dolkart said. “It was a black-owned gay and lesbian bar that saw itself as the oldest nondiscriminating bar in New York, and when it was closing there was a little demonstration in front.” Patrons felt the closing of the Starlite to be a particularly hard loss, because, as Dolkart pointed out, “People have this tendency to think that gay bars and gay culture are white culture.” A lifelong resident of New York, Dolkart has witnessed first-hand the evolution of LGBTQ nightlife and the venues that accommodate it, “from places that were closed or enclosed, where you couldn’t tell what was going on inside unless you were gay.” Around the ’80s is when he noticed a change, with “bars with large windows that were very public. I think that has been an enormous change, that gay bars aren’t hidden anymore.” The changing character of New York’s architecture has accommodated this increased visibility, as vast sheets of glass have become the skin of the city. Take two of the city’s most visible hotel monoliths: The Standard East Village on Cooper Square (upon its opening, the building received nicknames including the Giant Shampoo Bottle and the Dubai Dildo), and its West Side counterpart, The Standard High Line in the Meatpacking District, with its wall of windows through which pedestrians can watch hoteliers having sex against the glass. This February, Angela Dimayuga opened the queer-friendly spot No Bar under the East Village Standard, a windowed venue with the option of opening up to the street front. At The High Line Standard, the rooftop bar and club Le Bain invites queer Meatpackers to dance in the open air. As queer spaces become more publicly visible, they also blend more homogeneously into the city’s landscape. “Gentrification is the removal of the dynamic mix that defines urbanity,” Sarah Schulman wrote in The Gentrification of the Mind, her book chronicling the erasure of gay life during the AIDS epidemic and the concurrent development of New York. During that time, New Yorkers saw Time Square’s adult cinemas and stores cleared away, health authorities began padlocking New York’s gay saunas as a preventative measure at the height of the AIDS crisis, while the Meatpacking District—where clubs like The Anvil and The Manhole turned the neighborhood’s industrial grunge into a fetish aesthetic—began its transition to a luxury address. While the glass and steel of contemporary New York favors transparency over privacy, there are those for whom queer nightlife will always be sought in shadowy spaces that offer obscurity, secrecy, and (hopefully) debauchery. Ladyfag, the queer party organizer who is responsible for many of New York’s most popular queer events, including Battle Hymn and Ladyland, is less interested in these new, glitzy venues. “I prefer a dirty basement with a low ceiling,” she said. “You want to go to some plush hotel and sit on a banquette? Go ahead.”
 
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Part of the appeal of Ladyfag’s parties is their transient nature, appearing in previously undiscovered spaces and always moving. “I like to create my own connection with a space, with my crowd,” she said. “That way, when they come there, they think of it as that party or that space that I created as opposed to something in a bigger picture.” Holy Mountain, which Ladyfag held at Slake on 30th Street for four years, exemplified her parties’ punk, trashy experience: The narrow staircases were always gridlocked, the air-conditioning regularly failed, and the lighting was mercifully low. “Everybody told me it will never work because it’s on 30th Street and nobody wants to go to Midtown,” she said. “And they’re right. But it worked, everybody loved it.” The party eventually moved to Brooklyn when Slake was bought for redevelopment. Queer nightlife has a knack for finding such disused venues, bringing them to filthy life for a year or two, and then slinking off as the development teams approach. Being so short-lived, such parties and venues become instantly mythologized. Andrew Durbin’s 2017 novel MacArthur Park reads as a nostalgic ode to the Bushwick nightclub Spectrum at 59 Montrose Street, which had only closed one year prior to the book’s release. Spectrum—where coats were checked into garbage bags and thrown onto a pile in a corner while sweat dripped from the so-low-I-can-touch-it ceiling; where you were discouraged from lingering on the street out front because the venue wasn’t, strictly speaking, legal—instantly became the epitome of the grungy, DIY sensibility of Brooklyn’s queer nightlife, a sensibility which welcomed a nostalgia for itself even as it was happening. For Ladyfag, who got started when no one wanted to come to Brooklyn to party, the tables have turned. “Now everyone’s in Brooklyn,” she said, “and I’m like, I’m going to go back to Manhattan.” In the past ten years, nothing has affected queer nightlife more than social media. When Ladyfag first moved to New York in 2005, social media hadn’t yet dominated our lives. “We had the internet, but we didn’t have that constant knowing where everyone is at all times,” she said. “If you didn’t go out, you were alone. It was a totally different New York.” The rise of social media—specifically dating and hookup apps—significantly changed queer people’s reliance on bars and parties to find each other. “People don’t have the need to go to bars as much,” Dolkart said. “Like other commercial places, the internet has really taken over. Bars were not only social spaces, they were spaces where people met for sex, and then on to meet people to go home with. That’s kind of petered out.” As bars could no longer solely rely on the promise of sex to entice patrons, the rise of drag culture offered an alternative drawcard. Drag has always been a fixture of LGBTQ venues, but as RuPaul’s Drag Race jump-started a resurgence of the art form, it underwent its own Brooklyn renaissance. The drag performer Untitled Queen discovered Brooklyn’s drag scene in 2012. “All of these creatives descended into this nightlife scene,” Untitled said. “I think we romanticize ourselves as dirty punk, but there really were a lot of people experimenting and trying new stuff out. At the time, the bar scene became really hungry for drag.”
This experimental drag scene congregated in warehouses in Greenpoint and Bushwick, bars such as Metropolitan, Tandem, and Sugarland, and parties like Bath Salts at Don Pedro, a venue that Untitled remembered being “disgusting. There was old carpet and all the performers did lots of stuff with food and blood and alcohol. It was a very liquidy, gross show, and it was awesome.” In 2012, Untitled Queen performed at the first Bushwig, a drag festival cofounded by drag performer Horrorchata. Bushwig initially took place at Secret Project Robot, another Bushwick venue that has since disappeared. “That was an art gallery space, very DIY,” Horrorchata said. “I don’t even know how we did three years there because by the second year it was just so big.” Now in its eighth year, Bushwig takes place at the Knockdown Center, the festival’s home for the past four years, an immense converted warehouse space with huge windows and masses of outdoor space. “I think for some people they imagined it would lose its edge, and it has not at all,” Untitled said. “The family and the door opens wider, and people still feel the same energy.” To define a space as queer comes, more than anything else, from those who inhabit and transform it. “I think a queer space for me is if the promoter is queer, the event is queer,” Horrorchata said. “For example, at Knockdown, whenever we have Bushwig, we have a meeting with security and make sure there’s no gendering, no ‘Mrs.,’ no ‘Ma’am.’ It’s super nonbinary. We try to educate them and let them know this is going to be a queer space for the next weekend, and these are the rules.” Ladyfag’s events invite the same openness. “Queer to me is still this radical kind of gayness,” she said, “and in a queer space, if you call it a queer space, you’re making a statement of inclusivity.” In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, Dolkart took part in a conference on gay space. “There was an interesting conclusion that was reached at the end of the day, that there were no gay spaces, with the exception of bathhouses. There were no gay spaces, there were spaces that gay people put to use. And I like that. I think that our site is very much about that. It’s about places that gay people have made their own, and with nothing unique about the design of those places—whether it’s a bar or a theater or an apartment—they’re the types of spaces that you find in New York but that gay people have made their own.”
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Ring Around the Genosie

The new Parco del Polcevera will revitalize the site of the Genoa bridge collapse
The Italian city of Genoa is getting a new park district at the site of last year’s deadly bridge collapse, as Parco del Polcevera will be located under the new Renzo Piano-designed replacement bridge set to open April of next year. The Italian architect donated the new bridge to his home city after the original Riccardo Morandi bridge collapsed last August, tragically killing 43 people. The design team for the accompanying urban renewal project consists of Italian architecture firms Stefano Boeri Architetti (SBA) and Metrogramma, as well as Dutch landscape architects Inside Outside. The design features a 5,150-foot-long red steel ring that will bisect Piano’s bridge, providing an elevated walking and cycling path through the valley area. A red wind turbine tower will punctuate the landscape at nearly 400 feet tall and provide the adjacent area with a source of renewable energy. At ground level, the park will consist of several parallel, typographically distinct zones that reflect the rich and diverse plant life of Genoa, along with recreational facilities, riverfront promenades, and industrial, office, and retail spaces.  The project is as much about the urban green space as it is revitalizing the city’s economy. “The Parco del Polcevera will become a new centre," described SBA in a statement. "All around it, the district will be reborn, understood as a community of life, relationships and exchanges. The BIC buildings in the Green Factory area, the New Forts and the ex Mercato Ovaivicolo become new hubs of productivity and innovation, essential ingredients for a sustainable rebirth also from the economic-financial point of view as studied in depth by H&A Associati.”  The Morandi Bridge was an important transportation link for the city, connecting Genoa to the northern cities of Milan and Turin and beyond to southern France. The urban renewal park project offers to revitalize an industrial area badly hurt by the collapse, which left 600 people homeless and isolated an entire neighborhood. Parco del Polcevera is meant to be a catalyst for growth and sustainable innovation in the still-recovering city as well as a memorial to the victims of the Morandi bridge collapse. At the park’s center will be the installation Genova in the Woods by artist Luca Vitone, dedicated to the lives lost in the accident. “A welcome to the world that crosses it and reaches Genoa from a network of infrastructure that stretches from east to west connecting Italy to Europe, parks perched on vertical walls, workers and noblewomen, singers-poets and naval engineers. A Superb City, even though it is afflicted by poignant melancholy; beautiful, even if in the harshness of its everlasting contradictions. A city of steel and sea, sculpted by wind and tragedy, but always able to stand tall,” said SBA founder Stefano Boeri. 
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Yearamid of the Pyramid

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects plans top-heavy tower in L.A.'s Hancock Park
In the quiet Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park, local firm Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA) have revealed initial plans for an 11-story, 34,000-square-foot apartment building to be developed by Metros Capital near the corner of Rossmore Avenue and Clinton Street. In order to fit 14 units on the tight, irregularly-shaped 7,000-square-foot lot, the architects had to come up with a top-heavy design scheme that would not draw excessive attention to itself within its low-slung context, which consists of several preserved, Art Deco-style apartment buildings designed in the 1930s and ‘40s. The result is a design with a series of incrementally shifting floor plates that play a few visual tricks from the street. “Passing by the tower becomes an elusive spectacle,” wrote LOHA in a statement, “seemingly narrower at the bottom if you’re facing one way and skinnier at the top if you’re facing the other.” Additionally, the building’s ground floor is set far back from the street to avoid interrupting the pedestrian-friendly character of the neighborhood, while the communal spaces are entirely located on the rooftop. The shifting section of the building was prompted by “the elongated S-curve of Rossmore Avenue, as well as the marque-like facades of nearby multi-story apartment buildings.” LOHA hopes that the building will exemplify a preferable alternative to the more common apartment building typology found in Los Angeles, of “massive floor plates that maximize the ground plane and create a sort of squat density, where buildings are tightly glued to the sidewalk." The project is scheduled to break ground early next year and be completed sometime in 2021.
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Parking Over Preservation

Historic Detroit newspaper building will be razed for 12 parking spots
A curious thing is happening in downtown Detroit. An iconic building that once housed an early-20th-century local newspaper is slated for demolition and set to be replaced by 12 parking spots.  You read that right, just 12 parking spots.  The three-story brick structure at 550 West Fort Street initially served as the headquarters of Detroit Saturday Night from 1914 to 1929. It was designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, one of the oldest architecture firms in the U.S., now known as SmithGroup. Last week, the Detroit City Council voted to deny the building its own historic designation, which in turn allows a proposal by local developer, Emmet Morten, Jr., to move forward. The building will now be razed in order to provide more parking for a luxury condominium nearby. It’s long been part of the developer’s plans to expand its work in the Fort Shelby Hotel historic district, which houses the Fort Shelby Residences on the site of a demolished 18th-century military base. Preservation groups didn’t think the city would actually allow the small news building to go down, but over the last year, the City Council and the Historic District  Commission began showing signs that the structure wasn’t worth saving, as it lies just outside the historic district. Advocacy organization Preservation Detroit stepped in about 10 months ago and mustered over 3,600 signatures for a petition to protect and rehabilitate the building for future use.  This morning, protestors gathered outside the old Detroit Saturday Night building to ask the City Council to reconsider last week’s vote. According to the Detroit Metro Times, the event was organized by Detroiters for Parking Reform, a group calling for a moratorium on building new parking spaces:
“We have more parking spaces downtown than ever before, with nearly 40 percent of land in downtown Detroit devoted to this use," the group wrote to city council. "But somehow, we are convinced we need 12 more spaces where the historic Detroit Saturday Night Building stands today. This is a building that might otherwise be redeveloped for housing, business, and retail space. World-class cities are not defined by how much parking they have."
Detroit Saturday Night was published from 1907 to 1939. The news outlet moved into a bigger location, an Art Deco building also designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, after 15 years on West Fort Street. 
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Gathering MOS

Mexico's Housing Laboratory shows off 32 low-cost prototypes
At the heart of social housing in Mexico is a contradiction: Flimsy houses built far from city centers sit empty, while millions of Mexicans are still waiting to use publicly financed housing credits. Developers continue to replicate the much-maligned cutter-cut model to keep costs down. But how can new construction not just meet the bottom line but satisfy the needs of low- and middle-income families? That is the question Carlos Zedillo and Julia Gómez Candela set out to answer at the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the National Workers’ Housing Fund Institute (Infonavit). After several years of research and design, they inaugurated the nine-acre Housing Laboratory in Apan, Hidalgo, in November 2018. The laboratory is made up of 32 prototype homes that explore new typologies for social housing to meet the needs of Mexico’s diverse cultures and climates. Infonavit partnered with Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of New York–based architecture firm MOS to execute the ambitious project. “For a long time, developers have built the exact same housing in the north of the country as the south, without thinking about climate or materials,” said architect Gómez Candela in an interview by phone. That’s why the same boxy, concrete block homes dot the outskirts of almost all Mexican cities. Homes as small as 325 square feet stay within the budget, but are hardly adequate for families. Mexican workers gradually build up credit with Infonavit to finance their first home purchase. Infonavit used to build housing, but since the 1990s it plays the role of financer—workers use their Infonavit loans to pay for houses built by private developers. Along the way, architects’ role in the process diminished. Gómez Candela says that as director of the research center, the Yale-educated Zedillo set out, “To get architects to redirect their attention back to social housing in Mexico.” The research center began with an exhaustive study of the state of social housing in Mexico, identifying where the supply of homes was failing to meet demand. Then they selected 84 counties with high rates of Infonavit credit holders who had not yet bought homes. The target counties represented the nine climate zones of Mexico. The research center then worked with MOS to solicit proposals from around the world, settling on 32 prototype homes for the Housing Laboratory. Architects including Enrique Norten, Tatiana Bilbao, and Fernanda Canales designed houses for the project. The laboratory was conceived in Apan, a small town two hours to the east of Mexico City. Built on land owned by Infonavit, the site’s proximity to the capital allowed frequent visits. Towns and cities like Apan, in the outer limits of the Mexico City metro area, are usually known for drab, uniform housing. The small village of prototype homes is a welcome variation. The houses include vernacular architectural styles from around Mexico, including adobe, thatched roofing, and Mexican timber, designed with the country’s different climates in mind; from the humid, tropical south to the arid, hot north. Each architect described their inspirations and reference points, from local architectural styles like the wooden cabins known as trojes in the state of Michoacan to self-constructed housing. Collaborating with MOS allowed the research center to learn from their extensive experience designing housing. The Apan Housing Laboratory shows how developers could build high-quality housing within the tight budgets of Infonavit credits. It is only natural that Gómez Candela says cost was the greatest difficulty in the international collaboration. “In Mexico, we are used to building with very little money,” she says. “With our colleagues from the United States and other countries, we kept having to say, ‘Make it cheaper!’” The extra effort was necessary to convince developers that the models are feasible. Even so, developers have been slow to adopt the ideas proposed in the laboratory. “They [developers] still think it will be more expensive to build this way, even if we showed them otherwise” says Gómez Candela. “The numbers do add up.” Most visitors to the Housing Laboratory are students, urban planners and developers. Gómez Candela and Zedillo both left Infonavit when the new federal administration entered in December 2018. But the laboratory remains open and the floor plans are available online under open access. The laboratory is the start of a long process to refocus social housing in Mexico on the experience of the residents, not just efficacy for the builder. The research center’s work is seeing results, as Mexican architects focus more energy on designing housing. Gómez Candela is optimistic, saying, “The architects we worked with have continued to champion the cause of housing in Mexico.”
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Carbon Canceled

A built environment symposium closes out Climate Week NYC 2019
With Climate Week NYC coming to a close, the Built Environment Symposium was a fitting finale, gathering together political bodies, industry professionals as well as architects and designers to speak openly about their collaborative efforts to make New York City a greener place The third panel discussion in particular, “New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act: Significantly Reducing Building Emissions,” brought together preeminent voices working to address the environmental impacts of New York’s buildings. Melanie La Rocca, commissioner of the Department of Buildings (DOB) sat down with Jason Vollen, director of architecture for Metro New York at AECOM and Christopher Toomey, vice president of major projects at McKinsey & Company to discuss the importance of addressing the costs of the built environment, and why pieces of legislation are invaluable to instituting rapid change.  With 67 percent of the city’s emissions stemming from its buildings, the need for action is acute, and the mayor’s office has accentuated the urgency by implementing Local Law 97, a mandate that all buildings over 25,000-square-feet comply with aggressive carbon caps by 2024. The very building the panelists sat in, the Midtown Manhattan office of host firm AECOM, is one such building that will fall under the new jurisdiction.  Local Law 97 is the first of its kind to make the financial penalties for non-compliance so significant that building owners will have to address the issues head-on. Fines start at $268 per metric ton over the predetermined limits (based on a building’s size and class) and additional fees are added for non-submittal of records, as well as false or flawed reports, all on an annual schedule. Hopefully, these financial roadblocks will incentivize building owners in ways that previous legislation has only wagged fingers.  This regulation doesn’t just apply to new buildings, but all buildings in New York City. That’s roughly 50,000—and this measure has sparked controversy as older buildings will have to invest in major renovations, as many did not incorporate energy efficiency in their original designs. Aged technologies like boilers and old-fashioned window glazing will need to be replaced, likely at a great initial cost to those landlords.  The panelists talked very seriously and practically about the realities of retrofitting all these spaces. “We could build an entire industry around retrofitting structures,” Toomey said, adding that there are studies that speculate that this would necessitate the creation of up to 140,000 new jobs.  However, the bureaucracy involved in clearing thousands of new buildings in the next four years in advance of the “penalty stage,” where non-complying structures will be fined heavily for carbon use, is intimidating even for the DOB: “We don’t want 20,000 applications coming in 2023,” said La Rocca. To avoid this, the DOB, architects, and project managers are encouraging companies to act now and stay ahead of the curve for not only the 2024 benchmarks but the 2030 ones as well. “No one wants to be an SUV in a Prius world,” said Vollen, “It would be an embarrassment down the line.” Architects like Vollen are encouraging high-profile companies to handle their compliance measures sooner than later with a leading mindset—to both leverage their names as well as allow for more time to design creative, innovative solutions to emissions targets rather than hasty adaptations.  While the panelists all acknowledged the risks and experimentation needed in NYC’s fight to lower emissions, La Rocca closed the discussion, saying, “This is an opportunity for us all to reimagine what we do.” 
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Abstract Thinking

Netflix's Abstract season two premieres as Neri Oxman weathers Epstein scandal
Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design invites audiences to step into the world of design in the broadest sense. The first season of the original docu-series launched in 2017 and explored design as a truly universal concept, delving into the architectural works of Bjarke Ingels, graphic design by Paula Scher, and other profiles covering automotive design, illustration, and photography. Design fanatics now have even more to discover since the release of the series’ second season on September 25. Subjects of the new season include Academy Award-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter, artist-architect and climate ambassador Olafur Eliasson, and designer-professor Neri Oxman. The release of Abstract’s new season comes at a time when Oxman, who works in the MIT Media Lab, was found to be involved in a scandal involving institutional funds from Jeffrey Epstein. Earlier this month, The Boston Globe reported that Oxman’s lab at MIT, the Mediated Matter Group, received $125,000 in funding from Epstein in 2015. Joi Ito, the former director of the Media Lab, recently resigned amidst allegations that he attempted to cover up the extent of Epstein’s relationship with the institution. Oxman, who is currently on maternity leave from MIT, has released a statement expressing regret for accepting the funds, acknowledging the fact that MIT required the donation to be kept under wraps “so as to not enhance [Epstein’s] reputation by association with MIT.” In addition, Oxman was also directed to provide Epstein with a 3D-printed marble sculpture in recognition of his contributions to the lab. Known for coining the term “material ecology,” Oxman uses a cross-disciplinary focus in her design work, blending elements of computer science, biology, and material arts. A major exhibition of Oxman’s work will open in February at the revamped Museum of Modern Art in New York. All six episodes of Abstract: The Art of Design’s second season are now streaming on Netflix.
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Fall for art

AN rounds up our favorite coast-to-coast fall exhibitions of 2019
With summer finally falling behind us, the fall exhibition circuit is just heating up. Here, we’ve rounded up the season’s must-see art and architecture exhibitions from coast to coast. Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates The Shed 545 W. 30th Street, New York, NY October 9, 2019 - January 19, 2020 The second and fourth floors Hudson Yards' The Shed will display 150 of the Hungarian artist's seminal works confronting truths about society, our environment, and introspection. Working since the 1960s, Denes's 50-year career is explored and presented in a hopeful way as the echoes of the Climate March recede and Climate Week NYC begins.  The two floors dedicated to Denes address two separate arcs present in her oeuvre: her exploration of technology in relation to control over her artistic process is espoused on the second floor, with displays of her two series, Philosophical Drawings and Map Projections, while the fourth floor is completely dedicated to her meditation on the pyramid, simply titled Pyramid Series.   By utilizing the intersection of the environment around her and technology available, Denes envisions a future plan for our society that hit home during the beginning of the ecological movement in the ’60s, and rings even truer today.  THROUGH POSITIVE EYES The Fowler 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Los Angeles, CA September 15, 2019 - February 16, 2020 The Fowler Museum at UCLA is bringing together the stories, photography, and performances of more than 130 people living with HIV/AIDS in the upcoming exhibition Through Positive Eyes. Artist and activists from 10 cities around the globe have come together to exhibit original photos and video of these individuals, bringing unique stories to life as well as revealing a more collective, global-scaled narrative of this epidemic. There will also be a sculpture installation by L.A.-based multimedia artist Alison Saar.  The title is taken from the Los Angeles-based Through Positive Eyes Collective, a group of seven HIV-positive residents who will be performing twice a week throughout the exhibition. Yet while there are so many voices, and so much artistic production going into this single exhibition, it has all been envisioned and curated around one core belief: that challenging stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS is the most effective method for combating the epidemic.  WITH EACH INCENTIVE: POSTCOMMODITY The Art Institute of Chicago 159 E. Monroe Street, Chicago, IL July 25, 2019 - April 26, 2020 The indigenous collective Postcommodity, currently comprised of artists Cristóbal Martinez and Kade L. Twist, have "completed" their purposefully incomplete With Each Incentive at the Bluhm Family Pavilion at the Art Institute of Chicago. Free and open to the public, the pavilion splashes a colloquial building form of the Global South—vertical concrete blocks columns topped out with exposed rebar—against the skyline of downtown Chicago.  By placing these built forms in a place where they are seen as foreign, the Postcommodity duo comments on the ongoing phenomenon of migration of Central and South Americans to the midwestern city. The installation is also accompanied by a custom made codex that brings in images of relevant people, places, art, and graphics that the artists believe join in this site-specific theme, as well as Postcommodity’s perennial stance towards issues of borders, indigeneity, and the pan-American experience. The Los Angeles Schools The A+D Museum 900 E. 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA September 21, 2019 - November 24, 2019  The Architecture and Design Museum in L.A. is putting on an exhibition of student work from the leading architecture and design schools in the city, from SCI-Arc to Cal Poly LA Metro. The show is curated to express the methods and thinking propagated at these institutions, working to position L.A. even more prominently as “a center for architectural production, investigation, and research charged with producing tomorrow’s leaders in the world of architecture and design,” according to a press release. In addition to the curated show, the museum is also hosting a number of events and lectures that are all open to the public throughout the exhibition’s run. Individual school voices and narratives will be highlighted in what is a showcase of talent-to-come from some of the world’s leading academic institutions shaping the next generation of the profession.  Tigerman Rides Again Volume Gallery 1709 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL September 15, 2019 - November 2, 2019 This Chicago gallery chose to honor the final works of architect Stanley Tigerman in this exhibition of his black and white, undulating geometries. In the final months of his life, the 88-year-old architect resumed his life-long practice of daily drawings that had briefly been put on hiatus, and produced what harkened back to some of his boldest paintings and drawings of the late ’50s and early ’60s.  The mind of the man behind a large portion of Chicago’s postmodernist architectural aesthetic, his commitment to and passion for architecture history, Mies van der Rohe, and his favorite contemporary artists, are all evident in this showcase of final works. The exhibition shows how Tigerman was able to bring in diverse influences from all over the art world and synthesize them into clear, poignant visions both on the street and on the page.  Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City The Center for Architecture 536 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY October 2, 2019 - January 18, 2020 Designed and curated by MASS Design Group, this exhibition explores the specifics of the "fringe city;" a smaller city on the outskirts of a larger metropolis. These cities were hit disproportionately hard by the effects of United States government investment in urban planning schemes centered around demolition, superblocks and slum clearance in the years between 1949 and 1974, collectively known as Urban Renewal.  From traffic congestion to increased neighborhood segregation, the effects of this era of urban planning are still being felt today in cities all over the country. But this exhibition takes a deep dive into MASS’s exploration of the fringe city condition, and understand the challenges faced by residents and local organizations in order to find new solutions towards human-scaled change.
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Nearmap is breaking new ground for architects with 3D views from the air
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Nearmap is now offering 3D aerial maps for 100,000 square miles in the U.S., covering 75 metropolitan areas. The subscription service has already captured 333,000 square miles of orthographic imagery, covering 71 percent of the total population. Architects can use the lifelike, 3D, HD-quality aerial visuals and models to measure distances, building slopes, footprints and height to look at all details of a property as they plan and design buildings without setting foot on site. With Nearmap, architects can:
  • Inspect all aspects of a site including vegetation, presence of water, entry and exit points, and elevation changes.
  • Measure with precision showing pitch, relative height, and distance.
  • Select a custom area to export imagery and deliver files to the survey and design teams.
  • Use Nearmap within familiar platforms like Autodesk, Esri and Bentley Systems without having to perform complex transformations.
  • View high-resolution photos of properties. Nearmap’s imagery is clearer and updated more frequently than other systems.
One final bonus is that architects can now compare historical images against current ones so they can evaluate growth and changes in an area and compare different seasons of the year. These views from above are making it possible for architects to keep up with fast-growing, rapidly changing areas.
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Fat Pockets

The MTA proposes its largest capital plan ever
Signal modernization, line extensions, and upgraded subway cars may not sound like riveting headline news, but the recently released blockbuster $51.5 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget proposal is targeting the woeful state of New York City's public transportation network. If approved, the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital plan projects a 70 percent jump in funding from the previous budget cycle.  The capital plan was proposed on the heels of major criticisms of the city’s subway system. In 2017, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the subway system after an A train derailed in upper Manhattan. Other common complaints included delayed service, overcrowded cars, and sweltering platform temperatures. Accordingly, well over half of the funds have been allocated for the subway system alone.  The program made major promises to MTA riders, including faster service, 70 new ADA accessible stations, and the completion of the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway. More specifically, the capital plan committed to modernizing signaling for 50 percent of passengers by reaching 11 train lines, and a total of 80 miles in track replacement. The transit system could also see sweeping upgrades like 1,900 new subway cars, 2,400 new buses, and over $4 billion spent for station renewals.  The capital plan would require billions of dollars worth of concerted federal, state, and local funding. The plan asked for $3 billion in federal funds for the Second Avenue Subway alone, which President Trump has already tweeted his support for, seemingly unprompted (Governor Cuomo was puzzled and denied reaching an agreement with the federal government). Another $3 billion is expected each from state and city authorities. While Cuomo has already committed to sending the state funding, the Governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio have notoriously disagreed over who is responsible for paying for the subway’s state of disrepair. The capital plan faces a lengthy approval process, including an upcoming MTA Board review and a review by the Capital Program Review Board. A major portion of the funding, $15 billion, is expected to be generated from the newly approved, but yet to be implemented, congestion pricing in parts of Manhattan.