Search results for "skanska"

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Gensler's Kristopher Stuart on Houston's Facades Scene
For Kristopher Stuart, design director and principal at Gensler, Houston's rapid evolution is exactly what makes practicing architecture there exciting."Houston is a city of change and a great testing ground for new ideas," he said. "The past decade has been particularly robust for design and construction, so we've developed some excellent benchmark projects representing the current state-of-the-art for facade design. The new projects focus on sustainability and resilience with our often extreme local weather in mind; wellness and connectivity that improve the quality of life for people; and performance and innovation that make buildings smarter, more efficient and more cost effective for owners and managers." Next month, Stuart will co-chair Facades+AM Houston, a half-day version of the acclaimed Facades+ conference series. The morning seminar comprises three panels featuring three experts each on topics relevant to AEC industry professionals, observers, and students in Houston and beyond. The June 18 event marks the symposium's Energy City debut. Facades+AM Houston attendees will not have to look far to find examples of innovative envelope design and construction. Stuart cited several recently-completed projects in the city's "energy corridor," plus high performance buildings for Anadarko, ExxonMobile, and Southwestern Energy north of downtown. Downtown, construction is presently underway on Skanska's Capitol Tower and 609 Main, developed by Hines. "It will be exciting to see this next generation of buildings emerge, iconic buildings that will raise the performance bar while enhancing the human experience within the urban environment," Stuart noted. He also pointed to some of the Midway Companies' recent or planned work including CityCentre and Kirby Grove, describing them as "more contextual, urban infill projects that are looking at facades from an experiential as well as a performance perspective, projects that will impact the way we think about facades in the Houston design community." In Stuart's view, Houston's challenging climate has pushed the local AEC industry to a deeper understanding of how design decisions affect performance. The community has also been successful in cultivating relationships with facades consultants and fabricators to execute efficient envelopes. "One might say that we've mastered the basics, and now need to shift our focus to innovative materials and fabrication techniques as well as unique collaboration relationships in order to achieve more dramatic performance enhancements that will be executable and affordable," he said. Stuart looks forward to the June 18 conversation with other movers and shakers in the field of high performance envelope design. "Facades+AM Houston is a unique opportunity to share some outstanding work that has been executed recently either in Houston or by Houston design firms, to hear about facade innovations from academic and industry experts, and to engage in a conversation about the future of building facades in the Houston market," said Stuart. To learn more or to register for Facades+AM Houston, visit the event website.
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Video> Michael Adlerstein & John Gering on retrofitting the United Nations Secretariat Building
In addition to being AN's Midwest Editor, I was the special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, interviewing tall building designers, developers, and other experts at the skyscraper think tank's Shanghai conference, and its annual CTBUH Awards ceremony in Chicago. In Chicago I interviewed two of the minds behind the recent overhaul to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (technically, in an extraterritorial space contiguous with Midtown Manhattan). Michael Adlerstein, of the U.N. Capital Master Plan & John Gering, managing partner of design firm HLW International, discussed the retrofit of the 1953 United Nations Secretariat Building, a finalist in CTBUH's 2014 awards. “Not many buildings in our time are looking at the exterior window wall and composition with the interior as one system. In many cases they're looking at them as either the exterior or interior,” said Gering. “What we looked to do was blend those two things together, and the end result was a lot of energy savings.” The handsome glass skyscraper exemplifies midcentury office design, drawing on the  expertise of its architects, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But its outmoded performance standards left it in need of a serious update. In that sense the project to retrofit the building—which also included firms Heintges & Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, and Rolf Jensen & Associates—is a case study for repurposing aging office buildings around the world. “All buildings need to be considered for recycling because they do incorporate tremendous embodied energy … And not just beautiful buildings and buildings where treaties were signed,” said Adlerstein. “I do feel the preservation movement has to move beyond iconic buildings.”
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Harvard Art Museums
Nic Lehoux

The recently opened Harvard Art Museums consolidates under one roof the university’s three art museums: the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Arthur M. Sackler. Combined, these institutions boast larger holdings than the Boston MFA, some 250,000 objects, all of which are available to students by request. Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Payette, the new facility’s purpose is to make this impressive collection more accessible with the hope of encouraging scholarship. At 200,000 square feet, it includes galleries, teaching spaces, and a sizeable conservation studio, as well as an auditorium and lecture hall.

The site chosen for the new facility was that of the existing Fogg, a protected 1927 Georgian revival edifice that had been added to several times over the years. The design team completely overhauled the Fogg, stripping it down to the landmarked portions of the building, which left the facade and about two thirds of the floor space, including an arcaded courtyard. A new Alaskan White Cedar and glass–clad, steel-framed structure was then added that seamlessly integrates with the historic building. A circulation corridor was cut through from Quincy Street to Prescott Street and a sloping, steel-framed glass roof links the old and the new.

   
 

“Renzo’s concept was to rip out the existing roof and put in a clear glass roof so that you would be able to see the sky,” said Robert Silman, president emeritus of structural engineering firm Robert Silman Associates (RSA), which worked with the architects on the project. “It’s a trademark of his work. This project, the Morgan, and the Whitney, all of which we worked on, have this characteristic. He likes to articulate the components and to make them visible. Slick isn’t what he’s after. There ought to be visible clarification of the primary, secondary, and tertiary members, and how the glass interacts with that framework. That’s the stuff you have to work on in collaboration from the beginning, or it doesn’t happen.”

The glass roof support structure is made up of double king post trusses that interlock to form its two halves. RSA performed extensive studies and worked closely with German fabricator Josef Gartner to engineer the system’s main structural components to a high-degree of precision so that it joins seamlessly with the existing building and the new steel-framed addition. The design team was able to convince the department of buildings to consider the roof a skylight, allowing them to only fireproof the structure’s hip brackets, a job that was accomplished with an intumescent coating. The rest of the structure is exposed, putting Piano’s carefully thought out connections on view for contemplation.

 

RESOURCES:
Arborist
Carl Cathcart
Civil Engineer
Nitsch Engineering
Cost Consultant
Davis Langdon
General Contractor
Skanska
Glass Roof Structure
Josef Gartner
MEP Engineer
Arup
Restoration
Building Conservation Associates

 

The conservation studio occupies the majority of the top floor, the fifth, giving the conservators access to abundant daylight. The fourth floor is dedicated to teaching, while second and third floors are reserved for gallery space. The first floor houses offices and through-building public circulation linking the Harvard campus across Quincy Street with Prescott Street. Throughout the lower floors, the engineering team was challenged with integrating modern mechanical systems with a structure whose beam dimensions and floor-to-floor heights matched the 1920s building. This required multiple pre-planned openings in beams through which to thread the services. The team also designed a frame with closely spaced beams whose bays are expressed with arched ceilings that maximize headroom.

 

The east side of the addition cantilevers at the second floor over a ramped walkway that links Broadway with the Prescott Street entrance. To the south, this walkway ties into Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center ramp. Floor-height trusses concealed within the walls support the cantilever over multiple bays of framing and allow for roomy column-free gallery spaces in this section of the addition. To the north and south, glass-enclosed galleries protrude from the main volume of the addition. Mechanically operated wood sunscreens in these sections give curators the ability to control the amount of daylight admitted into the galleries. Here, RSA had to keep building movement within tight tolerances to prevent the screens from binding when slid open or closed.

The auditorium and lecture hall were allocated to the basement, which required a significant excavation of the tight sight. RSA used a slurry wall foundation system that was cross-braced during excavation. In the final construction, the subterranean levels’ floor framing braces the concrete foundation walls. This was a tricky procedure because the ramp of the Carpenter comes down on top of the auditorium roof. It had to be temporarily shored during construction. “We had to hold up the ramp while we demolished a library that was on that spot and built the addition, simply because it’s Corbu,” said Silman. “It’s a block of concrete!” Work of genius or pile of cement, Skanska, which handled the construction, did its work carefully. The Carpenter ramp suffered no damage. Not that you could tell. In the words of Silman, “It’s pretty beat up as it is.”

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With the holidays gone, we're still ogling these six gingerbread houses by Seattle architects
It was the warmest December on record in Seattle, but that didn't stop local architects from designing their annual round of gingerbread houses at Christmas. The 2014 theme, “Jingle All the Way,” was inspired by holiday songs, with donations raised during the event (as in years past) going to the JDRF Northwest Chapter. There were the usual suspects: crystalline candy windows, gumdrop roofs, candy cane sleds, and of course, pounds and pounds of gingerbread. But there are plenty of surprises too. Callison’s interpretation of three popular holiday tunes brought gingerbread to Hollywood; MulvannyG2 put Santa in a lounge chair on a Hawaiian beach; and 4D Architects rendered the Seattle skyline in candy, with highlights like the Space Needle, a ferry, kayakers, and what looks like a sedate version of the Gum Wall, done up in multi-colored jelly beans rather than previously chewed gum. There’s also a tree-topped construction crane and a roller coaster. Can you spot them? Have a game of Where’s Waldo or I Spy. Below were the other four Seattle gingerbread houses of 2014.
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Problems Stacking Up
Courtesy SHoP

Just when it appeared that work was picking up at B2—the long-delayed, modular tower at Pacific Park Brooklyn (formerly Atlantic Yards)—the project screeched to a complete stop. In late August, Skanska USA, the contractor of the SHoP-designed high-rise, announced it was halting production of the building’s 930 modules at its factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Skanska blamed Forest City Ratner, the project’s developer, for design errors that it said delayed the project and put it tens of millions of dollars over budget. Forest City disagrees. According to the developer, it is actually Skanska’s construction process that is to blame for B2’s slow and expensive climb. At the time, Forest City said Skanska was trying to “weasel out of” its contractual obligations by issuing a stop-work notice at its factory.

It did not take long for this back-and-forth to find its way to New York State Supreme Court. On September 2, Skanska sued Forest City. About 15 minutes later, Forest City sued Skanska. Nearly two months later, work on the project remains stalled.

 

This high-profile legal battle is just the latest setback for the tower that was supposed to rise faster and cost less than its conventionally built peers. It was supposed to be a shining example of the possibilities of modular construction. In New York City, and at Pacific Park specifically, building modular was seen as a way to more quickly deliver affordable units. But since breaking ground in December 2012, only 10 of B2’s 32 stories (half of which are designated for low- and middle-income households) have been completed. When B2 is topped off, it will be the tallest modular tower in the world.

James Garrison—the founder of Garrison Architects, which has done multiple modular projects—said it did not have to be this way. “What [Forest City] is trying to do is amazing, but it required more resources, care, and deliberation than it knew,” said Garrison who drew up initial plans for a modular tower for Forest City in the project’s early stages. He said he left the project after the two parties could not agree on a contract.

Garrison explained that modular construction, which has been compared to clicking LEGO pieces into place, is significantly more complicated than many people realize. “It is not a fly-by-night, pick it up on the run body of knowledge,” he said. “It is not easy, it takes expertise. It is like putting together an automobile.”

The challenge of building modular, he explained, is compounded when constructing tall towers. “When you stack these things up 30 stories, you have collective error,” he said. At B2, explained Garrison, the many modules had to be placed within a steel frame to create a stable, self-reinforcing structure that also has the proper internal connections. To accomplish that, every piece of the puzzle has to be perfect.

While Forest City said it hopes to build another modular tower at Pacific Park, there are currently no plans to do so. Despite the setbacks with B2, the development is continuing to grow. Two COOKFOX-designed, non-modular towers—one affordable and the other luxury condos—are scheduled to break ground before the end of the year. And another SHoP tower is scheduled to get underway next year. In the meantime, cranes have arrived next to the Barclays Center to install its long-awaited green roof.

Garrison said that the very public failings of B2 could make developers hesitant about building modular, but that the practice is not entirely doomed. “In the end,” he said, “this business of designing and prefabricating buildings is happening, and it is not going to stop.”

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150 2nd Street, Cambridge, MA
Jeff Adams

Skanska USA pursued a LEED Platinum rating for this spec lab building in order to create a competitive edge in the marketplace. The high-performance mechanical systems provide more than 30 percent energy cost savings over baseline references.

Skanska USA recently completed a three-story, 123,000-square-foot spec office and lab facility at 150 2nd Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Kendall Square neighborhood. To gain a competitive edge in attracting the high-tech companies that proliferate around MIT, the developer/construction manager hired Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects and landscape firm Copley Wolff Design Group to deliver a cost-effective design that would set a new standard of sustainability for the project type in the region. In that pursuit, the project became the first commercial lab building in New England to be awarded LEED v3 Platinum certification.

 
Courtesy Elkus Manfredi
 

Located at a transitional point between Kendall Square’s larger office building core and a triple-decker residential district, the project’s massing and fenestration attempts to strike a happy medium between the two scales. While providing a high R value overall, the facade design is nothing fancy. “We architects like to talk about high performance buildings as being smart buildings, and we usually think of that as being an active solar control system or some high tech thing,” said Elkus Manfredi principal John Martin. “In that sense this building is not a smart building. We like to call it a clever building.”

To balance insulation values and daylight, the design team limited the amount of glass in the building enclosure to 42 percent, deciding on a stick-built ribbon window system with 1-inch-thick, low-e IGUs and straight-out-of-the-catalogue Kwaneer brise soleils on the southern exposures. The bulk of the envelope is made up of Alucobond metal panels, though in sections a brownish fiber cement board (Öko Skin) rain screen system breaks up the massing.

 

RESOURCES:
Structural Engineer
McNamara/Salvia
MEP/FP Engineer
WSP Group
Sustainability
The Green Engineer
Building Envelope
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Warren Jagger
 

Inside, the directive was column-free space. To create that, the design team had to span 50 feet from the core to the perimeter. With standard structural steel wide flange sections, reaching such a distance would require quite a deep, heavy beam, adding not only to the weight, cost, and floor-to-floor heights of the building, but also to its carbon foot print. To mitigate this condition, the design team opted to use composite steel trusses for the floor framing instead of wide flange sections, a decision that not only reduced the weight and carbon profile of the project, but also provided penetrations in the structure through which to run ducting, piping, wire chases, etc., and making for a more efficient floor section. As a result of this choice, the design saved 188 tons of structural steel.

As an urban design gesture, the L-shaped building features a public entry court on the corner of 2nd and Bent streets, which faces a future public park to the southeast of the building. The court is outfitted with ipe benches and bike racks and locally sourced, light-colored paving that meets the LEED solar reflectance index value of below 29. It also features rain gardens planted with native and drought resistant vegetation—sweet gum and red maple trees, native holly shrubs, and sedges and ornamental grasses—that were designed to absorb all stormwater that falls on the court.

In December 2013, Skanska USA reportedly sold 150 2nd Street to Alexandria Real Estate Equities for $94.5 million, or $766 per square foot. While we can assume the company made a handy profit on the project (the project cost was not released as of press time) it has also established an important precedent: a sustainable, cost-effective, and easily repeatable model of lab development.

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Gensler Tower in Houston Becomes One of First in U.S. to Receive LEED V4 Platinum Pre-Certification
The Gensler-designed Capitol Tower, a 34-story speculative office building developed by Skanska USA on the site of the former Houston Club in downtown Houston, Texas, has been awarded Platinum Pre-Certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED v4 ranking system. According to a press release put out by Skanska, the project is one of only a handful of in-the-works buildings to earn the distinction under the fourth generation of the LEED system. The company also stated that it wished Capitol Tower to be the greenest building in Houston. The design includes a high-performance facade system, daylight harvesting technology to reduce energy use, 90 percent access to daylight and views for tenants, a garage with daylight occupancy sensors and a green roof, alternative vehicle charging stations, a rainwater collection system, and bicycle amenities to encourage cycle commuting, among other sustainable features. “Skanska made it clear from the beginning of the design process that they wanted this to be the most sustainable building in Houston,” Gensler principal Kristopher Stuart said in a statement. “We really pushed our team to move beyond anything we have done before to create a building that offers an exceptional work environment in a high-performance envelope that will dramatically reduce operating costs. The design also places an extraordinary emphasis on public spaces and pedestrian experiences which we believe will greatly enhance and enrich Houston’s urban fabric." Under the LEED system, pre-certification allows owners to begin to market the proposed green features of a project to prospective tenants who wish to occupy a LEED certified space. Earning a pre-certification is not a guarantee of actual LEED certification. While the pre-certification review is conducted in the same manner as a combined design and construction review, no credits or pre-requisites can be awarded. They are instead marked as "anticipated." In addition, only projects registered under the LEED for Core & Shell rating system can apply for pre-certification.
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When Artists Design Infrastructure: Basket-like Bridge Energizes San Gabriel Valley
The expansion of LA's Metro Rail Gold Line is well underway with a stunning new piece of infrastructure: The Gold Line Bridge. Completed last week, the 584-foot dual-track bridge, stretching over the eastbound lanes of the I-210 Freeway, will provide a light rail connection between the existing Sierra Madre Villa Station in Pasadena and Azusa’s future Arcadia Station. The rail line itself is scheduled for completion in 2014. Made from steel reinforced concrete with added quartz, mica crystals, and mirrored glass, the monochromatic, abstract design, conceived by artist Andrew Leicester, pays homage to the region’s historic American Indian basket-weaving tradition and includes a carriageway and a post-and-lintel support beam system. The 25-foot baskets adorning each of the posts, “metaphorically represent the Native Americans of the region...and pay tribute to the iconic sculptural traditions of Route 66,” wrote Leicester. The  bridge is is also designed to withstand significant earthquakes. Equipped with "Time Domain Reflectometry" technology and an electrical feedback smart column technology system, engineers can initially assess damage following a tremor. The structure replaces one removed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and is truly an exception to the norm of form follows function. The 11.5-mile Foothill Extension project, overseen by the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, is being built by Skanska USA and their subcontractor AECOM.
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Return of the Giants
Courtesy Tapan Zee Contractors

On December 17, the New York State Thruway Authority unanimously selected a winning proposal for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge in the Lower Hudson Valley. The authority picked the cheapest of three proposals it had under consideration—the $3.1 billion dollar design by Tappan Zee Contractors. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2013 and completion is projected for 2018.

The winning design features a twin roadway with a central 350-foot-long, composite-deck, cable-stayed span supported by four reinforced concrete towers that resemble capital "As" turned on their heads. The outwardly inclined towers will be robust enough to handle the loads of rail and/or select bus rapid transit, which may be added to the project at a future date.

The replacement will be the single largest bridge project in New York history, with a construction price tag of $3.1 billion plus another $500 million to $800 million in environmental mitigation, management, and other costs—still considerably less than the original $5.2 billion estimated by the state. The state also enacted special legislation for the project that requires the design-build contractor to cover cost overruns and delays.

 

Winning design team Tappan Zee Contractors is a consortium between, among others, Pennsylvania-based American Bridge Company (the builder of the original crossing) and Texas-based Fluor Corporation. Those firms were members of the team that designed and constructed the recently completed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge replacement. The team will make use of special heavy-lifting equipment it constructed for that project to cut costs and time from the Tappan Zee replacement, a factor that gave the firms the confidence to enter a bid that was approximately a billion dollars cheaper and a year faster than its competitors. It also proposes to reduce the amount of dredging necessary from 1.8 million cubic yards to less than one million cubic yards, reducing environmental impacts, costs, and the schedule.

 
 

Tappan Zee Contractors’ proposal beat out a $4 billion proposal by a joint venture involving Kiewit Infrastructure and Skanska USA and a $3.9 billion proposal from Bechtel Infrastructure and Tutor Perini. Those proposals required closer to six years to complete and required more dredging.

The existing Tappan Zee Bridge was completed in 1955. The 3 ½-mile-long crossing spans the Hudson River at its second widest point, connecting Rockland and Westchester counties 25 miles north of New York City. It serves approximately 138,000 vehicles per day, far more than it was designed to accommodate. Traffic jams and accidents are a regular occurrence at the crossing, a factor that kicked off replacement talks more than a decade ago. The 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis added a sense of urgency to the project, though no significant progress was made on the project until Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took up the cause when he entered office in 2011.

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SHoP Updates Atlantic Yards Design as Forest City Confirms Prefab
On Wednesday, Forest City Ratner made it official: the world's tallest prefabricated building will be coming to Brooklyn with a groundbreaking date set for December 18. As AN outlined in our recent feature on Atlantic Yards, the SHoP Architects-designed B2 Tower will climb, modular unit by modular unit, 32 stories on a slender wedge-shaped parcel adjacent to the new Barclays Center on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street. Renderings released with the groundbreaking announcement also revealed design revisions to the B2 Tower since it was unveiled in November 2011, and Chris Sharples, principal at SHoP, told AN what's new. The B2 Tower's massing remains the same as before, conforming to strict guidelines for setbacks mandated by the Empire State Development Corporation, but the facade treatments for each of the three massing types in the building have been refined. "When we first started, we were doing a conventional design," Sharples noted. "We decided to move away from emphasizing the frames or boxes. It doesn't have to look like a modular building." The red mass, nicknamed "the wedge" in SHoP's offices, has been updated to de-emphasize the repetition of modular units. Previously, the facade was comprised of a rigid grid of charcoal-colored rectangles forming deep reveals with red accents."There's still relief, the red L-frames project out from the charcoal," Sharples said. "It's a bit more subtle." The new arrangement creates a series of variegated vertical stripes, helping to create a singular unit rather than a stack of boxes. Similarly on the top-most mass, the grid was softened. "At the top, we emphasized the bevel with pewter gray and silver gray," Sharples noted. The slight color variation helps to emphasize shadow on the facade and unify the mass. ShoP also refined the cladding on the third mass, with a skin of anodized aluminum perforated panels, creating an intricate play of light on the structure. Set back, one final facade—"the glue that brings all three volumes together"—will feature black glass. Sharples noted that prefabrication is a dynamic process. "As we go into production, we'll evolve even further like we did at the arena." Each of the 930 prefabricated modules—called "mods"—will be manufactured at the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, part of a collaboration between Forest City and construction company Skanska, where controlled conditions will speed construction times. Each mod will arrive at the construction site fully assembled with all interior finishes and appliances installed. Up to three mods, measuring nearly 400 square feet, will make up each apartment. SHoP has designed the mods with hinged panels on the exterior that can fold down to cover joints during installation. Sharples said these "mate lines" present a unique challenge with prefabricated design and will be some of the only finish work construction to take place on site. On the interior of the units, he noted, walls where two mods are joined will appear slightly thicker than traditional wall construction. When complete, the B2 Tower will house 363 residential units over retail space and will feature roof terraces, indoor bike storage, common areas, and even a yoga studio. Developers are anticipating an opening in 2014.
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Seattle Goes “Deep Green”
Seattle has approved Skanska USA’s controversial five-story “deep green” Brooks Sports headquarters building dubbed Stone34 at Stone Way North and North 34th Street under a new code provision that allows the developer to build 20 feet higher than zoning normally allows. While community leaders and activists opposed the project, claiming that it is out of scale with the neighborhood, Skanska says the extra height is necessary to make the project work economically.
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On The Right Track
Fireworks marked the opening of Sacramento's Green Line extension in June.
Courtesy Sacramento Regional Transit District

National attention focused on the recent opening of the Expo Line, an 8.6-mile light rail route that connects downtown LA with Culver City. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Before all is said and done, Los Angeles —long stereotyped as a car-only city—will have more than 100 miles of public transit lines, as the West Coast, home to the nation’s first light rail line in San Diego and to its most comprehensive light rail system in Portland, continues to add a slew of new rail.

New lines, stations, infrastructure, and transit-oriented developments are popping up and in planning stages in and around Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. And if you count West Coast–adjacent cities such as Phoenix and Denver, there are even more. Los Angeles and Seattle are set to double their offerings while Marin and Sonoma are just beginning to add rail to the mix.

Of course, this transit explosion isn’t just a local trend. According to the American Public Transportation Association, from 1995 through 2010, public transportation ridership increased by 31 percent—a growth rate higher than the 17 percent increase in the U.S. population. In part this shift is a result of people returning to urban cores. But perhaps the most compelling reason for the expansion is the crippling impact of traffic in the region and in the country, and its accompanying demons—sprawl, pollution, and climate change. Municipalities are creating new land-use strategies—some a result of new anti-sprawl laws like California’s SB 375— that emphasize walkability and dense development near rail.

As a testament to their popularity, most recent rail projects and extensions along the coast have been paid for not just through federal largesse but by local ballot measures such as LA’s Measure R, San Diego’s TransNet, and Marin and Sonoma County’s Measure Q.

“The biggest surprise for all of us wasn’t that we envisioned it, but that there was so much support,”said David Mieger, deputy executive officer of countywide planning and development at Metro, LA’s transit agency, of Measure R. “In 2008, we got two-thirds of the voters in the county. Motherhood and apple pie usually doesn’t rate that high.”

Opponents, particularly neighborhood groups fighting tax increases and construction disruptions, charge that rail’s extensive costs aren’t worth the benefits; they say that

ridership still isn’t what it should be. For instance the new Expo Line’s ridership has so far reached only half the projected load. “Every commuter rail project in the country has exceeded ridership,” answered Matt Stevens, a spokesperson for Sonoma-Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART). Mieger adds that, unlike just a few years ago, a good portion of riders in LA are now “discretionary,” meaning that they choose to take public transit, even though they don’t have to.

Rendering of the Clinton/SE 12th Avenue Station as part of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail in Oregon.
Courtesy TriMet
 

Rail doesn’t just provide architects and engineers with jobs designing stations and related infrastructure; it can also completely transform municipalities’ land use patterns, ushering in transit-oriented development and walkable streets. Cities have been incorporating these plans into their new approaches to land use and will continue to do so. Metro, for example, has developed an extensive transit-oriented development program in Los Angeles that has spurred the creation of more than a dozen pedestrian-friendly, transit-adjacent projects. “This is a planning solution, not just a transportation solution,” said Metro’s Mieger. San Jose “is directing new growth to build out downtown in a more urban way,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which just opened a new office in San Jose. He warns though that in Silicon Valley “they’re fighting some pretty big forces and some pretty entrenched traditions” favoring sprawl and the automobile.

The return to rail is, in some surprisingly convenient ways, a return to the past. Many of these lines were built on the rights of way of existing train and trolley systems that were active in the beginning of the 20th century and abandoned in favor of cars and buses around mid-century. LA’s Expo Line runs on a former right-of-way of the Los Angeles & Independence Railroad. Marin and Sonoma’s runs on a right-of-way owned by the Southern Pacific Railway.

Of course rail isn’t a flawless solution. Besides pockets of underuse, rail and light rail are still far from reaching the tipping point on the West Coast. In LA, for example, 80 percent of the city’s residents still don’t live within convenient distance to rail. The recession has stalled plans that were even more ambitious. For instance slower returns from Measure R’s tax-related funding have forced the completion of LA’s Purple Line subway extension beyond 2030. (LA Mayor Villaraigosa hopes his 30/10 program will significantly speed projects up). And architects and engineers claim that regulations regarding rail design—often overseen by public utilities commissions rather than design or building experts—are still not suitable for innovation. But the progress is palpable, making cities feel more like cities again. “For a lot of these cities these lines and stations are the biggest things affecting their development in years,” said Roland Genick, of LA-based Parsons Corporation, which oversaw the Expo Line and is now working on LA’s Gold Line Foothill extension.


New train on San Diego’s Green Line extension.
Courtesy San Diego MTD
 

San Diego

San Diego, the city to first re-introduce light rail to the West Coast (and to the country) back in 1981, now has 53 miles of light-rail track. Its most recent extension in 2005, the green line, extends from Old Town San Diego out to Santee, east of Qualcomm Stadium. The extension stretches about six miles and five stations, closing what was a gap in the system’s loop through the city.

Plans for an 11.2-mile extension from old town to UC-San Diego in La Jolla is set to be in place by 2018, said San Diego Metropolitan Transit System spokesperson Rob Schupp. Most likely the line will be an extension of the city’s blue line. Roughly $1.2 to $1.8 billion for the project comes from a local sales tax called TransNet, which will provide half the funding. The remainder of the money will come from federal funds.

Even posh La Jolla was “all for it,” said Schupp. In addition to the new lines last year, the city added $700 million worth of retrofitted light-rail vehicles (64 in all) to its Silver Line, which was completed in 2005.


Preliminary conceptual rendering of LA’s Purple Line extension station at Wilshire and La Brea.
Courtesy METRO
 

Los Angeles

The city’s newest transit line is the Expo light-rail line, an 8.6-mile route now running from downtown LA to Culver City. By 2015 the Expo is expected to extend to Santa Monica. Designed by Gruen Associates, with support from Parsons and Miyamoto International, the line has been funded mostly by Measure R, a 2008 city sales tax increase estimated to eventually bring in from $30 to $40 billion. About 35 percent of that, up to $14 billion, will go toward rail projects.


LA's newly opened Expo line is planned to expand to Santa Monica by 2015.
Alissa Walker
 
 

The measure also funded an extension of Metro’s Gold Line into East LA and is helping fund the Gold Line Foothill Extension, stretching farther into the San Gabriel Valley. Other city transit projects—totaling 12 in all— include the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light-rail route linking the city’s Gold and Blue lines; extensions of Metro’s Green Line to LAX airport and farther into the South Bay; and the Purple Line subway extension down Wilshire Boulevard all the way from downtown to Westwood and, funding allowing, to Santa Monica. In fact, by the time Measure R’s funds are all spent, LA’s rail lines will have doubled, from about 60 miles to about 120, said Mieger.

Partially as a strategy to reflect LA’s diversity and partially because each line has its own construction authority, the stations along each route are widely different. The Expo’s minimal stations are highlighted by wavy metallic canopies and blue steel frames; Foothill takes on gabled roofs and a traditional vernacular; and the Gold Line into East LA has an explosion of colors and forms.


Future Union Square stop for San Francisco’s T-Central light rail subway.
Courtesy SFMTA
 

Bay Area

San Francisco opened its first light-rail line in over 50 years in 2007 with its T-Third line, which included 5.1 miles of light rail spread over 18 stations. The line has proven a huge success and brought San Francisco up to seventy miles of light-rail track. The next move for the T-Third is the T-Central subway, an underground extension of the line another 1.7 miles from Mission Bay into downtown, with stops in South of Market, Yerba Buena, Union Square, and Chinatown. The project is funded primarily via the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, with about $942 million coming from that source. A combination of federal, state, and local sources will provide the remaining funds. The line is slated to open in 2019.

 
Rendering of SMART's Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) train.
Courtesy SMART
 

Outside of San Francisco is the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) project, largely funded by Measure Q, a 0.25 percent sales tax passed by voters in the two counties in 2008. SMART will provide rail service along 70 miles of the historic Northwestern Pacific Railroad alignment. Slowed by the economic downturn, the plan is to open a 38.5-mile initial operating segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael by 2016, with additional segments to be opened as funding becomes available. Ultimately it will extend 70 miles. The project is the first passenger rail project in Marin and Sonoma counties since the 1950s. According to spokesperson, Matt Stevens, designs for the stations have still not been finalized, although Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF) did complete preliminary work.

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is overseeing a the Capitol Expressway Light Rail Project, extending light rail by 2.3 miles and four stations in San Jose. But the big news in that area comes with heavy rail. The VTA is overseeing a  $2.3 billion, 10-mile, two-station extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) into Silicon Valley from Fremont to North San Jose. A total of $900 million is coming from the Federal New Starts program, with $1.18 billion coming from the local half-cent Measure A sales tax. Design-build is being overseen by the joint venture team Skanska- Shimmick-Herzog. The second phase, still in project development, will reach six miles and four stations running through downtown San Jose and ending in Santa Clara. That would cost about $3.6 billion, largely because it would be underground.


Sacramento's Green Line extension.
Courtesy Sacramento Regional Transit District
 

Sacramento

Sacramento’s contribution to the transit extravaganza is the 1.1 mile extension of its green line from downtown Sacramento north to the city’s river district. The extension just opened on June 15, to big crowds and even fireworks. The city is also planning a $270 million, four station, 4.3-mile extension of its blue line from Meadowview road to Cosumnes River College. A team of design-build architects, including Vrilakas Architects and MFDB Architects, have produced station designs unique to their locations. “We want our stations to reflect their neighborhoods,”said Sacramento Regional Transit District Architect David Solomon  “It’s easier for the riders and it makes for better community building.”


Rendering of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge.
Courtesy TriMet
 

Portland

With a mature and extensive system of 82 miles of track and 85 stations operating since 1986, Portland has been a model for city officials throughout the nation for how light rail can work. In 2011, over 41.2 million riders boarded Metropolitan Area Express (MAX), according to the local transit authority, TriMet.

There are currently four lines operating and a fifth—the Portland-Milwaukie MAX light rail Orange line—under construction and expected to open in September 2015. It will extend to Milwaukie in Clackamas County, 7.3 miles south of the current Yellow line that runs from the Expo Center to Portland State University.

The ten stations along the Orange line will feature a mix of landscaping and public art to reflect the character of each surrounding neighborhood. The Lincoln Street/Southwest 3rd Avenue Station in the Halprin District will include a vegetated trackway dubbed an “eco-track”; at the SE Tacoma/Johnson Creek station,

 

a Bike and Ride station will provide secure parking for over 100 bicycles; and at the OMSI/SE Water Ave station, two artists have proposed a large “sonic dish” that will reflect sound and light as nearby commuters pass by.

Half of the $1.5 billion project is being financed by the Federal Transit Administration, with the remainder coming from local, regional, and state sources, including $250 million in bonds financed by future Oregon Lottery revenue. This is the most expensive line Portland has ever built because it traverses urbanized land and adds a new bridge, the first to cross the Portland section of the Willamette River since the opening of the Fremont Bridge in 1973.

When open, by September 2016, the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge in the South Waterfront District will be the first multi-modal car-free bridge in the nation. TriMet hired Donald MacDonald of MacDonald Architects, as the lead designer and chose a cable-stayed bridge design, which would help maximize horizontal and vertical clearance on the busy river and keep costs lower. Approximately 1,720 feet in length, the bridge will feature two towers and include, in addition to a light-rail track, dedicated bus lanes and two 14-foot wide paths for pedestrians and bicyclists.


LMN Architects designed the University of Washington Station (below) and pedestrian bridge for Seattle’s University Link line.
Courtesy Sound Transit
 

Seattle

Light rail in Seattle had a shaky start ten years ago. Initially it was met with fierce opposition, then a threatened loss of funding, and eventually the resignation of the former CEO of Sound Transit, the agency that serves the Puget Sound region. But finally, after almost a decade of debating and lawsuits, the first light-rail line in the city, Sound Transit’s Central Link, opened in July 2009, a 15.5-mile route connecting downtown Seattle to Rainier Valley and SeaTac Airport.

 
 
 
 

The city is now pushing forward with a huge light-rail program, with a total of 36 miles planned by 2023. This includes the University Link (U-Link) a 3.1-mile underground section running from downtown Seattle north to the University of Washington, scheduled to open in September 2016. There are three more planned sections: a 1.3-mile section south toward Tacoma to open in 2016; a north leg to Northgate and eventually Lynnwood that will open in 2021; and a 14.5-mile extension east over the I-90 bridge through Mercer Island to Bellevue that will open in 2023.

Construction of the U-Link is now underway. At the University of Washington station, designed by LMN Architects, a pedestrian bridge will traverse Montlake Boulevard, linking the upper campus, the University of Washington Medical Center, and the 27-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, affording views on a clear day of Mount Rainier.

Total funding for the U-Link project is $1.9 billion, with $750 million derived from a blend of grants from the Federal Transit Administration, including a TIGER I competitive grant, as well as local support. In 2008, voters approved the Sound Transit 2 measure, increasing sales tax and motor vehicle excise tax.

“It’s so nice to discover that after all these years we’re not done yet, and we can still change our cities,” said SPUR’s Metcalf.