Search results for "shenzhen"

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Foxconn Said to Be Considering Investment in American Manufacturing
Much has been made of the decline of American industry and, more recently, the rise of small-scale urban industry, but one of the largest international manufacturers, Taiwan-based Foxconn, could change the industrial scene completely if it decides to build factories in the United States. The Guardian reports that Foxconn is considering Detroit and Los Angeles for potential outposts thanks to rising costs overseas, but the company infamous for manufacturing Apple products among others at its 800,000-worker-strong Chinese facilities would have to adapt to radically different American ways of working. It was early last year—after a string of workers committed suicide and a lethal explosion tore through a plant—when Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook asked the Fair Labor Association to assess Foxconn’s working conditions. Reforms where set in place that doubled Foxconn’s worker salary levels in China and cut overtime hours. The increase in costs in places like China has prompted the company to consider locations overseas. In September, plans were announced for a nearly $500 million factory to be built in São Paulo, Brazil where Foxconn will hire up to 10,000 people to make computer and some Apple products. The company also plans to open a new phone factory in Indonesia by the end of 2012. If built, Foxconn's new U.S. factories and work standards would be altered for the American workforces, who won’t likely work for China’s low wages or live in work dormitories. Instead of manufacturing products that rely heavily on hand labor, the American factories would  primarily build flat screen televisions, which use a primarily automated process. Company officials would not comment on the possible expansion into the U.S., but did say American engineers will be invited to its Chinese facilities to learn about its manufacturing process.
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Setting the Stones Right
Chinese architect Pei-Zhu's OCT Design Museum in Shenzhen, China.
Courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

If you build it they will come! Well not necessarily if you are talking about new arts facilities, claims “Set In Stone,” a just released study from the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.

It won't be good news for architects to learn that many new cultural buildings built on the assumption that they would benefit their institutions, in fact, “put enormous strain” on them. More disturbing still, the report claims that some institutions stumbled when they became “signature pieces for leading architects.” The study makes important recommendations for civic leaders, arts organizations, donors and government officials contemplating new cultural buildings.

First, it recommends that clients focus on their organization’s mission and the public’s “demand for the project.” Before formulating final plans, leaders and donors need to understand the precise reasons for the project, as well as determine need, attendance and long-term financial support. Successful projects were driven by both the organization’s artistic mission and also by clear and definable needs. The report recommends that leadership be clear and consistent throughout the process and that a single project manager be appointed to monitor the project through to completion. Finally, they suggest the need for flexibility—both in terms of how to generate income but also in light of the fact that cultural projects can take as long as ten to 20 years to complete. It’s a cold, hard reality that the community served by the building may be different than the one that originally envisioned the building.

According to “Set in Stone,” projects usually faltered when they became signature set pieces for the aspirations of donors or local community leaders. Initial cost projections for these projects were frequently both extremely and unreasonably low, making the final tab much more expensive than anticipated. More than 80 percent of the projects studied ran over budget, some by as much as 200 percent.

The study also found that cities in the South had the greatest increase in cultural building in part because it had lagged behind the rest of the country for many years. But more to the point, “increases” in cultural facilities were most common in communities that had also had increases in personal income and in education among their residents. Finally during the study period (1994-2008), New York led the country in cultural building spending $1.6 billion, while the Los Angeles area witnessed an expansion of $950 million and the Chicago area saw spending of $870 million on arts related projects.

In October, I traveled to Shenzhen, China to the opening of the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. The curator of this fascinating exhibition, Terence Riley, took the assembled journalists on a tour of Shenzhen which 20 years ago had a population of 35,000, but now has over 10 million. Riley pointed out the new Arata Isozaki-designed concert hall, a contemporary art museum by Coop Himmelb(l)au, and a design museum by Chinese architect Pei-Zhu. None of these new cultural facilitates had any collections or work on their walls. The design museum was being used to film a car commercial.

In China, it did not seem to matter whether or not the facilities had anything in them, only that Shenzhen had a cultural district with museums designed by famous architects. In the U.S., our cultural institutions have to work harder. Of course, with the still slow economy, the number of cultural projects in this country has already decreased. Going forward, it hardly needs a massive study to understand that institutions need to plan and develop only those projects the public really wants, demands, and needs.

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Who Builds Your Architecture?
Who builds your architecture? "Not architects," said Reinhold Martin. "By definition, architects do not build; they make drawings, write contracts, and do all these other things." At New School's Vera List Center on May 3, a roundtable facilitated debate and speculation on the rights of the lesser-discussed "workers" that make architecture happen. Organized by Kadambari Baxi, Mabel Wilson, and Beth Stryker, in collaboration with The New School's Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the discussion focused on Dubai and the Middle East, but the implications of these issues are felt world-wide. Reports of widespread worker abuse in global projects in developing countries are common now, and the panel sought to shed light on these sometimes horrific problems. Reinhold Martin, author of The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space, moderated the panel consisting of sociologist Andrew Ross, architects Peggy Deamer and Fred Levrat as well as Human Rights Watch senior researcher on the Middle East Bill Van Esveld. The problem is that the high cost of architecture is often offset by the low cost of labor. Big name architects often continue practicing despite the possibility of potential human rights abuses. Nicolai Ouroussoff said that Steven Holl Architects' Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China "demonstrates what can happen when talented architects are allowed to practice their craft uninhibited by creative restrictions (or, to be fair, by the high labor costs of most developed societies)." There are reports that workers immigrate from one country to another, are misled into jobs that they did not sign up for—jobs that pay much less than they were told—and they sign contracts that make them essentially indentured servants, as they cannot quit due to immigration and labor laws. What are the responsibilities of the architect in this scenario? Deamer feels that the problem is two-fold. It is a problem of the owners, not the architects. The owner has the power to change how things are done. What architects can do is think of everyone as a designer, from the fabricator to the bricklayer. Then, architects start to see themselves as workers, not as annointed ones. Everyone is equal. Ross agreed. "The creative profession has been degraded...we are no longer in control," he said. His work with the Gulf Labor Coalition has been to pressure NYU, the Guggenheim, and the Abu Dhabi Government into fair labor practices at sites in the Middle East. He said that often architects do not respond to his pleas to cooperate with human rights groups and unions. These are often difficult situations, with clients' interests and authoritarian states making the contracts, making activism more complicated. Schools are implicated, too. Often schools teach students how to subvert union labor, or at least they teach that architects cannot have a say in this debate. Does "Who builds?" come down to criticism? By using the word "starchitect," a term Martin prefers not to use, critics are not only elevating them above the realm of "service" or labor, into "anointed ones," using Deamer's term. These architects often cannot even pay their own employees a fair wage, so how would we expect them to care about workers half-way around the world? The panel raised many initial questions, while searching for answers. Will solutions come from architects, or are they impotent to change anything, given their role within the forces of capital? Will change come from an engaging conversation aimed at clients? Or will this be a student-led movement? From the tenor of the discussion, what is important is that we are finally talking about these issues, and that these abuses are being brought to light.
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Tracking the Origins of MVRDV’s Cloud
Urban design historian Grahame Shane weighs in on the controversial project tracing MVRDV’s explosive imagery to its source in research. When Ole Scheeren departed from OMA Beijing with the MahaNakhon Bangkok tower to found his own office in 2010, he had the idea to connect tower and urban village, marking a key moment in a very Dutch delirium that moved beyond OMA's CCTV tower. In the Bangkok tower the developer’s website claims this skyscraper "melds with the city by gradually 'dissolving' the mass as it moves vertically between ground and sky." MVRDV pursued this same research and logic in their Cloud twin tower development in Libeskind's masterplan for the ex-US base in downtown Seoul. The firm had earlier developed the Sky Village project in Copenhagen in 2008, similar in concept to the MahaNakon project with its spiral upwards. Indeed, this spiral had long been a concern of Ken Yeang, the Malaysian architect in his "Bioclimatic" Malaysian skyscraper projects of the 1990's. MVRDV pursued this research in their 2011 Vertical Village show in Taipei, Taiwan, that opened at the same time as the announcement of the Cloud. Given MVRDV's devotion to data mining and layering, it is probable that they followed the logic of the delirious Dutch research that believes you can collage anything beside anything else in a pragmatic, post-modern method of assemblage. This line of research descends from Koolhaas' appreciation of the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in Delirious New York (1978). MVRDV's Hannover Expo Pavilion of 2000 demonstrated this technique, as did their project for the Metacity/Datatown exhibit of the same year. All interrelationships are then either pragmatic or better yet random. Then there is the fiction in a scheme like the CCTV, MahaNakhon, or the Cloud that no one person controls the emergent "free" assembly. Yet in Beijing or Bangkok the designers repressed the village-like interior organizations within the building mega-form, allowing a surface marking only, breaking the building surface as a pixilation in the MahaNakhon. The Cloud design represented a step further in this logic, as it projects a so-called three-dimensional vertical village between the two towers. It would seem the excitement of the creation of an urban village half way up two skyscrapers blinded MVRDV to the very obvious 9/11 image the design might provoke. Why was MVRDV so excited? There was already an Asian mega-structural tradition of platforms between towers and even the idea of vertical villages as in Hiroshi Hara's 1988 theories about urban scale in 3-D. Hara completed the Osaka Umeda Skygarden demonstration project in 1993. This tradition continued in the work of Chinese architects such as the Shenzhen based Urbanus group with their Urban Village and skyhook research of 2003-2004. Why was the Cloud breakthrough so important for MVRDV? The design maintained the tower surfaces but burst out of the mega-form to introduce a three-dimensional, cuboid platform with terraces and stepped rooms inside a grid structure showing trees and shrubbery, a veritable hanging garden. Anyone who has visited Bangkok and eaten on the three-dimensional rooftop terraces, could recognize the appeal of this structure. But here its form was also that of a rationalized Brazilian favela or hill town perched above Rio or São Paolo, echoing Safdie's Montreal Habitat (1967). The Vertical Village show asked whether one can hybridize the top-down modernist skyscraper and the forms of the self-build bottom-up favela to make a new "vertical urban village." Oliver Wainright writing for Domus magazine in October 2011 described the sequence of the exhibition that began with an analysis of existing urban villages , drawn in Atelier Bow Wow-style linear axonometrics with calculations of their density and Floor Area Ratio (FAR), proceeding via a corridor of images mined from the web using the terms "vertical village" to a contrasting display of massive, modern building projects for housing slabs and blocks that repress individuality in the search for cheap mass housing. Wainright described how the positive qualities of informal urban villages are outlined in one gallery as an "Urban Community Quality Wheel," which led to other rooms where visitors could use "Housemaker" and "Village Maker" software to adjust the parameters of a vertical urban village design. Wainright wrote that "tweaking settings from typology to aspect, hours of sunlight to distance from neighbors, the Grasshopper script then projects each house into the Rhino model, from where you can spin your clustered cloud of vertical dwellings around to your heart's content—and then share it on Facebook." The Cloud project with its favela-like bridge between two towers emerged from this research. MVRDV released the images without seeing the connection to the 9/11 twin towers, later issuing an apology. How could these otherwise savvy media operators have been so blind? Was it naïvete? Or a planned headline-grabbing publicity stunt? This blindness and emotional disconnection is interesting. Did MVRDV think that the design somehow incorporated the bottom-up built logic of the invisible favelas and shanties in their Cloud as it enveloped the two towers? Did MVRDV hope to signify the one billion slum dwellers here as the global system stresses out? Was their exceptional blindness the result of the uncanny return of the repressed masses in the outlying urban villages and favelas? Why do we need urban villages now in skyscrapers, in Clouds or in museums? Koolhaas and OMA have proposed the "Museum as City" for the Beijing National Arts Museum (2011) with horizontal "Arts Villages" held between "streets" and its vertical "Arts Lantern." What is the symbolism of the village here? Is it time to reverse the mega-scale of the Bubble Years and start over with urban villages? D. Grahame Shane teaches Graduate Urban Design at Columbia University and undergraduate students at The Cooper Union in New York. He also lectures for the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and at the Polytechnic in Milan. He is the author of Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
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AIA Chicago’s 2011 Design Excellence Awards
On October 28, over 800 architects, designers, contractors, and their clients gathered together at Navy Pier in Chicago to celebrate the architecture firms recognized with 2011 Design Excellence Awards. Firms were honored for achievements in the following four categories: Distinguished Building, Interior Architecture, Regional & Urban Design, and Unbuilt Design. Out of 357 entries, there were 42 awards total-- 10 Honor Awards (the highest distinction), 24 Citation of Merits, and 8 Special Recognitions. Half of these awards were for designs in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, while the remaining awards were for designs in other cities, states, and countries. Some noteworthy projects among the 39 winning projects included the world's tallest building in Dubai, "blending a hotel, luxury residences and office space," an international design center in Chicago for a Benton Harbor based corporation, the creation of a native wildlife refuge, boardwalk and education pavilion at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo in "a space that was once a polluted urban waterhole," a LEED Gold certified civil engineering building in Duluth, Minnesota, and a visionary master plan for the city of Gary, Indiana that connects the city to the surrounding area. Here are the firms that took home multiple awards: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP with 10 awards Perkins+Will with 6 awards DeStefano Partners/Lothan Studio with 3 awards Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture with 2 awards Goettsch Partners with 2 awards Murphy/Jahn with 2 awards Ross Barney Architects with 2 awards UrbanWorks Ltd. with 2 awards   And here is the list of winners by category:   DISTINGUISHED BUILDING HONOR AWARD: James / Swenson Civil Engineering Building, Duluth, MN --BY: Ross Barney Architects Nature Boardwalk, Education Pavilion and South Pond Transformation at Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago --BY: Studio Gang Architects with Shaw Sustainable Solutions of Illinois, LLC One Haworth Center, Holland, MI --BY: Perkins+Will CITATION OF MERIT: Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP College of DuPage Technology Education Center, Glenn Ellyn, IL --BY: DeStefano Partners/Lothan Studio Fullerton and Belmont Stations Reconstruction, Chicago --BY: Ross Barney Architects Gary Comer College Prep, Chicago --BY: John Ronan Architects Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, Chicago --BY: Murphy/Jahn Shanghai Huawei Technologies Corporate Campus, Shanghai, China --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP UNO Veterans Memorial School Complex, Chicago --BY: UrbanWorks Ltd. West Combined Utility Plant, University of Chicago, Chicago --BY: Murphy/Jahn SPECIAL RECOGNITION: 300 East Randolph Vertical Completion, Chicago --BY: Goettsch Partners Peace Corner Youth Center, Chicago --BY: DeStefano Partners/Lothan Studio Rosa Parks Apartments, Chicago --BY: Landon Bone Baker Architects INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE HONOR AWARD: Confidential Law Firm Headquarters, Chicago --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP Jenner & Block, Chicago --BY: Goettsch Partners World of Whirlpool, Chicago --BY: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates CITATION OF MERIT: CompTIA The Computing Technology Industry Association Inc., Downers Grove, IL --BY: Perkins+Will Confidential Banking Firm Headquarters, Charlotte, NC --BY: Perkins+Will Mumford Hall Conversion, Chicago --BY: Harding Partners New Trading Firm, Chicago --BY: Cannon Design One Haworth Center, Holland, MI --BY: Perkins+Will Public Areas at the Residences of Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP Serta International, Hoffman Estates, IL --BY: Epstein / Metter Studio Sprinkles Cupcakes, Chicago --BY: Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture University of Illinois, Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls Dining Remodel, Urbana-Champaign --BY: DeStefano Partners/Lothan Studio SPECIAL RECOGNITION: Burj Khalifa Level 153, Dubai, UAE --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP   REGIONAL & URBAN DESIGN HONOR AWARD: Farming the Chicago Stock Yards, Chicago --BY: UrbanLab Guangzhou University Town-- 4 Villages, Guangzhou, China --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP Panama Government City Master Plan, Panama, Republic of Panama --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP CITATION OF MERIT: American College of Greece, Athens, Greece --BY: VOA Associates Incorporated Groundplanes for Gary, Gart, IN --By: UrbanWorks Ltd. Moraine Valley Community College Entrance Gateway + Quadrangle, Palos Hills, IL --BY: Teng + Associates SPECIAL RECOGNITION: A Vision for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Region Recognizing a Global Resource, Chicago --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP   UNBUILT DESIGN HONOR AWARD: King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia --BY: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture CITATION OF MERIT: Dubai Bridge, Dubai, UAE --BY: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture Shanghai Eastern Hepatobiliary Hospital, Shanghai, China --BY: Perkins+Will Shenzhen Archive Towers, Shenzhen, China --BY: Jaeger and Partner Architects, Ltd. with Saltans Architects_Intl.,Ltd Tianjin Museum, Tianjin, China --BY: Perkins+Will SPECIAL RECOGNITION: Prairie House: House for a Fashion Pattern Maker and Fiber Artist, Northfield, IL --BY: The Office for Robotic Architectural Media & Bureau for Responsive Architecture Takshing House Redevelopment, Hong Kong, China --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP The S-Tower, Seoul, Korea --BY: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP    
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Sharing the Spotlight
Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China.
Iwan Baan


Sharing the Spotlight

A five-part feature on architectural lighting. Click on a project to learn more.

Stay tuned! A new project added every day.
Mansueto Research Library
Vanke Center
Shenzhen, China
Art of the Americas Wing
MFA Boston
Claremont University Consortium
Claremont, CA
South Shore High School



Clockwise from top center: Courtesy University of Chicago, Iwan Baan; Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing, Luke Gibson, Nigel Young / Foster & Partners


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Spotlight: Vanke Center
Holl's horizontal skyscraper sits on legs of concrete, glass, and light.
Iwan Baan

This project is one section of AN's five-part feature on architectural lighting, "Sharing the Spotlight." Click here to view additional projects.

Vanke Center
Shenzhen, China

Steven Holl Architects
L'Observatoire International

The Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China is a culmination of architect Steven Holl’s long-time pursuit to defy gravity. Although physically elevated above ground on broad concrete pillars, the secret behind this levitation effect is the building’s lighting design. “Steven thinks of light as an integral material, like stone or glass,” said Jason Neches a principal at L’Observatoire International, the New York-based lighting design firm. The firm’s contribution to the design is evident: the solid concrete-core supports, for example, which house the circulation up to the first floors, are wrapped in glass and lit to give the impression that the building floats. “Steven wanted uplighting, which provides a dramatic effect,” said Neches. “But since people are drawn to light, they would have looked down when we wanted them looking up at the building. So it is lit top-down.”

The value of intrinsic lighting design seems obvious, but lighting designers are too often enlisted after a project has already been developed. With complex projects such as Vanke, the solution was to work with the architects from the outset. “Steven brings us in very early on in the design process for most projects, usually just after the concept stage,” said Neches.

Vanke’s complex interior spaces posed a particular challenge for L’Observatoire in spite of the firm’s familiarity with Holl. “Its diverse program meant that different parts of the project were advancing with different schedules,” said Neches. As well, its setting in China meant that traditional practice puts the finishing touches in the hands of local designers “to nurture local industry,” as Neches put it. In the underground auditorium, for example, L’Observatoire only took it through design development before handing it back to Holl’s Beijing office for final specifications of the lighting fixtures.

Left to right: Lobby elevators with the building plan mapped in lights; The "untied bowtie" staircase blending natural and artificial light; the horizontal skyscraper is visible behind a reception desk; Light walls and an illuminated desk in the auditorium lobby.

According to Neches, Holl has a clear vision before the designers even come to the table, and they are asked to provide feedback on the quality of light rather than have vital creative input. “However,” said Neches, “there is always flexibility so we can affect a change if we think it will make the space better.” In the case of the “bowtie” staircase area, which was difficult to read in plan and section, L’Observatoire used a 3-D physical model to test and demonstrate various lighting fixtures and options for the interior. As a result, track lights have been integrated into folds and facets of the bowtie with areas of highlights, while in a cove at the wall, there is an uplight to encourage people to gather.

The Vanke’s relatively monochromatic interior relies heavily on lighting to create different atmospheres. “We have a lot of opportunities with Steven,” said Neches. “These are the benefits of working with an architect who thinks of light as another building material.”

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Year of Living Sedately
Courtesy Peter Zumthor / Walter Herfst

Every summer, the Serpentine Pavilion offers the chosen architects of the plot adjacent to the London gallery a chance to offer a meditation on essential qualities in their work. In this way the pavilion is not only a showcase for designers who haven't yet built in the UK, but also a physical gauge of architecture’s current preoccupations. This year, it is the garden.

Rather than open out the pavilion to the surrounding rolling green of Kensington Gardens, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, working with landscape designer Piet Oudolf (also responsible for the plantings on New York’s High Line), has enclosed his own patch of green. If the pavilion is any kind of bellwether for the current social condition—for it clearly is not a reflection of the UK's current economic condition Zumthor tells us we should take note and be quiet. Inside his cloistered pavilion—“coffin-like,” as one observer commented on Jonathan Glancey's recent article for The Guardian—there is space only to sit and to reflect.

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Indeed it is a far cry from previous pavilions: Kjetil Thorsen and Olafur Eliasson's 2007 conical viewing platform, Gehry's bombastic theatre-cum-promenade in 2008, and SANAA’s translucent and shimmering surfaces in 2009 offered follies in the landscape, a pleasant interlude in a visitor's trip to the gallery and a unique space to house a cafe. Zumthor's design, however, eschews the pavilion's requisite commercial opportunity and presents an altogether prescriptive program. The tar-textured enclosure forces the visitor to do nothing but look and think. The central atrium, a sharply cut rectangle open only to the sky, compels the viewer to look inwards or upwards but never outwards. As Glancey notes, the experience at times stirs claustrophobia more than contemplation: “Outside…you suddenly feel free and here is that very thing he's trying to encapsulate...nature.”


The design is intended to create a palpable contrast between the open space of Kensington Gardens and the pavilion's interior. While lights have been fitted along the corridors, these are not always switched on creating a somewhat menacing threshold. Perhaps the intention was to provide a sense of danger sandwiched between idyllic places—a compelling aspect of the design that has not received as much attention as the cloister courtyard. Landscape designer Oudolf has spoken of an integrated design to draw in passersby. In The Telegraph in June, he said, “I want visitors to see that architecture is simple and planting is complex. Looking into plants brings you into another kind of thinking, connected with inner space.”

If the pavilion, a 4,200-square-foot timber-frame structure wrapped in scrim and covered with a black duct sealant, reflects architecture today, it is a fitting collaboration between Zumthor and Oudolf. Their rectangular box enveloping a courtyard garden is in tune with a wider movement towards ground-skimming designs and landscaped architecture such as Stephen Holl’s Horizontal Skyscraper in Shenzhen, China or Morphosis’ Shanghai Giant Interactive Group Campus. Zumthor, in The Independent, cited this year's pavilion as a memory machine: “I think of gardens I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see.”

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Will Kimmelman Replace Ouroussoff at the Times?
The Architect's Newspaper has heard from multiple sources that the New York Times may be close to naming the art critic Michael Kimmelman as the paper's new architecture critic. Outgoing architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff resurfaced today with another far flung report, a glowing review of Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China. Will it be his last? Though Kimmelman is best known as an art critic, he has written on architecture several times in recent years during his posting in Europe, including an excellent piece on David Chipperfield's Neues Museum in Berlin and a profile of Peter Zumthor for the New York Times Magazine.
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Ben Prosky
Stefan Sagmeister designed the poster for the 2008 fall lecture series at GSAPP (left) and the poster designed by 2X4 for the Columbia Building Intelligence Project held in Tokyo in 2010 (right).
Courtesy GSAPP

The fact that schools of architecture repeatedly pull off great events is nothing new. Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous 1951 lecture at Columbia has been meticulously archived; Harvard’s annual Walter Gropius lecture has been given by one of the most established practitioners in any given year since 1961. Nor is it uncommon for schools to deliberately organize provocative conferences as when Yale fostered a real ideological battle in a public forum between Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier in 2002. As recent history has demonstrated, interesting debates and critical experimentation are no longer the purview of agents like the IAUS—established in the 1960s as an alternative to the institutions mentioned previously—which are again returning to university culture. As Rem Koolhaas insists at his academic lectures, architectural ideas have a broad audience beyond captive student audiences conven-iently dwelling in studios adjacent to the university auditorium.

At the same time, I believe that the production of architectural events in universities is more and more of a curatorial act. In addition to the professors and deans traditionally involved, more engaged administrators are not only coordinating and organizing events but also giving input and direction. The need for additional curation is clear, these events are occurring at a sometimes dizzying rate, with a typical week consisting of a Monday night panel discussion on sustainability issues in China, a Wednesday evening architecture lecture by Richard Rogers, a Friday lunchtime debate on urban zoning policy, and a Saturday conference on African cities. Furthermore, the ability and desire of these ambitious events to draw outsiders—practitioners, retirees, artists, policy makers, students from other schools and faculties—has an indelible impact upon the school’s students, faculty and discourse at large. In producing programming, not just in the form of events but also exhibitions, publications, and relevant web content beyond that with an academic link, a school can instigate discussion and inspire collaborations that reach beyond the existing culture of the place.

What does it mean for schools to have such overactive public programs? It seems obvious: to serve the students and faculty and to give them avenues in which to communicate about their work. However, public programs should not simply replicate the school’s agenda but also help to produce it. By creating venues, forums, and mediums, schools can explore what it they are curious about outside the classroom. In turn, ideas that come out of an academic event should influence the school, shape its pedagogy, and sway its discourse. By inviting other interests in and producing friction with diverse ideas, the school can better define how it thinks about itself.

At Columbia GSAPP, where I have directed the events program for the past six years under the direction of dean Mark Wigley, we have strived to create such conditions by blurring the lines where classroom, practice, industry, and professional development can meet, as in the conferences on materials, including glass, concrete, metals, and plastic, chaired by professor Michael Bell.

Of course, it has been a challenge for design schools that have departments in addition to architecture, such as urban planning, urban design, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and real estate development to produce public programs that address the interests and concerns of all included. Architecture departments tend to take a minimum of three years to complete and therefore have the most students. But a well-curated program can facilitate interaction amongst all departments and instigate curiosity about other disciplines, mirroring the cross-disciplinary approach currently favored by the profession. For example, the architecture student who comes to developer Douglas Durst’s talk may begin to understand that convincing his peers in the real estate development program that good design is a good investment may someday lead to a commission—just as listening to Steven Holl discuss housing projects in China might lead a research trip to Shenzhen to examine the existing urban fabric, or a discussion with Amanda Burden about New York’s planNYC might inspire a debate among urban planning and architecture students that could lead to a proposal for a joint design-development studio.

Crafting a communications plan for announcing and informing diverse publics within and beyond the school is a constant challenge. Whereas museums have long-term planning in their DNA, schools have not been traditionally accustomed to organizing themselves this way. Their fluid and experimental nature can throw this process. Attention to mailing lists and email listserves is not often a priority, undermining the programming or outreach ambitions.

Schools tend to be omnivorous when it comes to their visual identities. They have a wonderful way of promiscuously working with a host of graphic designers. Whereas cultural institutions aim for consistent branding, a school can choose a sober design approach for one exhibition, while the same school’s lecture series poster might be outrageously bright. These posters, programs, and postcards are sometimes the only traces remaining of significant events and become somewhat collectible. A well-detailed program for a conference can essentially become the Cliff Notes for the audience or the table of contents for the symposium publication.

The events program that I directed at Columbia was well received but did not go unchallenged. I noticed that event fatigue can set in. Complaints came from professors that there were too many programs on too many nights with not enough time to think in between. Students created their own rogue series advertising that they would invite the people “they choose” rather than the speakers chosen for them, and they sometimes stopped attending even the most compelling school lectures. The effort to produce creative and graphically stimulating communications materials was also met with contentious remarks from faculty and students who felt that the designs were sometimes too confusing or too colorful, while others considered them not bold enough. Then again, alums sometimes write to tell me that they are using past posters as decoration on their office walls!

No matter how ambitious a series is, it cannot satisfy everyone’s interests. An embarrassment of riches and offerings is not a bad problem to have. One can only hope that by offering up such a diversity of ideas that there is always something with which to engage. Sometimes an event on a particular scholarly subject that draws a modest audience of 25 engaged attendees can be just as worthwhile as a lecture by a famous architect filling the auditorium with 300 people.

Having recently been appointed the Assistant Dean of Communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, I step into a role with a communications mandate at its core. The position oversees an already creative and experienced team running the departments of events, exhibitions, publications, Harvard Design Magazine, and web content. Under the direction of the Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, the goal is to give more possibilities for interdepartmental collaboration and broader reach and impact.

In a time when museums have dwindling departments of architecture, curatorial positions in architecture are few and far between, and cultural institutions are cutting back on architecture programming, it is more important than ever for schools to take their role seriously as major producers of architectural discourse. To produce material that is accessible within academic walls and also reaches out to the profession not only serves the school, but the entire community.

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Contested Ground
Flowing Gardens by GroundLab, the winning master plan in a competition for the International Horticultural Expo, will open this spring.
Courtesy GroundLab

Landscape architecture continues to experience a professional flowering based on the growing significance of sustainability and ecological issues as they relate to planning the broader built environment. But awareness is also growing among architects that they are no longer kings of the mountain. Gwen Webber scouts the perimeter of a possible turf war in the making.

If Ground Zero were up for grabs today would Michael Van Valkenburgh be a more likely candidate for master planner than Daniel Libeskind? It’s plausible. The recent surge in prestigious commissions going to and being completed by landscape architects has fuelled a fiery discourse over the ether as well as in academic circles as to what this means for the way cities will be made in the future. Traditionally, the architect was the master builder with landscape designers as mere ancillaries. Today that relationship is fast being reversed.

“Traditional roles have flipped,” said architect Stephen Cassell of ARO, who believes landscape architects should have equal footing on design projects because of their specialized training. “A lot of these landscape architecture firms have started to think about green spaces in a synthetic way. How landscape architects analyze a problem is very specific; it is about looking at experience within the city.”

Indeed, commissions that might have been won by architect-led teams just a few years ago are now going to landscape firms. And large-scale urban design competitions are going to landscape-led teams who demonstrate the capacity to design creatively with existing ecologies, such as the redevelopment of Seattle's waterfront by Field Operations, or urban regeneration initiatives like Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which aims to reinvigorate Eero Saarinen's iconic landmark through improved public areas by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA).

GroundLab's Deep Ground master plan reenvisions the urban fabric of Longgang Municipality in Shenzen, China (left) and a rendering of an overlook structure for Hunters Point South, New York City designed by Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi (right).
Courtesy groundlab and Arup / Thomas Balsley Associates / Weiss/Manfredi

MVVA is a case in point. In 2007 the landscape architecture practice won a competition (among the other multidisciplinary contenders were Weiss/Manfredi of New York and Stoss of Boston) to develop Toronto's Lower Don Lands, a long-term phased scheme which will reroute the mouth of the Don River to the city's inner harbour, creating flood protection, new neighborhoods, a river-front park system as well as “humanize the existing infrastructure.”

Charles Waldheim, head of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, cites the Lower Don Lands project as exemplary of a decreasing emphasis on disciplinary boundaries and an increasing appreciation for ecological design, “MVVA assembled a very complex, multidisciplinary team,” he said in an interview. “Landscape urbanists have all the pieces.” As interest in ecological design grows, the need for landscape architects to deal with issues that architects aren't trained for also increases. “Landscape urbanism emerged to fill a void because planning and urban design had not provided an alternative,” said Waldheim, who has been a key proponent in bringing landscape urbanism to the fore and expanding the definitions of landscape architecture. According to Waldheim, the emergence of this faction of ecological designers snapping up high-profile projects is not a coincidence but rather the result of cumulative conditions.

In the late 20th century urban design was committed to recreating the 19th century shape of the city, he argues, in order to reinstate environmental and social values, while urban planners withdrew from physical planning to focus on demographics and social science. The perceived primacy of cars and demands for an expanded transport infrastructure in the 20th century pushed cities further out into sprawl and placed automobiles and traffic control at the center of city design. Later, during the 1990s, architects felt there was no option in which designers could be culturally progressive and simultaneously engaged with environmental or social concerns, leaving a dissatisfied subset of designers keen to reconcile the two.

Enter landscape urbanism, a term attributed by many to Waldheim, and certainly propagated by him. In any case, landscape urbanists are being recognized as key choreographers of urban space and they are beginning to subsume many of the roles once held by architects, planners, and urban designers. One such practice is London-based landscape architects GroundLab whose project Deep Ground recently won a competition to master plan a 4.6-square-mile area of Longgang in Shenzhen, China, drawing on urban design, planning, and environmental remediation to make a comprehensive, connected urban scene.

James Corner Field Operations' scheme for Seattle's waterfront redevelopment covers nine acres.
Courtesy Waterfront Seattle  [Click to enlarge.]

That's not to say that architects will be rendered powerless, but it does mean that they may have to cede total control, shedding the idea of sole authorship and autobiographical building and instead re-cognizing those others with more skill sets relevant to a given project.

Robert Balder, a director of planning and urban design at Gensler, observes that developers still tend to turn to big architecture firms for large-scale projects. But he notes that within many of these firms, landscape architects don’t have an equal place at the table. Balder, who also serves on the Urban Land Institute’s Council for Sustainable Development, predicts that as developers become more knowledgeable about sustainability requirements, cost, and functionality, the expertise of landscape architects will inevitably become more important earlier in the life of projects. “LEED can’t come at the end,” he said. “Landscape architects are often brought in when it’s too late.”

The 21st century is the Era of Ecology, according to James Wines of SITE a long-time proponent of ecologically-driven architecture, who says “the era of monument-building is coming to a close,” and with it ends the architect's pole position. “Architects who want to build a sculpture in the middle of space live in an antiquated world of endless resources,” he said. “Urban agriculture is the way forward. You can turn a place around based on a vegetated environment.”

In Toronto, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) won a competition to reimagine the relationship of the Don River to the city (top). MVVA is also leading a team in the redesign of the park surrounding the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (above).
Courtesy MVVA [Click to enlarge.]

As designers across the profession are increasingly faced with challenges that don't have a precedent and don’t correspond to traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as rising water levels, post-industrial cityscapes, waste, and a crippled climate, practices are repackaging and restructuring themselves in response. But the prospect of another professional group— particularly landscape architects—ascending to a decision-making role in the built environment still makes some squirm.

In a Wall Street Journal interview earlier this year, British architect Will Alsop accused landscape architecture of institutionalizing public space. And last fall at a New Urbanism symposium in New Orleans, the constant pot-stirrer Andres Duany announced in a provocation that quickly exploded on the blogosphere, “It’s not cool to be an architect. It’s cool to be a landscape architect. That’s the next cool thing.”

Deborah Marton, executive director at Design Trust for Public Space, believes it's a substantive shift rather than a trend. “It is about professional maturity,” said Marton, who believes the hierarchical structure of traditional design practice is redundant. “Each discipline brings something to a should be about which team is working well together and doing the best job of seeing the whole picture.”

For MoMA's 2010 Rising Currents show, nArchitects' New Aqueous City proposed a series of man-made islands (top) and floating piers (above).
Courtesy nArchitects

Indeed, the rise of landscape urbanism hasn't escaped public interest with interviews and articles in the national papers as well as on blogs. This kind of attention has propelled it from an academic discussion into a wider discourse, which, says Marton, is important to changing the very structure of design practice and ultimately municipal authority processes as well. Though the change is slow, there are solid examples of it happening. Philadelphia's long-awaited waterfront redesign recently shifted gears as it dropped plans for multi-story blocks and moved away from using a signature project to jump-start the city's master plan. Instead, the massive plan focuses on a string of parks as a stimulus for continued development.

Landscape architect James Corner of Field Operations is fitting his practice to the new mold. And while he had to struggle to get credit from architects on the immensely popular re-imagining of the High Line in New York, he is now leading a $569 million project to reconnect Seattle to Elliott Bay and create nine acres of new public space, a kind of prototypical antidote to the narrow commercialized waterfronts so common to many other U.S. cities. “There is a desperate need for a different kind of professional who is capable of seeing a bigger picture and choreographing a bigger team,” Corner told Metropolis in 2008.

Meanwhile at the GSD, Waldheim's newly appointed staff in the Landscape Architecture department is dedicated to building a trans-disciplinary faculty including ARO architect Cassell, who will be teaching this year alongside Susannah Drake of dlandstudio.

ARO and DLANDSTUDIO's proposal for MoMA's Rising Currents exhibition. The project for New York's Waterfront creates a New Urban Ground of marshes and wetlands to protect against storm surges.
Courtesy ARO/DLANDSTUDIO [Click to enlarge.]

Cassell and Drake have partnered before at the “Rising Currents” exhibition last year at the Museum of Modern Art. That path-breaking exhibition challenged architects to respond to an environmental catastrophe and called for “soft” infrastructures and ecological design solutions, bringing architects and specialists in ecological design together in close and productive collaborative efforts that attracted the close attention of developers and city officials alike.

For his Rising Currents project, Eric Bunge of nArchitects composed his team of designers with various skill sets including Mathur/da Cunha as water specialist. Like the other collaborative teams that were formed for the exhibition, his suggests that in the future it won’t take a constructed disaster scenario to make architects realize the value of landscape designers.

Bunge said that he still sees landscape architecture and architecture as having different trajectories that need one another at points in the design process. But whether or not they are complete equals on the job, Bunge possibly speaks for many architects today when he said, “It is too early to say.”

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Terence Riley to Head 2011 Shenzhen/Hong Kong Biennale
Terence Riley has been selected to head the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture. After leaving his post as chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA, Riley set out to revamp the Miami Art Museum. Key to his tenure in Miami was a drive to move the museum into a new $100 million building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. But with economic downturn, the project stalled and Riley resigned in October of 2009. The new appointment makes him the first non-Chinese curator to head the five-year-old event. The program, which will be announced next year, focuses on the unique character of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and on young cities in particular. As Shenzhen's extraordinary growth has taken it from a fishing village to a major metropolis in only the past 50 years, it's a natural fit for the event. "The full program is still being developed, but our idea is to create a paradigm that considers the cyclical growth pattern of urban cities such as Shenzhen, where cities create architecture, architecture creates cities, and how the process continues without end," Riley said in a statment. "At a time when sustainability is imperative, the idea of describing an open process that takes into account its own renewal and constant evolution is essential."