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Making No Small Plans

Optimism fuels Miami’s mega-developments, but a denser Miami isn’t a sure thing

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

New York or Los Angeles?

These are the two contrasting models of urbanism that Raymond Fort, designer at Miami-based architecture firm Arquitectonica, cites when asked about Miami’s future. In New York, numerous walkable neighborhoods—whose density, convenience, and character are major assets—are connected by a robust public transportation system. In Los Angeles, low density and car-oriented urbanism is the norm outside the downtown core (though transit-oriented development has begun to spread in recent years). Many developers working in Miami are clearly enthusiastic about the New York model. However, that future isn’t guaranteed: The potential for car-dominated sprawl and other hybrid models still exist.

Arquitectonica is behind Brickell City Centre, a 5.4-million-square-foot complex of offices, luxury condos, a hotel, and ample retail south of Downtown Miami. Developed by Swire Group, Brickell is one of the many large, mixed-use developments in Miami that signals movement toward density. Phase one opened late last year, and phase two will entail an 80-story mixed-use tower.

Just north of downtown, there’s Miami Worldcenter, a 17-million-square-foot, 27-acre complex. It’s a joint venture by multiple developers, with Boston-based Elkus Manfredi leading the master plan and designing the center’s phase one, which is anchored by a 1-million-square-foot retail podium. Phase two is a $750 million convention center and hotel.

Development isn’t only concentrated in the urban core. About two miles north of Downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood, developer Moishe Mana and Miami-based Zyscovich Architects are poised to build a 9.72-million-square-foot, 23.5-acre development that will feature as many as 3,482 residential units, a mix of retail, office, and cultural programming, as well as an extensive public “Mana Commons” that will cut through the complex’s cluster of medium-rise towers. Dubbed Mana Wynwood, it won approvals last September. More like it may be on the way: In Little Haiti, the Eastside Ridge development will replace 500 townhouses with 7.2 million square feet of mixed-use development, and another project dubbed “Magic City(also located in Little Haiti) would see an innovation center, business incubator, housing, retail, and other art-entertainment facilities arise across a 15-acre campus.

What’s driving all of these major concentrations of development? In part, affluent young professionals across the U.S. are moving to cities seeking walkable, transit-connected neighborhoods, and developers are eager to meet that need. But there are factors unique to Miami. One is the city’s zoning: The Miami 21 code, implemented some six and half years ago, has significant parking requirements that incentivize large developments. For example, in dense high-rise areas, the code mandates 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Consequently, smaller projects struggle to meet the logistical and economic challenges of incorporating that much parking into their site. Bigger projects can more easily integrate a parking garage into their lower levels. Furthermore, if a development covers nine contiguous acres, it can qualify for a Special Area Plan, an arrangement that allows developers more flexibility in situating parking and negotiating the rules of Miami 21’s form-based code. This maximizes the development’s value. Brickell, Mana Wynwood, and the Worldcenter, as well as virtually all of Miami’s major developments, are (or have applied for) Special Area Plans.

Miami’s geography is also part of the equation. John Stuart, professor of architecture at Florida International University and executive director of its Miami Beach Urban Studios, explained how wealth from the Caribbean and Central and South America has historically flowed into Miami. “We have this gravitational pull from the south,” he said. Affluent people from Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere come to Miami seeking “these kinds of urban experiences where they’re safe, their products are confirmed as authentic, but they’re close to their own countries….”

But the city’s geography turns from an asset to a risk when one considers the threat of extreme weather and sea-level rise. Miami Beach, which sits a mere four feet above sea level (compared to Miami’s six feet), is regularly inundated during king (high) tides and is spending nearly half a billion dollars to raise streets, install pumps, and push back the waters. Faced with such uncertainty, Stuart sees mega-developments as “just overflowing with optimism” and the belief that climate change will be remedied, ameliorated, or far enough away to not warrant significant concern in the near future.

In the shorter term, how Miami 21 and public transportation evolve may be deciding factors in shaping the city. In Wynwood, the City of Miami Planning Department is testing out a new zoning overlay that alleviates parking requirements for developments with smaller units. If Wynwood ceases to become the exception, then dense growth may not be restricted to Special Area Plan developments and the downtown urban core.

This leads to the issue of public transportation. “That’s at the core of much of what’s fragmenting the city, holding it back economically, socially, culturally,” said Stuart. “There’s very little opportunity for people who live in a neighborhood they can afford to access other neighborhoods for employment, artistic production, or other means.” Miami is in the process of funding and planning an expansion of the Metrorail, the city’s above ground heavy-rail rapid transit system. Eighty-two miles of new rail and six new lines—costing $3.6 billion—would connect the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods with each other and downtown. Complicating the situation are Uber and Lyft, whose low rates can be competitive with public transportation. Moreover, according to Fort, the prospect of driverless cars adds a new level of uncertainty to major public transportation investment.

A conversation about public transportation and mega-developments must also include the question of affordability. According to a 2016 study from the New York University Furman Center, in Miami “85 percent of recently available rental units were unaffordable to the typical renter household,” making the city the least affordable for renters among the country’s top 11 metro areas. But there are glimmers of hope: As development moves from the urban core and the waterfront to places like Wynwood, more non-luxury units may come online. Additionally, the city is already taking steps to increase affordable housing stock: A measure passed in late February would reward residential projects that feature affordable units with greater density and less required parking. However, while the downtown core and Wynwood don’t have large existing communities facing gentrification, that challenge may arise elsewhere. In other instances, density alone may deter development: Earlier this year, local opposition stopped a 1.2-million-square-foot Special Area Plan development east of Little Haiti.

For a firsthand experience, Fort recommends riding the Metrorail to survey the city—from there, you can see pockets of development (Coconut Grove, Little Havana, Brickell, Downtown) that he thinks could become medium-density nodes in a new polycentric city. He also cites neighborhoods like Edgewater, Wynwood, and the Design District that aren’t on the Metrorail but are still growing. “That’s what I think the next phase of development in Miami is,” he said, “where we look at neighborhoods and understand what’s missing” to make them mixed-use, denser, and affordable. Optimism for density, however, is just one of many factors—climate change, transportation technology, affordability, and zoning codes, to name a few—that will shape Miami in the years to come.

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Control Syntax Rio

Step into Rio de Janeiro’s smart city nerve center at Storefront’s latest exhibition
As an architect or urban designer, how do you represent "smart city" technology? Something that deals with environmental conditions, government bureaucracies, and endless data streams as well as public space, human movement, and architecture? Governments and businesses are rushing to develop and implement these technologies, making this a pressing challenge for any designer seeking to represent contemporary cities. Control Syntax Rio at the Storefront for Art and Architecture offers its own evocative approach by avoiding the all-too-familiar format of wall-mounted photos, diagrams, and timelines. Instead, Control Syntax Rio uses an enormous streetscape model whose detailed tableaus—animated by sound effects, film, and vibrations—immerse visitors in a complex and unique piece of smart city command-and-control infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. Control Syntax Rio was designed and curated by two Columbia GSAPP faculty members: Farzin Lotfi-Jam, principal at multidisciplinary studio farzinfarzin, and Mark Wasiuta, co-director of the GSAPP's CCCP program. The pair were tasked with creating an exhibition on Rio de Janerio's Centro de Operações Rio (The Center of Operations Rio, abbreviated to "COR") by the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. The institute had been organizing a series of exhibits and events around the theme of the Olympics and the COR was developed to prepare Rio de Janeiro for hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic games. As Wasiuta told The Architect's Newspaper (AN), the city's "topography, infrastructure, population distribution, disparities between the formalized and informalized parts" make it difficult to manage. "The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted Rio to develop something like the center of operations, in order to demonstrate... that they were capable of managing the metabolism of the city." At the heart of the COR are a series of "if, then" statements—an algorithm that originated from IBM—that govern how the city responds to escalating levels of crises. The system first detects and categorizes a disruption (which range from quotidian "incident" and "event" to "emergency" and "crisis") then coordinates a response. Along this spectrum falls everything from traffic jams and peaceful gatherings to police actions, earthquakes, and landslides. Complicating Farzin and Wasiuta's task was that this system isn't hidden from the public eye: in addition to serving as a management device, the COR is a public relations tool aimed at Rio's residents and the IOC. The COR is how this smart city "sees itself, how it portrays that image of ongoing information extraction and control, how it portrays that image back to its residents and an international audience.... A representation producing device and mechanism for the city," said Wasiuta. Farzin and Wasiuta grappled with how to represent the COR in its dual functions. To tackle both challenges, Farzin said they created two intertwined "paths" to follow in the exhibition's model. One is physical: a single street leads the visitor through a series of events, emergencies, etc., that are frozen in time. Placed at eye-level (some may have to go on their tippy-toes), the model immerses you in each scene. Opposite the model is twenty monitors that depict the second "path," the algorithm itself. Half the monitors show a live feed streamed by small surveillance cameras trained on the model. The other ten monitors display a pre-recorded film of the model that moves from tableau to tableau. The film is supplemented by a monotone computer voice that narrates the COR algorithm at work: which sensors detected the event, current environmental conditions, the nature of the event, the coordinated response, etc. "We forced ourselves to put these multiple fragments and inputs into a singular whole... a continuous narrative" that depicts this "emerging computational urbanism," said Farzin. You feel almost as though you're the algorithm itself: hearing your own thought processes as your cameras—not penetrating beyond facades and hardtop—scan the streetscape. Meanwhile, it also feels like a performance: faced with scenes of perpetual crises, the COR is always there to respond. "We don't really want it to read like a model," Farzin added. "It's not such much a model as it is a movement path, a decision path through the city, and it's a film set. We wanted it to read that way more than an object." The end result is a fascinating depiction of the COR and how the COR depicts itself, all rolled into one. Thankfully, the exhibition is not a fetishistic enterprise of documenting the actual COR in all its high-tech, "situation room" glory. Instead, it takes us inside how the COR thinks and evokes how it would like to be seen—methodical, calm, and efficient in reacting to disruption. (It did make me wonder, however: What happens when technology enables cities to be proactive, even aggressive, in preventing disaster? When algorithms and controls shape how we use the cities, subtly or otherwise, to either prevent disasters or increase efficiencies?) Ultimately, the definition and practice of "smart cities" are still up in the air. Farzin and Wasiuta are currently looking at a project in South Korea that's built from the ground-up with smart city tech; it's a very different exercise as compared to retrofitting an old city like Rio de Janeiro. But faced with this specific urban condition in Rio de Janeiro, one where narrative and self-representation are critical, the pair eschewed a standard exhibition format. "We made a conscious decision not to be didactic or documentary in the sense that one might be," said Wasiuta. "Which isn't to say those projects can be amazing. But it was a conscious experiment to position the research within that space of representation and ask, 'What's still legible within that?'" Control Syntax Rio runs from March 28th to May 20th, 2017 at the Storefront for Art and Architecture (97 Kenmare St, New York, NY). It was originally commissioned by the Rotterdam-based organization Het Nieuwe Instituut, where it was on view from June 2016 to January 2017.  
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Playing Favorites

Specsheet: Architects’ and designers’ favorite surfaces

The Architect's Newspaper enlisted an array of architects and designers to share the interior surfaces, materials, and finishes that they return to time and again. Stay tuned next week for the second half!

Adam Snow Frampton Principal, Only If

We seek to create unexpected combinations through materials that are often common, off-the-shelf, or industrial. For Voyager Espresso, we took oriented strand board (OSB) and painted it with aluminum enamel, which transformed it from an everyday material into something new. The texture of the OSB also plays off the veining of the adjacent black marble countertop. The contractor sourced very low-quality OSB that had lots of construction debris in it, like screws and bolts, but we liked that they looked like fossils embedded in stone.

Wayne Norbeck and Jordan Rogove Partners and cofounders, DXA Studio

White Fantasy in leather finish is an elegant gray stone with an unexpected tactile quality. The subtle texture enhances the natural feel and touch of the stone, with the unique veins and movement offering a rugged but still smooth surface. The neutral variation in color on this stone also complements a wide range of other materials and works well in many different applications.

David Hacin Principal, H+A/ Hacin + Associates

One of our favorite building materials is carefully crafted black steel as railings, hardware, counter surfaces, hooks, towel bars, etc. It’s an old-school material that evokes the New England tradition of wrought iron and industrial metalwork but feels handmade and crafted when used in a more modern setting.

Stephanie Goto  Founder, Stephanie Goto

Using materials in slightly unconventional ways has proved to be a successful approach. We are particularly drawn to the balance between the breadth of color palette and the resilience of the material Caesarstone. Not only do we specify Caesarstone for our chef’s kitchens where you may expect it, but we are also pushing the boundaries to apply the material to floors, walls, ceilings, and even furniture, at the same time.

Katie Shima Designer, Situ Studio

My favorite material is spalted maple with a water-based finish. It’s a beautiful wood with a lot of character and can accept the wear and tear of use over time.

Cass Calder Smith Principal/founder, CCS Architecture

There are two interior finish materials that I really like to use, and often together. The first is Calacatta marble—it’s luxurious, modern, classic, and sexy. The second is walnut, which is authentic and warm.

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Can You Handle the Heat of Kundig’s Kitchen?

Delve into Bo Bardi’s archives, take a VIP tour with Robert A.M. Stern, and more, with Van Alen’s Auction of Art + Design Experiences
Now in its fourth incarnation, the Van Alen Institute's Auction of Art + Design Experiences is back, with truly global offerings that range from Miami ("Soak up the sun" with Terry Riley at sea and a spa) to Tokyo (hang with Metabolist Kayoko Ota or designer Go Hasegawa) to Lyon (tour the Musée des Confluences with its architect, Wolf D. Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au). This year's experiences were put together by leading figures in the architecture and design world, including: photographer Iwan Baan, Barry Bergdoll (Columbia University, formerly Museum of Modern Art), Jing Liu (SO–IL), architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, design consultant Marc Norman, Alexandra Polier (DNA brand agency), and writer Mayer Rus. See the list below and make your bids here! Verdant Vidro: Disappear into the rainforests surrounding São Paulo with Renato Anelli and Sol Camacho to the Casa de Vidro, the former home of Brazilian modernist architect, Lina Bo Bardi (1914 – 1992). Enjoy lunch amid the tropical foliage with a menu inspired by Bo Bardi, followed by a dive into the designer’s archives, which are typically off-limits. McKim, Piano, and Wright. Oh My! Follow architectural historian Barry Bergdoll as he shares his knowledge of gems by McKim Mead and White on Columbia University’s campus and brings you north to Renzo Piano’s new Jerome L. Greene Science Center in the gentrifying Upper Manhattan neighborhood. Top off the afternoon with a rare visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Broadacre City model. Party with NMDA: Be the toast of Hollywood as you and seven members of your entourage are invited to dinner with architect Neil Denari at the NMDA-designed Alan-Voo House in Los Angeles, a 21st-century high-tech bungalow. Altered States with Winka: Leave the world behind at the New York City meditation studio Inscape with its designer, Winka Dubbeldam of Archi-Tectonics, then join her for celebratory drinks – two nights at The Standard High Line included. Peru Perspectives: Fly over Lima’s Brutalist revival university complex by the 2018 Venice Biennial curators, Grafton Architects, and speak with UTEC’s Carlos Hereen about how the structure is helping revitalize this district of the vibrant coastal capital. Glamp Ground: Heard of glamping? Well, this is on an altogether different level. Spend the night at minimalist lifestyle guru Megan Griswolds luxury, marble-countered yurt under the wide-open skies just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ride the Sakura Wave: From the canal-side rooftop of designer Go Hasegawas Tokyo office, enjoy the peak of cherry blossom season with your friends amid the city’s ancient castles and modern skyscrapers. Meet Me in the Stacks: Browse the back of house of the New York Public Library on a private tour with a world-renowned master of archival design, Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten, then book it to her apartment for a meal. Can You Handle the Heat of Kundigs Kitchen?: Come to worship at the “gastronomical temple” of Seattle’s Mistral Kitchen, designed by architect-cowboy Tom Kundig, then visit the 12th Avenue Iron forge, leaving with a special piece selected just for you. Photo Flâneur: See New York City anew as you prowl the streets with acclaimed architectural photographer Yueqi JazzyLi on a personalized photoshoot. Waterhouse Down: Visit Shanghai in enviable style at its hippest hotel, the Waterhouse, with its designers Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu. Bring a friend and indulge at the tapas bar in this retrofitted 1930s structure. Lindo Lido Laps: Escape winter with famed Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti while getting a personal tour of his Coliseum in Medellín. Leave physically and mentally refreshed following a dip in the Olympic swimming pool and whirl around the complex’s five gymnasia and public gardens. Urbanists and Architects Take Flight: Soar over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and microclimates of Marin County in a seaplane with urban designer Marc Norman while learning about the challenges of building affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city. Metabolist Boost: Meander through Tokyo with AMO’s Kayoko Ota while she discusses the groundswell effects of the Metabolist movement that Kenzo Tange envisioned across the fabric of this dense metropolis. Southern Dystopia: Architect Jack C. Portman, III invites you for a night and a few sumptuous meals at the new Hotel Indigo in Atlanta as well as a tour of the futuristic additions to the cityscape by his father, John C. Portman, Jr. A studio visit with the elder Portman might even be in the cards during your visit to the Peach State Capital. Chat and Chew: Join world-renowned architect Wolf D. Prix at the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, as you tour its fascinating exhibits on how the environment has impacted the evolution of humankind, finally situating yourselves in front of some fine French fare. Seven Deadly Sins Escape: Expatriate just off the coast of Miami to a collection of stilted houses with K/R Architects’ Terry Riley with four of your friends. Soak up the sun – before climate change raises the tides too high – then pamper yourselves at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach for two nights. The Genius of John Lautner and Tony Duquette: Join design editor Mayer Rus for a visit to two of famous designs by John Lautner (1911–1994), the backdrop of multiple films and star-studded Hollywood parties. Next, hit the home of designer Hutton Wilkinson, who has preserved Dawnridge, the house created by Tony Duquette (1914–1999), for a meal in this collector's paradise. Ivy League of Your Own: Meet lionized architect Robert A.M. Stern for a VIP preview of Yale’s new residential college, the first building of the type to arrive on campus in over six decades. Catch a glimpse of Stern's yellow socks while he unravels the architecture’s embedded symbolism. Parrish the Thought: Head to Long Island’s Parrish Museum with director Terrie Sultan as you tour the Herzog & de Meuron-designed campus set in the East End landscape that fostered such minds as Fairfield Porter, Jackson Pollock, and Cindy Sherman. Wonder Dome: Hit the field of the vacant “Eighth Wonder of the World,” Houston’s Astrodome, with Rice University and WW Architects’ Sarah Whiting and architectural historian Stephen Fox as you explore the embattled history of this otherwise inaccessible midcentury modern marvel – then adjourn to Whiting’s home for a memorable meal. Tea Time Travel in Shanghai: Meet Atelier Deshaus founder Liu Yichun for tea at Shanghai’s serene Fangta Park, which is crowned by a nine-tiered pagoda and ringed with tranquil gardens, as you discuss the architecture and natural environment of this expanding city.
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Warehouse Party

Bombastic, brand-name architecture is transforming the L.A. Arts District

Los Angeles’s Arts District neighborhood is seeing a rapid influx of large-scale, developer-driven mixed-use projects, which are poised to upend the enclave’s status as an affordable, artists’ neighborhood.

Within the last six months, several large-scale proposals by international and local firms have shaken up the Arts District’s development trajectory by injecting an infusion of branded architecture. Irvine, California–based developer SunCal and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have partnered on the 6AM project, a $2 billion development located at the intersection of 6th and Alameda Streets. Initial plans call for roughly 2.8 million square feet of mixed-use development to the southern edge of the district, including 1,305 apartments and 431 condominiums.

The project’s retail areas will be contained within a multi-story ground-level podium that will act as a literal platform for the housing units above, articulated as long bars of apartments. The platform is designed as a collection of raw concrete structural components—square columns, rectangular beams, and a thin slab—raised high enough off the ground to create large expanses of covered outdoor space along the street and what amounts to a cavernous, open-air mall within. The interior of the retail complex will be carved into various blocks, with alternating exposures of the housing above looking down into the interior shopping streets. The complex is capped along Alameda Street by a collection of housing towers. Mia Lehrer + Associates will act as landscape architect for the project and AC Martin will serve as executive architect. 6AM is expected to be built in three phases starting around 2018.

On the district’s opposite end, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and real estate firm V.E. Equities have teamed up for 670 Mesquit, a project aligned directly with the edge of the L.A. River. 670 Mesquit is articulated as a large composition of gridded concrete frames infilled with various types of programming. The project will contain 800,000 square feet of office space, 250 residential units, and two specialty hotels, as well as a collection of open air, publicly oriented facilities designed to connect the neighborhood with the river. These amenities will span across a depressed rail yard that currently separates the district from the river along the longest edge of the site.

BIG’s buildings are organized as a series of generic structural bays stacked in a stepped configuration, with each bay of the superstructure measuring 45 feet on each side. These bays can be customized by the final tenants, an arrangement that allows the occupants to add mezzanines within each volume or fully subdivide existing spaces with new floors. In a reference to the repetitive armature the firm has designed, Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “we want to create this framework where the bones of the building are what unite it.”

2110 Bay, a 1.8-acre development on the southern edge of the district by Los Angeles–based Studio One Eleven will bring 50,000 square feet of commercial space, a 100,000-square-foot office building, and a 110-unit, roughly 140-foot tall “live-work tower” to the area. The architects will repurpose an existing industrial shed in order to create an airy shopping and dining plaza. The new complex will be outfitted with steel and wood elements in a nod to the neighborhood’s industrial past and have direct visual connections to the surrounding housing and office programs. Alan Pullman, senior principal at Studio One Eleven, described the partial adaptive reuse approach: “[We wanted to] design a project that felt like it was very connected to the existing character of the Arts District.” Dubbed the “Retail Shed,” the repurposed structure is surrounded on three sides by new construction, with the mix of buildings articulated in a variety of finishes, including corrugated metal siding, raw concrete, and brick.

The complex is crisscrossed by covered outdoor walkways, like the other projects described above, in an effort to weave public open space between private functions. Pullman explained that the abundance of these types of spaces—perhaps due to impact the quality of life and overall feel of the Arts District more than the new works of architecture themselves—was rooted in the district’s zoning code. “We always try to create a more fine grained ground plane when we can,” he said. “If there is an urban design regulation that gives you an incentive to create a paseo on the ground plane—like the hybrid industrial zoning does—you push for it.”

The area is being remade in the image of contemporary creative capitalism as an urban-suburb, a place where educated and wealthy inhabitants move to cement their status as professional workers. The situation is common among American cities of today: An existing industrial neighborhood, aggressively colonized by monied interests and repopulated by creative class workers, shifts from a predominantly manufacturing-based or underground arts existence toward one based on leisure, consumption, and domesticity. The arrival of bombastic, brand-name architecture is integral to this transformation—think of SHoP Architects’ 3.3-million-square-foot plan for the Domino Sugar Factory on the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn or Foster + Partners’ 2.4-million-square-foot Oceanwide Center project in San Francisco’s Transbay district—and the Arts District is no different.

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Letter to the Editor

Milton S. F. Curry, associate dean at Taubman College, on race, class, public education, and the future of architecture
The following letter was sent to The Architect’s Newspaper in response to the current debate, at local and national levels, about public education, in and out of the field of architecture. The author, Milton S. F. Curry, is the Associate Dean at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Director of Michigan Architecture Prep ARCHITECTURE AND PUBLIC EDUCATION: CULTIVATING CREATIVE POTENTIAL In University of Michigan President James B. Angell’s Commencement Address on June 26, 1879, he stated  “The most democratic atmosphere in the world is that of the college. There all meet on absolutely equal terms. Nowhere else do accidents of birth or condition count for so little.” Ezra Cornell stated in his address at the opening of Cornell University on October 7, 1868, “I hope that we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education, which shall fit the youth of our country for the professions, the farms, the mines, the manufactories, for the investigations of science, and for mastering all the practical questions of life with success and honor.... I trust we have laid the foundation of [a] university—‘an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.’” These words are not merely rhetorical flourishes, they are ideological imperatives that buttress some of our superb world-class public and private universities and institutions and by extension our collective belief in an egalitarian system of public education that educates all, no matter what one’s lot in life. The Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program—an architecture enrichment program based in Detroit and supported by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning—leverages the institution’s public ethos by engaging high school juniors in a studio-based architecture and college preparatory academic program. The program—one of the few of its kind to commit to a half-day full semester program with high school students—is an exemplar in leveraging university-level thinking towards enriching the secondary education of students in a large urban public school district. The field of architecture is expected to grow by 17 percent between now and 2022 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Yet as of 2008, only 1.5 percent of American architects were African-American, despite comprising 12 to 13 percent of the total U.S. population. This fact alone—virtually unchanged since I was a junior in high school, accounting for population growth and demographic growth among minority populations since the 1960s—should precipitate crisis-level response from our educational and professional institutions and accrediting bodies. But it hasn’t. Attracting diverse students, retaining them and supporting their academic success and professional development is challenging in architecture for several reasons: 1) unique residential segregation by class and race in the U.S. which leads to sizable gaps in academic achievement by twelfth grade—evidence shows that residential segregation and segregation in the nation’s public school system has gotten worse since the 1970s when desegregation plans were enforced by state and federal offices for civil rights; 2) lack of sufficient cultivation of “successful mindsets” among underrepresented minorities and marginalized populations and groups, 3) lack of “critical mass” of underrepresented minorities and other marginalized groups—making it more difficult to develop a sense of well-being and belonging, and 4) the focus on “identifying talent” versus “cultivating potential” in trying to articulate and sell the value of an architecture education to minorities and marginalized populations. The discipline of architecture alone cannot alter the systemic and exclusionary forces that have resulted in the current situation in which architecture students, and top-tier university students as a whole, are much wealthier and more ethnically and racially homogeneous than the population at large. Yet precisely because of our legacy of studio-based educational pedagogy and the capacious way in which architects can receive a broad liberal arts education while simultaneously becoming experts in visual and spatial aspects of conceptualizing and making physical and virtual objects at all scales, we are uniquely qualified to make substantive interventions in the public education landscape at this moment in American history. Detroit students, like so many students in large urban school districts, need more opportunities to expand their creative horizons beyond the traditional classroom. At a time when the twin forces of efficiency and technocracy translate into more mechanized test-taking and quantitative metrics of evaluation, an architectural way of thinking and making can unleash creative potential in students who have been all but written off because their way of learning and their cultural forms of expression and knowledge exchange do not comport to middle-class values and norms. Our democracy depends upon quality public educational institutions to educate the country’s diverse population. Privatization and defunding of public education strike at the heart of our social compact and our racial history as a nation. Our current political debates about the growth of charter schools and voucher schemes and the privatization of public schools as alternatives to underperforming public schools must be subjected to fact-based analysis. As U. S. Senator Elizabeth Warren stated in her January 9, 2017, letter to U. S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, “Today’s voucher schemes can be just as harmful to public school district budgets, because they often leave school districts with less funding to teach the most disadvantaged.” With just 58 percent third-grade reading proficiency in Detroit Public Schools, as reported by the Detroit Chamber of Commerce State of the Region Report 2016-17, clearly there is a necessity to improve performance in Detroit and other urban school districts. But this urgency need not result in opportunistic formulations that lead to random shuttering of neighborhood schools or a turn to online education as a panacea for the problem of effective knowledge exchange in K-12 education. The collective energy and monies spent trying to influence politicians and create a parallel system of unregulated publicly-funded private charter schools would be better spent facilitating smaller classrooms, empowering quality teachers to teach meaningful content as opposed to ‘teaching to the test,’ and paying teachers for the value that they are expected to provide. Individual and collective identities—understood in the context of historical legacies of exclusion and marginalization—are directly connected to life outcomes. Detroit students, like so many students in large urban school districts, need more opportunities to expand their creative horizons beyond the traditional classroom. Without a critical mass of representation from women, Black Americans, Latinos and Hispanics, and others who have been systematically underrepresented in the discipline of architecture, the discipline will continue to underserve not only the communities from which these persons emanate, but the entire polity. The context for the production of art and architecture today is shifting—because people want to understand themselves as not only having a stake in the cities they live in—and they want to be involved in how they are designed and developed. I anticipate a new generational critique of the exclusion of our disciplines to underrepresented minorities and lower-class citizens globally; and a renewed sense of participation in thinking anew about the very institutional structures that enforce elitism and exclusion. Detroit Public Schools Community District students who participate in the Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program—unlike the caricatures of them that get publicized in the media—are motivated to learn and eager to be intellectually challenged. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. They—many of the over 130 students who have matriculated through our program—are better equipped to succeed in college and better prepared for the cultural shift from an urban high school to a top-tier public or private university. How do I know? I know this because we have students who have matriculated through the program who are now enrolled at the University of Michigan, Lawrence Technical University, Michigan State University and other institutions, and they tell us that our program helped propel them to grow their mindsets and to more quickly assess the own “knowledge landscape” for gaps and to correct for those gaps quickly and proactively. Project-based learning coupled with focused basic proficiencies can more quickly propel motivated and unmotivated students to aspire to their own academic achievement—this is what we have found in our five semesters of operating the Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program. Smaller class size, intense student-teacher interaction, and iterative-based design projects that incorporate applied geometry and visual arts are the core of our program. Their design projects are infused with lesson plans on social movements and the relationships between the visual histories of social movements and the space of the city—the integration of humanistic thought, social issues of concern to them and their families, and the study of architecture. Our relative success suggests that these pedagogical innovations can and do work, and that those of us in higher education can learn from them as well as apply many of these design-centered pedagogical approaches into the university context —in architecture and design-related fields but also in the humanities, social sciences, and engineering. Students in our program are not acutely aware of the history of race and class that pervades the city of Detroit. They are not consumed by the massive loss of jobs, the rampant corruption at the hands of countless emergency managers for their school district and for the City of Detroit. They are interested in seeing—that is, believing in—a vision of the future for themselves that is possible and achievable. They are less interested in platitudes like ‘individual responsibility’ or ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstaps’ than in personal narratives of persons like them who have started their own business or charted a nonlinear path from high school to a seat in an architecture firm doing what they love and what they are passionate about. As Marshall Brown stated in our Fall 2016 Graduation Ceremony, “Architecture can take you places—geographically, mentally, and intellectually.” When I was the age of our students—a high school student growing up in Central California to upper middle class parents, yet living among working class Black Californians, and being bused to predominantly white public schools during the heyday of school desegregation—I valued diversity even though it meant enduring psychological trauma at the hands of racist teachers. The wager that was available for me, my parents, and so many of my contemporaries was to seize the high level of intellectual content accompanied by abject racism or settle for low-quality educational options with a homogeneous Black community (largely poor and working class). With Black wealth at fractional percentages of white wealth, the Black middle-class today, 2017, is relegated to the many of the same schools and school districts as their working class and poor counterparts. Because of my background of inhabiting several worlds simultaneously, I celebrate cross-class and interracial learning environments as some of the most stimulating forums of cross-cultural knowledge exchange and one in which the research has shown are best at producing a leveling of the playing field in terms of matching Black and Latino academic achievement with their white counterparts. The methodology of public education—one that used to be focused on high-performance and outcomes that provide a pathway to college—has shifted to become more focused on accepting society’s conception of poor and working class and minority students as irreparably damaged by their station in life and their own bad luck. What flows from these conceptions are a tamping down of expectations and a “settler” mentality that these students should be educated, but the threshold of education that they deserve is related to the individual choices that their parents made and on the available resources that society is willing to part with to help them along. This is not helped by an accelerated white flight currently taking place whereby white families are fleeing schools with the largest minority student populations.  To counter these efforts, universities must become more engaged in leveraging their resources and intellectual capital to create expanded opportunities for the nation’s most vulnerable children—those in high-poverty and monolithically minority-populated urban metro areas and those in rural areas. Based on our experience at the University of Michigan, this is the best way to extend our values and assist in what has to be a massive crisis-level response to the failure of our public educational system to live up to our aspirations as well as the historical success that was achieved in other periods of our history—when public schools were very good and when public university systems were recognized and funded as a public good. More information on the University of Michigan Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program can be found here.
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Roman Redux

A small exhibit hints at major changes in architectural representation

The small but provocative exhibition Re-constructivist Architecture at the Ierimonti Gallery on 57th Street forecasts a major shift in the way emerging architects are thinking about architecture today. Curators Jacopo Costanzo, Giovanni Cozzani, and Giulia Leone, in conjunction with the Casa dell’Architettura in Rome, have selected the work of 13 young architectural groups whose members were born in the 1980s to develop proposals for a residence in the Roman countryside. The projects fill three walls of the gallery and are intended to challenge the previous generation of older venerables. To that end, posted on the wall directly across are three projects by deconstructivist “starchitects”: Peter Eisenman’s Yenikapi archaeology museum, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Art Museum in Strongoli, and Bernard Tschumi’s rendering done specifically for the show, A house like a city, a city like a house.

While the winner has yet to be determined, the exhibition does highlight several important new trends.

It is intended more as a battle than a debate. That the younger architects feel entitled to challenge the Goliaths of the field signifies a fresh and audacious confidence. This new generation intends to offer alternative modes of thinking that signal a change in focus within the field, and eventually to question the premises, concerns, and lavish extravagance of the previous one. Interestingly, they do so by reaching back to the architects of the 1960s, who were devoted to exploring the language of architecture itself. This reversion to an older source would seem to be a conservative move, a kind of retro or revivalist approach. However, these young architects, who certainly acknowledge the “bravura” of the deconstructivists, are instead revisiting the values and cultural concerns of such groups as GRAU, Superstudio, and even Archigram. The theme of the show itself seems reminiscent of architectural exercises at universities where these 30-year-olds studied, especially the projects for the classes of the late Alessandro Anselmi, whose exquisite drawing appears on the announcement for the show as an homage. Importantly, the proposals avoid grand utopian visions and eschew extravagant megastructures. Instead, the theme requires them to confine their efforts to developing plans for a simple structure, and to exploring how to generate a simple home responsive to its natural setting. The projects, then, reexamine basic notions of place and how to design for living on a truly “human” scale.

Secondly, while there are three models in the exhibition, the proposals are primarily graphic. Like architects of the 1960s, these emerging architects deploy drawing to convey their concepts, with each group presenting only a plan and small rendering of their project accompanied by a more-or-less helpful description. Interestingly, the projects vary enormously among themselves in the way in which they are rendered. For example, the group AM3 from Palermo, Italy, elected to represent its solution in the form of two small etchings, executed in a loose, traditional crosshatch technique. AM3 chose to situate its villa on Lake Nemi, a design inspired by the legend that the Emperor Caligula had two gigantic ships built there as floating palaces. Of particular beauty are the drawings by the Portuguese group fala atelier. While the rendering is elegant and clear, the description verges on the poetic crypto-theoretical. It anthropomorphizes the site, stating that the house is “sequential and schizophrenic” with the central void defined by the surrounding wall that “competes with the landscape” and is both “attracted and repulsed by its site.”

Particularly suggestive is the project by the Warehouse of Architecture and Research. The point of departure is a ruin—a kind of palimpsest ubiquitous in the urban and natural settings of the region. The ruin is then animated by a visitor, the so-called “colonialist” seen in the drawing. This subject adds Venturi-esque elements to the site with ironic verve, as if cataloging the various forms in the contemporary architectural vocabulary. What results is an improbable composite in which the various styles and elements elide into a fantastical yet cozy home, a kind of faux-picturesque pastiche. The group Fosbury Architecture based in Milan has produced a dramatic solution: From the square plan rises a kind of cone-shaped thatched tower punctuated by a single enormous column at the center. The hollow column is penetrated by a winding staircase that ascends to an area, one assumes, for contemplation, similar to the solitary towers pictured in Walter Pichler’s drawings. Significantly, the descriptions all share a contemporary ironic undertone that is without a trace of nostalgia or sentimentality.

An essential modus operandi is the use of collage as a way of conjoining past and present, as it allows the connections among the pieces to remain hypothetical and to function as propositions capable of triggering discussion. In fact, the exhibition is only a part of a larger project. The plan is to use the show as a springboard for a series of conferences in Rome that address the significant issues uncovered by it. Beyond the evident visual eloquence and high level of craft, what the show reveals is that the two generations are speaking about distinctly different realms of architecture, and what the new generation is advocating is the retrieval of certain classical, historical values as part of the conversation.

Re-constructivist Architecture Ierimonti Gallery 24 West 57th Street, New York Through February 10

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Design-Prototype-Build

MADWORKSHOP announces 2017 fellows
The Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWORKSHOP), a Santa Monica, California–based foundation focused on incubating student design projects into built work, has announced its 2017 design fellows. The five students—Heeje Yang, Jayson Champlain, Jeremy Carman, Belinda Pak, and Joseph Chang—are all currently fourth-year students at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Bachelor of Architecture program. A sixth, previously-announced fellow, Riccardo Blumer, is a practicing architect and researcher from Varese, Italy. The six fellows will spend the next year being incubated by MADWORKSHOP as they elaborate designs for a series of individual pilot projects. The fellows’ projects, according to a press release issued by the foundation, will focus on MADWORKSHOP’s 2017 design theme: Emergency Architecture. Yang will work on improving the designs for the Chair Six prototype, a foldable chair designed by 2014 fellow Yuan Yao. Champlain and Carman, both of whom participated in the MADWORKSHOP-funded Homeless Studio taught at USC last semester, will partner to develop innovative approaches to the safety- and privacy-related aspects of temporary, post-disaster shelter design within the context of large sports stadiums. Pak will work on prototype designs for an emergency wristband that can convey medical and contact information while Chang will design a backpack that converts into a stretcher that could be carried by a single person during emergency situations. Finally, Blumer will develop research on the design of socially-conscious architecture through the use of innovative technology and representational techniques. MADWORKSHOP was founded by David C. Martin and Mary Klaus Martin in 2015 with the aim of supporting “the next generation of inventors and designers with a focus on technological craftsmanship.” The organization funded an elective studio at USC during the Fall 2016 semester that focused on developing a rapid re-housing prototype that could be deployed in as little as two weeks. The studio, taught by MADWORKSHOP acting director Sofia Borges, a faculty member of USC School of Architecture, and R. Scott Mitchell, owner/principal of L.A.-based Gigante AG, partnered with non-denominational ministry Hope of the Valley and consulted with nonprofit housing developers and city agencies while developing their prototype. Also in 2016, the organization also installed the Sanke furniture system in the courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. That installation, a colorful collection of tables and chairs designed to operate as a deconstructed communal table, was developed by 2015 fellow Sonia Lui. For more information on the fellows, see the MADWORKSHOP website.
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Yard Work

Explore SITU Studio’s new gallery at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Brooklyn-based SITU Studio has designed a new exhibition space acalled “Yard Work” in Building 92 of the Brooklyn Navy Yards (BNY). The tenant population at BNY is rapidly expanding—the industrial park reports that $700 million in new developments are currently underway, including investments in public food services and green manufacturing, which it estimates will expand overall on-site employment to 16,000 jobs by 2020. This exhibition space aims to capitalize on this diversification of the BYY's industries by displaying items from their many production lines. “As we grow, we want to create space for people to connect and collaborate, while providing more amenities for Yard employees and the public,” said Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation President and CEO David Ehrenberg in a statement. Though the space was designed by SITU, a tenant of the BNY since 2013, other companies participated in the curation of this inaugural exhibition titled Wood Works; those companies include furniture designer, Asher Israelow; engineering and design firm, Rock Paper Robot; and career training non-profit, Refoundry. The exhibit, aptly named, displays a range of wood products developed with both new technologies and handcrafted design techniques. The gallery uses a system of custom pegboards that can “easily reconfigure to host new exhibits and a range of objects, artifacts, and art.” The pegboards are made of unfinished MDF panels that will produce a patina over time and “reflect the industrial and ever-changing nature of the Yard itself.” This project is the most recent iteration of SITU’s interest in flexible design and adaptable infrastructure which the studio has previously utilized in various workspaces, cultural institutions, and at the urban scale. The gallery and cafe are open 7 a.m. tp 7 p.m., seven days per week. The cafe will be operated by Brooklyn Roasting Company, a tenant of the BNY, and will for the first time serve beer and wine at their evening happy hour. SITU, the Brooklyn Roasting Company, and BNY collaborated on the design of the cafe.
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Measure HHH

San Fernando Valley poised to tackle homelessness with new $1.2 billion housing initiative

The San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles has a reputation as a quintessentially suburban enclave. But, as the inner-city areas of Los Angeles have begun to embrace the hallmarks of traditional urbanism—increased housing density, fixed-transit infrastructure, and a dedication to pedestrian space—the valley has found itself parroting those same shifts in its own distinct way.

One area where this transformation is taking shape is housing, specifically, transitional and supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals.

According to the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, the number of homeless people in the San Fernando Valley increased by 36 percent last year. Though the increase was significantly lower throughout L.A. County overall last year, one thing is clear: The number of people without homes in the areas around Los Angeles’s urban core area is growing. A similar trend is playing out across the country. Not only are urban homeless populations being increasingly displaced out toward the suburban areas by gentrification, but greater numbers of suburbanites themselves are becoming homeless, as well, due to a fraying social net and systematic income inequality.

Dire though the situation might be, Los Angeles—and the San Fernando Valley in particular—is currently poised to make strides in re-housing currently homeless individuals living in quasi-suburban environments by building a collection of new housing projects across the city. That’s because this November, 76 percent of L.A.’s voters supported Measure HHH, the city’s Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond. The initiative will raise $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for the construction of up to 10,000 units of housing for the homeless. The victory represents a shift in collective perspective that goes hand-in-hand with changing urban attitudes: As transit, density, and pedestrianism spread, so too has a visceral awareness that the city’s homeless population has been wholly abandoned by society and that action is overdue.

The passage of Measure HHH represents an opportunity for architects to assert themselves in civic and cultural discourse at an incredibly meaningful scale. And as much as the valley has begun to accept increased density, so too is it likely to see its fair share of new transitional and supportive housing as a result.

Already, the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), a local affordable housing provider known for its focus on design quality, has begun to expand into neighborhoods beyond Skid Row. The organization opened a new set of apartments designed by Los Angeles–based architects Brooks + Scarpa this summer in the MacArthur Park neighborhood just west of Downtown Los Angeles. The project, called The Six, is the group’s first development with permanent supportive housing specifically for veterans. The name of the complex comes from the military shorthand, “got your six,” which means “I’ve got your back.”

The complex is designed around a central, planted courtyard and is expected to receive LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It features solar panels on the roof and ground-level supportive services for the residents, with a large public courtyard located on the second floor. Units rise up around the perimeter of the courtyard along a single-loaded corridor and are capped by a roof terrace and edible garden. The firm also calibrated the building’s architectural massing in order to respond to passive cooling and lighting strategies and features selectively glazed exposures as well as a courtyard layout that facilitates passive lighting and ventilation.

Another project under development by SRHT is Michael Maltzan Architecture’s (MMA) Crest Apartments in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. Crest Apartments will deliver 64 affordable housing units for formerly homeless veterans. The building is laid out as a long, stepped housing block raised on a series of piers above multifunctional hard- and soft-landscaped areas. The long and narrow site shapes the complex such that the building’s mass steps around in plan as it climbs in height, creating vertical bands of windows aimed toward the street and side yard in the process. The ground floor of the complex contains supportive service areas as well as a clinic and community garden. The building recently finished construction and residents are beginning to move in.

The future of housing efforts in the valley is also being tackled by students at University of Southern California (USC), where a studio funded by the nonprofit Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWORKSHOP) is aiming to develop a rapid-re-housing prototype to be deployed across the valley. The studio, formally unrelated to Measure HHH, is led by Sofia Borges, acting director at MADWORKSHOP and R. Scott Mitchell, assistant professor of practice at USC. The professors tasked architecture students with studying the spatial implications of homelessness at the individual person’s scale.

Ultimately, the studio, with nondenominational ministry Hope of the Valley as its client, developed the beginnings of a single-occupancy housing prototype that could be mass-produced and temporarily deployed to selected vacant sites in as little as two weeks. The cohort spent the semester meeting with officials in the city government, including the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, to work on an actionable plan for implementing their prototype. The students built a full-scale mock-up of the 96-square-foot unit for their final review and detailed plans for how the unit might be aggregated into larger configurations as a sort of first-response to help people transition from living on the streets to occupying more formal dwellings like The Six or Crest Apartments.

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Square Space

James Corner Field Operations and nARCHITECTS team up to revamp 10-acre park in the heart of Cleveland

Cleveland’s downtown is more welcoming thanks to a civic space replacing a formerly traffic-choked intersection. The Public Square is a recently completed 10-acre park designed by James Corner Field Operations (JCFO). The $50-million project also includes a small cafe designed by New York–based nARCHITECTS with local architects Westlake Reed Leskosky. Initiated by nonprofit organization The Group Plan Commission, the Public Square is a major part of larger mission to connect Cleveland’s public spaces to Lake Erie.

The design joins four smaller traffic islands situated between the wide lanes of Superior Avenue and Ontario Street in the heart of the city. As part of making the space more pedestrian friendly, Ontario Street was shut down in that section, and Superior Avenue, which still bifurcates the area, was altered and restricted to public transportation. A butterfly-shaped path encircles the site and is flanked by curving park benches designed by JCFO. Within the paths, small hills produce an outdoor amphitheater and provide a lookout over the surrounding traffic.

The Café Pavilion, the final piece of the square, includes a large kitchen and a modest interior dining space. A 60-foot glass facade looks out onto the Public Square and a large fountain. A curated art wall covers the opposite facade, while triangulated metal panels wrap much of the rest of the exterior. Side windows, impressed into the form of the building, allow for views from the street through the dining area and onto the square. The only other structure in the square is the 125-foot Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, dedicated to those who fought in the Civil War. Built in 1894, the large monument once occupied one of the quads divided by traffic, but it is now integrated into the corner of the Public Square. 

By adding a more inviting green space into the center of the city, the designers are taking part in an effort to revitalize Cleveland’s downtown. Before the park even opened, programs and events were already planned for the square, including hosting the performance season of the Cleveland Orchestra. A temporary outdoor installation by Milan-based Cracked Art was also commissioned by LAND Studio, the nonprofit landscape and public art agency that managed the project. The National Endowment of the Arts awarded arts organization Cuyahoga Arts and Culture a $50,000 matching grant for additional arts programming for the Public Square.

Like many recently built civic spaces across the country, the public–private partnership behind Public Square raised both the public and private funds for the needed $50 million for the project. Similar projects, such as Chicago’s Millennium Park and Houston’s Discovery Green, though both larger than the Public Square, have been wildly popular, much to the benefit of the surrounding cities. Others point to the success of JCFO’s High Line Park in New York as a good sign that the square will have the positive impact the city anticipates. In any case, Cleveland has a little more public space to enjoy—and a little less traffic to avoid—in its downtown.

This article appears on HoverPin, a new app that lets you build personalized maps of geo-related online content based on your interests: architecture, food, culture, fitness, and more. Never miss The Architect’s Newspaper’s coverage of your city and discover new, exciting projects wherever you go! See our HoverPin layer here and download the app from the Apple Store.

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Staying Ahead of the Burb

Changing demographics and new technologies promise to reshape American suburbs

Cookie-cutter Levittowns epitomize the post–World War II generation’s housing: Shaped by subsidies and segregation practices like redlining, vast tracts of cul-de-sacs and ranch homes filled up with white Americans emptying from the cities. Now, as a new generation stands to form 14 million new households over the next decade, the suburbs are poised for major changes.

How and where the next wave lives are the major questions put forth by “Housing in the Evolving American Suburb,” the 2016 report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit developer and real estate research group based in Washington, D.C. Its analysis takes a big-picture snapshot of America’s suburbs in an attempt to update and more accurately reflect demographics and spread beyond Levittown. Seeing the suburbs figuring prominently in issues ranging from aging to immigration and economic growth, the report aims to create “a new analytic framework for classifying suburban housing markets.”

Drawing extensively from census data, the ULI—working with real estate consultants RCLCO—used factors such as housing types, population density, employment density, and distance from city centers to identify the suburban areas outside of America’s 50 largest metro areas. Organized by census tract, each area is classified into five suburban categories based on land value and a host of development trends.

Using these definitions, one immediate takeaway was that the suburbs are growing. “There’s absolutely…an outward migration from metro areas and regions based on the cost of living, which is principally the cost of housing,” said Stockton Williams, executive director for the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing. Furthermore, the newer, more peripheral, and affordable suburbs are growing faster in comparison with older suburbs, regardless of whether the latter were wealthy or low income. And, contrary to popular perception, the suburbs are increasingly more diverse. By one estimate, suburban America was nearly 90 percent white in 1980. Now, while what the ULI defines as “economically struggling” suburbs are 62.1 percent minority (a definition that includes all races except non-Hispanic whites), “established high-end” and “stable middle income” suburbs are 33.8 percent and 51.2 percent minority, respectively. By comparison, non-Hispanic whites were an estimated 61.6 percent of the national population in 2015. However, the report and its accompanying online map (available at RCLCO’s website) make it impossible to distinguish what minorities make a census tract diverse. Moreover, segregation can still persist, depending on your standards and how close you look—a fall 2014 Harvard GSD studio still found the legacy of suburban segregation alive and well in Long Island’s Nassau County, which the report identifies mostly as “stable middle income.” While identifying that form of discrimination was not the report’s goal, Williams predicted that immigrants in particular would shape suburbs in the future.  He said demand for newer, more peripheral, but higher-end suburbs will “increasingly be driven by second- and third-generation immigrants.”

Also contrary to population conception is the suburban demographic: 75 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the report’s top-50 metro areas lives in suburbs. That age group (millennials) may drive major national changes there. “There are still a lot of millennials who have not really formed households, or even if they have, have not even begun to fully express what we expect to be their purchasing power and their preferences in the housing market,” said Williams. According to previous ULI studies, 75 percent of millennials plan to move in the next five years, and that group has a strong preference for car-optional neighborhoods that are diverse and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly—in other words, compact mixed-use developments. So what will happen when millennials want to upgrade the sizes of their dwellings, form households, or pursue home ownership, especially when as of 2014 the median household income for those aged 25 and 34 was $54,243?

More prosperous millennials may remain in cities or move to newer, higher-end suburbs—ones developed with dense, walkable, mixed-use downtowns as amenities. For the rest, other possible destinations arethe many “economically challenged” suburbs well situated near urban cores. “There, we could see a reinvestment, meaning an influx of younger families, or families of any age who want to buy, who can buy more…because prices are lower,” Williams said. Such a phenomenon is already underway near Washington, D.C., in parts of Prince George’s County, Maryland, which Williams said is “now attracting residential investment and mixed-use and even arts and cultural redevelopment.”

Another complicating factor is the fate of older suburban housing stock. Though it’s unclear at what rate those homes will enter the market, when they do, there may be little demand from younger generations for homes “that were built in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, largely to meet the needs and preferences of the nuclear family unit of that era, in communities that may not always reflect today’s preferences,” said Williams. Lastly, the prospect of driverless and electric vehicles—estimated to enter widespread use in 20 to 30 years, according to the report—could be highly disruptive. Autonomous and shared vehicles could vastly curtail parking requirements that stifle density while making long-distance car commuting more amenable. Electric vehicles could also make the suburbs more sustainable.

While some have portrayed the report as another round in the city-versus-suburb debate, that’s not Williams’s takeaway. He argues that the suburbs’ range of housing options make them integral to the success of their cities and vice versa. “You really are seeing pretty significant and sustained growth in a number of the metro areas…where housing is more affordable.” But a range of factors—from fair-housing enforcement to driverless cars, aging in place, and millions of households’ preferences—have yet to play out in each region.