Search results for "James Corner Field Operations"

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Lake Effect

Chicago’s Navy Pier announces plans for a hotel and completes a bigger, better Ferris Wheel

For the first time in its 100-year history, Chicago’s Navy Pier may be the site of a new hotel. As part of Centennial Vision, a multiphase redevelopment of the Pier, the city and Chicago-based hotel management company First Hospitality Group, Inc. announced plans for a 200-room hotel.

Heading the preliminary design is Chicago-based KOO. Led by Jackie Koo, the office is also responsible for the Wit Hotel in the North Loop and the Inn at Lincoln Park. The new privately funded hotel is expected to cost roughly $90 million. According to a press release, financing has already been secured, and construction is expected to begin in 2017.

The preliminary design of the hotel includes five levels of hotel rooms looking out over the south side of the Pier. Located near the Pier’s east end, each room would include a balcony and bay window.

The announcement coincides with events surrounding the Pier’s 100th anniversary. The most visible of these events is the opening of the new 196-foot-tall Centennial Ferris Wheel. The new wheel replaces a smaller version, which has been moved to Branson, Missouri. Like the last wheel, the new ride will have light shows coordinated with the Pier’s regular weekly and holiday fireworks shows. At a cost of $26.5 million, the Centennial Ferris Wheel is 50 feet taller, and can hold 150 more passengers than its predecessor. Erecting the 525-ton wheel presented unique problems, which included a limit on crane size due to the parking garage below and the weight limits of the Pier. Chicago’s inclement weather also played a role, as wind speeds and temperatures on the Pier are often much more extreme than in the city.

Along with the Centennial Wheel, the Polk Bros Park and a reconfiguration of the general park and entry roadways have been completed. These projects were all part of Phase I of the Pier’s redevelopment. Also nearing full completion is the Wave Wall designed by New York–based James Corner Field Operations as part of its master plan for the entire Pier. New renderings have also been released for additions to the existing Shakespeare Theater on the Pier. These additions, designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, are expected to be complete by fall 2017.

Navy Pier is considered one of the largest tourist attractions in the Midwest, with over nine million visitors a year. The Pier was conceived as part of Daniel Burnham’s Chicago Plan. In its 100-year history it has been, among other things, a municipal pier, a naval training area, a school of architecture (now the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago), and has seen varying levels of popularity and disrepair. The now-packed 50-acre pier and this new redevelopment are playing a large role in the mayor’s goal of bringing 55 million annual tourists to Chicago by 2020. 

       
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Cleveland Public Square

Cleveland Public Square reopens after major renovation by James Corner Field Operations
After several years of planning and 15 months of renovation, Cleveland Public Square reopened to the public last Thursday. The dramatic $50 million restoration of the 6-acre park offers a variety of opportunities for public programming and activities; it has even helped prompt a series of residential and commercial construction projects in the city’s center. James Corner Field Operations has completely transformed the park: Ontario Street is now permanently closed between South Roadway and Rockwell Avenue; Superior Avenue is used exclusively for transit; corners of intersections and formerly paved areas have been converted to green lawn. The design also includes a fountain in the park’s center which will serve as an ice rink in the winter, a wide range of vegetation, and extensive walkways. LANDStudio and the Group Plan Commission, two civic groups, oversaw the project’s financing and construction. The extensive restoration consisted of the reconstruction of water, electrical, and communication infrastructure below ground and above ground construction that converted the roadways into a pedestrian corridor. The opening comes just before the Republican National Convention to be held in Cleveland.
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Beach Sequel

James Corner Field Operations’ “ICEBERGS” exhibit opens at the National Building Museum
  A new installation at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. gives visitors an icy antidote to the city’s hot summer temperatures, which are expected to surge up to 100 degrees. Dubbed ICEBERGS, the exhibit lets visitors explore an underwater world of snow and ice. The exhibit, designed by the landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, consists of “icebergs” made from reusable construction materials and a 50-foot “water line” topped by an airy outpost above. The total space of the exhibition is over 12,000 square feet. In addition to exploring icebergs and caves, guests can try a Japanese shaved ice snack called kakigori courtesy of Daikaya restaurant. Last summer the National Building Museum exhibited the Snarkitecture-designed THE BEACH, which featured a massive ball pit that encouraged visitors young and old to go play. THE BEACH also had a 50-foot “shoreline” with umbrellas and beach chairs, and a mirrored wall that made the sea of close to 1 million translucent plastic balls seem to go on forever. This glacial, underwater world contrasts with the hot, sticky Washington DC summer, but it’s also a reminder of climate change. “Such a world is both beautiful and ominous,” said James Corner Field Operations’ founder and director James Corner, “given our current epoch of climate change, ice-melt, and rising seas.” Learn more about the exhibit here.

Editorial>A status quo to believe in?

In this issue, we cover a landscape of in-between spaces: divergent urban uses of public realm via Los Angeles’s Great Streets initiative, thoughtfully considered multifamily development in Santa Monica, a fresh batch of transit options in L.A., and a blending of private and public space in Seattle. If this seems like a jumbled mess, that’s because this collection of stories reflects the increasingly contested nature of West Coast urbanism. When considering the region’s pervasive homelessness crisis, increasing unaffordability, and legislative squabbles over development, we see a condition that is rooted at the nexus of two things: where we live and how we get there.

But really, this is old news. The tension between density and mobility has been a driving force in the West’s development since the colonial era, when conquistadors established El Camino Real and set up camps one day’s horse ride apart.

In today’s quest to make the West’s cities more livable, sustainable, and equitable, an effort is underway to give various modes of transportation—walking, cycling, light rail, and ridesharing—equal priority, meaning that single-occupant cars are watching their day in the sun fading in the rearview. If one argument is gaining traction, with large transit expansions planned in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle over the coming years, it’s a common sense one: that pedestrianized forms of mobility simply make for better cities. Where there is less of a reliance on cars and the space they require, people can live in smaller homes, coexist closer together, talk to one another more often, and have the time to enjoy their neighborhoods.

But only, of course, if they can afford to live in these areas in the first place. Because, simultaneously, the West is enduring a widespread shortage of rental and private homes resulting from decades of gradual downzoning and anti-density legislation that have left the region massively under-built. And whereas Los Angeles was once capable of housing 10 million people under the city’s 1960 zoning regulations, today, it can only accommodate about four million inhabitants and has been built out according to what is currently allowed. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of housing units are needed across the region to meet today’s needs, and the few talented designers who are stepping in to provide thoughtful, equitable distribution and design of those units are hampered by legislation, restrictive ordinances, or threats of litigation. Changes in zoning created this problem, and changes in zoning can help will solve it.

And when planning departments do not step in or act too slowly, state governments will act on their behalf. California’s AB1866, for example, set a new, relatively liberal statewide standard for the implementation of Accessory Dwelling Units, the small, sometimes-detached efficiency suites on otherwise single-family properties that are quietly up-zoning even the wealthiest of neighborhoods. These so-called “in-law” units, already common in working-class areas, help populations grow up and age in place, provide a landing pad for recent immigrants, and allow homeowners to earn rental income through their properties. Though this is a stop-gap solution, it is, at least, a developing front and a site of overall disruption.

Community-oriented designers can also subvert the rules. But too often, community-oriented design is impermanent or doesn’t operate at a scale widespread enough to create lasting change. There is an under-addressed middle market that designers and developers have been too hesitant to embrace. The terminus of the new Expo and the adjacent Tongva Park designed by James Corner Field Operations in Santa Monica, however, are powerfully permanent statements. Though Tongva Park opened almost two years ago, the completion of the Expo terminus and its associated intersection make for a metaphoric moment: a pedestrianized street connecting public transit to a pier over the ocean. This design, bookended by the recently selected minimalist Agence Ter and SALT-designed proposal for PershingSquare in Downtown Los Angeles, creates an east-west urban route, while Gehry Partners’ ongoing community engagement surrounding its working designs for the Los Angeles River has the potential to create an ecologically significant north-south spine.

In this election season, let’s call this slow-burning revolution the Clinton option for urbanism: ignoring calls for barbarism and perfecting the status quo to be, if nothing else, better and available to many more. Right now, that’s the best West Coast cities can hope for, and maybe it’s not so bad.

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Black Box

Richard Meier blacks out for new tower on the East River
Pritzker Prize–winning architect Richard Meier's trademark is the white, or off-white, structure. Yesterday, though, the architect blacked out at the behest of his developer friend Sheldon Solow for a 42-story, 556-unit residential tower on the East River. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) revealed renderings of the 828,000-square foot, Terminator-black, UN-adjacent building, at 39th Street and First Avenue. It's Meier's tallest in New York and his first since his three apartment towers on West Street were completed more than 12 years ago. The WSJ generously described the form as "a plain rectangular slab...the new building, except for its color, is vintage Meier inside and out, a polished specimen of neo-Modernist simplicity." Sources close to AN panned the design: "A cheap lighter." "Nice gap tooth." "Looks like they hired no one to design it." "Should have stuck to white." Solow insisted that Meier use black, because all of the developer's buildings are black. Solow thinks of architects as painters, and it was a question here, Solow explained, of getting Meier to adjust his palette. Solow has intended to develop the site, formerly home to Con Edison steam plants, for decades. After years of environmental remediation, and fights with planning agencies and the community boards, visions for the towers were scuttled in the 2008 recession. Last year, Solow resumed the development, filing plans for the tower were last August, although a few details have changed since then: the size of the building is up 10,000 square feet, with one-third condos and two-third rentals. The project is expected to be complete in 2018. The site could accommodate more programs, including a proposed commercial high-rise by SOM, and a one-acre park designed by James Corner Field Operations, although Solow would like to see how Meier's project progresses before confirming details on these projects.
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Pershing Square-Off

Agence Ter selected to redesign L.A.’s Pershing Square
Agence Ter was selected this morning as the winners of the competition aimed at redesigning Downtown Los Angeles’s central, 5-acre park, Pershing Square. The firm’s proposal for the city’s most historic open space aims to “get rid of trendy design approaches” that have plagued the park’s prior redesigns and to provide, as Agence Ter partner Henri Bava declared at the announcement ceremony, a “timeless design able to change with the neighborhood.” The French landscape firm’s approach is notable for the “town square” approach taken to the site, where a large canopy located at the western edge of the park will house cafés and other amenities that open onto a grassy knoll at the center of the park. Agence Ter’s proposal beat out entries by James Corner Field Operations with Fredrick Fischer and Partners, SWA and Morphosis, and wHY and Civitas. Bava announced that the agency would open a Los Angeles office to oversee the design and construction of the park. Downtown Los Angeles councilperson Jose Huizar, surrounded by a cohort of joyful politicos and city boosters, announced the winning entry in a heavily-attended morning ceremony in the downtrodden park. Councilperson Huizar told the crowd, “Of all the designs presented, [Agence Ter’s proposal] won us over, and more importantly, won over the public. We are very confident in the selection and final decision.” The four finalists were selected in December 2015 from an original pool of ten groups that presented work to Pershing Square Renew, a nonprofit partnership between Huizar and business leaders, residents, and activists administering the redesign. Those four teams presented final schemes to the public in late April. In the three weeks since, politicians, business people, and residents have provided input via public and online forums made available for comment. Agence Ter’s proposal was selected at the conclusion of this semi-public vetting process. The city’s oldest park, Pershing Square has lived through many iterations and names throughout its 150 plus year history. The winning proposal will be the third such iteration for the square in the last 100 years. The most recent version of the park was designed in 1994 Mexican Modernist architect Ricardo Legorreta. Laurie Olin was the landscape architect while Barbara McCarren designed the site’s hardscaping. A disciple of Luis Barragán, Legorreta’s scheme for the park takes a coy approach to the plaza mayor concept by using brightly-painted platonic stucco masses to frame and divide the area programmatically. These spaces include a purple campanile, small café area, seating integrated with expanses of lawn, and a large fountain surrounded by sculptural orbs. The park sits above a city-owned, five-story parking complex and has been generally unloved by the public because of it’s lack of porosity and the physical impediments resulting from the garage’s many access ramps. The rapid fire progress seen on the redevelopment of the park, a process that began only in 2013, has mirrored the transformation of the area from run-down business district to affluent enclave. A Ralphs supermarket opened in the area in 2007, the first in over 50 years. That market catalyzed a residential boom in the area and since then, Ace and Standard hotel locations have come on line, bringing with them a slew of high-end culinary and retail establishments, including a 42,000 square foot Whole Foods location that opened in November of 2015. The winning scheme, if built and ultimately successful, would cement Downtown L.A.’s status as one of the city’s distinct and vital neighborhoods. As of this morning’s announcement, however, no budget for the redevelopment has been released and a timeline for the construction of the project is still to be decided. Councilperson Huizar expressed hope that the park would be open by 2019, he and other City officials and residents are joined in their hope that this version of the park will be the one that finally sticks. Hopefully Agence Ter’s scheme won’t be wiped away twenty years from now like Legorreta’s.
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Brew City Boom

A handful of new projects are transforming Milwaukee’s downtown skyline

With at least four new towers, all within a few blocks of one another, either completed or planned to be completed before 2020, Milwaukee’s skyline is seeing its greatest change in recent memory. Though the city’s East Side and Third Ward, immediately north and south of downtown, respectively, have seen modest development over the past 15 years, the downtown itself has been decidedly quiet for more than 20 years.

The first project to be finished was 833 East Michigan Avenue. At 18 stories, the $100 million tower is tall by Milwaukee standards. The multitenant office building was designed by Milwaukee-based Kahler Slater. With so few contemporary office buildings downtown, 833 East stands out with its integrated technology and open floor plans. And with views of Lake Michigan on three sides, the project is particularly appealing as the city continues to improve the lakefront.

Less than a block away, one of Milwaukee’s most recognized businesses, Northwestern Mutual, is doubling down on its investment here. The company’s 32-story, 1.1-million-square-foot office tower will be one of the cities largest and tallest buildings. The $450 million project includes the tower and a lowrise, with a two-block-long commons, which will connect the highrise to Northwestern Mutual’s other historic Benjamin H. Marshall–designed neoclassical office building. Designed by New Haven–based Pickard Chilton, the tower is a sweeping curve not dissimilar to Chicago’s 333 Wacker. Well underway, the project has already significantly changed downtown´s appearance. Much to the delight of the city, the tower will help maintain 1,100 jobs in the neighborhood, while potentially adding another 1,900. The commons will feature public spaces, including the new Northwestern Mutual Gardens, a visitors’ center, and a public cafe.

Northwestern Mutual is not stopping with a new office tower. Immediately northwest of the tower, site work has begun on its next investment, a 33-story residential, parking, and retail tower. Even though this structure, designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, will be shorter than the office tower, it will add 300 residential units to a downtown that is almost completely devoid of housing. Northwestern Mutual’s decision to build both a residential and office tower in the often-sleepy downtown is intended to strengthen the city. “We believe in Milwaukee. It’s been our hometown for virtually all of our 155 years,” Northwestern Mutual chairman and CEO John E. Schlifske said. “This will be a signature development that makes a huge statement about the attractiveness of the whole Milwaukee metro area. We are going to be here and continue to play a vital role in this community for generations to come.”

Adding to the housing stock of the area, another skyscraper has just taken a major step toward becoming realized. The much-anticipated Couture, designed by Milwaukee-based Rinka|Chung, has recently received approval from the federal government for the demolition of the transit center that is currently on its site. Federal approval was required because the transit center was partially paid for with federal money. Local company Barrett Visionary Development is currently in the process of acquiring the land, and is expecting to start site work, including demolition, by August, with construction starting in earnest in early 2017. With completion of the $122 million project expected to wrap up in 2019, the Couture will rise 44 stories and include a public-transit concourse for Milwaukee’s forthcoming streetcar. The base of the tower will include 50,000 square feet of retail. Its position directly on Lincoln Memorial Boulevard means residents will have uninterrupted views of Lake Michigan, the Discovery World museum, the Santiago Calatrava–designed Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Eero Saarinen–designed War Memorial.

Rinka|Chung also has its hands in the planned Lakefront Gateway Project, which will help connect all of these developments to the lakefront. Led by Milwaukee-based GRAEF, a team comprising of Rinka|Chung, Vancouver-based PFS Studio, Toronto-based Dan Euser Waterarchitecture, and social event group NEWaukee, the Lakefront Gateway will bridge the busy Lincoln Memorial Boulevard. Its design, titled Urban Confluence, won out in a competition against teams lead by AECOM, James Corner Field Operations,  and the Office of James Burnett. The GRAEF design is intended to be a civic space and city icon, as well as a connection between downtown and the lakefront.

For those familiar with Milwaukee’s downtown, all of this development may come as a bit of a surprise, considering the extensive number of empty stores farther to the west of these new towers. But Mayor Tom Barrett believes investing in downtown is vital to the health of the city as a whole. “This is a once-in-a-generation chance to make an investment of this scale in downtown Milwaukee. It means more jobs, a stronger tax base, more community support, and more Northwestern Mutual employees giving back to all areas of the community,” he said.

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Snails, Meerkats, Wolves, Oh My

Colorful animal sculptures coming to Cleveland’s Public Square
Nonprofit Cleveland-based LAND Studio has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation to install temporary outdoor art over the course of three years. The installations have been designed by Italian art collective Cracking Art Group. Art will be displayed in the city's Public Square, currently in the final stages of a $50 million overhaul by New York Firm James Corner Field Operations. The Mall and balconies and garden of the main Cleveland Public Library will also be used as locations. Based in Milan, Cracking Art Group are well known for interspersing brightly-colored oversized animals across the city. Clevelanders can expect huge yellow snails or mobs of pink meerkats to invade the ten-acre civic space, adding a vibrant dash of color to the scene. Other animal additions include groups of swallows, wolves, frogs, and a red elephant, are set to be the showpiece focal point of the installation. Rising to some eight feet high, the elephant, the symbol of the GOP, will welcome Donald Trump and co. to the area for the Republican National Convention this year on July 18. Being made from plastic, the colorful animals will not be fixed to the ground, allowing for children to interact with them though LAND Studio acknowledge that this means some could be stolen. Others, meanwhile, will be weighed down with sand to keep them in place. "The choice of recyclable plastic for its aesthetic appeal shows acceptance of the inevitability that our world is becoming increasingly artificial," say Cracking Art Group on their wesbite. "The artworks are designed to inspire a community-wide conversation about the importance and the environmental impact of recycling, while leaving a potent artistic trace." Before the installation can go up, however, the the city's Landmarks Commission has to award approval to the finalized proposals, though it was reported that "stakeholders, including the city, have already weighed in." Even when the animals leave the area however, LAND Studio, who are working alongside fellow stakeholders Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, James Corner Field Operations and Nelson Nygaard hope that their colorful impact will remain with Public Square that they will essentially inaugurate. concert hill design "Public Square will be transformed from four individual quadrants into a singular public park that can be used throughout the year for a wide range of programs and events," they say.  "Landscape and design will create a soft colorful space that invites people in and encourages them to stay. The Square will include pedestrian pathways, green spaces for concerts and events, areas to sit and lounge, a water feature, a café and restrooms. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument will remain, but will be integrated into the overall park and become more accessible." The display by Cracking Art will feature 376 of the group's standard creatures, plus a bright red elephant, standing more than, which begins July 18.
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Pershing Square-Off

Here’s a First Look at the Finalists Vying to Redesign Downtown LA’s Pershing Square
Here’s the first look at the four final designs by Agence Ter and team, James Corner Field Operations with Fredrick Fischer and Partners, SWA and Morphosis, and wHY and Civitas for LA’s Pershing Square. Angelenos are being invited to comment on the finalists’ proposals over the next few weeks as Pershing Square Renew, a collection of designers, business leaders, and officials civic leaders, seeks to redevelop the centrally-located, five-acre square at the heart of Downtown LA. The teams of finalists hail from an original pool of ten groups that presented work to the nonprofit in October of 2015. That grouping was reduced to four teams in December, with those finalists' final submissions are now vying for the final selection, to be announced in May. The proposals are shown below and will be formally presented to the public at the Palace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on April 28th at a sold out event. See Pershing Square Renew’s website for updates on further public viewings.
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Stay Cool: ICEBERGS ahead at the National Building Museum
The National Building Museum, in Washington D.C., will open a radical new exhibition, ICEBERGS, on July 2 of this year. Designed by New York–based landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, the exhibition will feature stunning underwater glacial ice fields that stretch across the Museum's Great Hall. The one-of-a-kind installation will focus on three recurring themes of construction, geometry, and landscape representation. Part of the museum's Summer Block Party series, Corner's ICEBERGS includes glacial-style landscaping throughout the Great Hall, all coming in a various sizes comprising reusable construction materials like scaffolding and polycarbonate paneling—often found in greenhouses. Hanging 20 feet from the ceiling, a "water line" divides the space which subsequently facilitates panoramic views from both the supposed ocean surface plane and down below by the icebergs. The "bergs" however, aren't exactly small. Designed to appear imposing and at times ominous, the tallest artificial iceberg area will rise to 56 feet, soaring above the waterline up to the third-story balcony. A viewing area has also been incorporated into the inside the largest iceberg, allowing visitors to step inside, walk along an undersea bridge, chill out in icy seabed grottos, choose from a selection of "shaved-ice snacks," and engage in educational programs on landscape architecture and the environment. Corner said in a press release,“ICEBERGS invokes the surreal underwater-world of glacial ice fields. Such a world is both beautiful and ominous given our current epoch of climate change, ice-melt, and rising seas. The installation creates an ambient field of texture, movement, and interaction, as in an unfolding landscape of multiples, distinct from a static, single object." All in all, ICEBERGS will take up 12,540 square feet within the museum. The exhibit runs through September 5, 2016.   “ICEBERGS symbolizes an extreme counterpoint to the sweltering heat of the Washington, D.C. summer,” said Chase W. Rynd, executive director of the National Building Museum. “We hope that James Corner Field Operations’ striking design will provoke both serious public conversation about the complex relationship between design and landscape, while also eliciting a sense of wonder and play among visitors of all ages.”
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Weiss/Manfredi’s Cornell Tech Campus building tops off
Residential towers are rising on the banks of the East River in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. It's easy to forget that, in the middle of the river, development at Cornell University's New York City campus on Roosevelt Island is speeding ahead. The Bridge at Cornell Tech, designed by Weiss/Manfredi, topped off Monday. That building will have a partial green roof and a photovoltaic array to produce energy for campus. Stepped lawns leading up to the entrance encourage the building's program of spontaneous social interaction to spill out onto the street. https://youtu.be/PFRIKri9Y_c Along with Cornell Tech phase one buildings, the Bridge is set to open summer 2017. When complete, the 12-acre campus on Roosevelt Island will be the home of hundreds of Cornell faculty and staff, and around 2,000 students. The master plan, executed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) with James Corner Field Operations, calls for a "river-to-river" campus with 2.5 acres of public space and ten buildings that perform to a high environmental standard. The video above gives a sense of scale and layout of the development. Phase one buildings include the Bloomberg Center, an open-plan academic facility designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects. The Center, which aims to be one of the largest net-zero energy buildings in the U.S., takes its design cues from the collaborative workspaces of Silicon Valley. Handel Architects designed a student, faculty, and staff residence with an ambition to become the world's first residential Passive House high-rise.
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The Memphis Movement
Local firm archimania is building Tennessee's first net-zero office building. The complex, which includes a six-unit apartment building, is intended to carry downtown's energy further south.
Courtesy Archimania

A strong culture of arts-based regeneration and new civic-minded developments herald a long-anticipated turnaround for Memphis, but will the benefits of neighborhood-based revitalization spread citywide?

In Memphis, there’s nothing quite as fantastical as Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, a 35-story riverfront sports arena converted into a complex that is a unique interpretation of mixed use. Upon waking up in Big Cypress Lodge, the hunting cabin–themed hotel, visitors can go bowling in newly-purchased camouflage print bathrobes, practice sharpshooting at two indoor ranges, or take in panoramic views of the cityscape from an observation deck 300 feet high, accessible by a ride in North America’s tallest freestanding elevator. Below, visitors can shop for speedboats—if you buy one, the staff will float it into the Mississippi River for you. It is an apt example of the diverse, large-scale projects currently cropping up in Memphis.

Not surprisingly, there’s more to the city than self-contained shopping and entertainment zones. A 2014 study by Portland, Oregon–based think tank City Observatory found that along with those of New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., the Memphis metro area was one of only five of 51 metro areas over a 40-year period with five or more “rebounding” neighborhoods—areas that experienced drastic declines in poverty rates. With everyone focusing on the downsides of gentrification from San Francisco to Boston, what could this finding tell us about Memphis?

Three Fortune 500 companies—FedEx, AutoZone, and International Paper—are headquartered there and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the University of Memphis are longtime civic anchors. Elvis, the blues, and barbecue perennially attract tourists.

Adaptive reuse flourishes downtown. Last April marked the grand opening of the aforementioned Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. A local developer, the Henry Turley Company, is directing a $53 million partial conversion of Central Station—currently an active Amtrak stop—into a restaurant, a movie theater, apartments, and a boutique hotel. The historic Chisca Hotel was transformed into an apartment building last year, and developer Billy Orgel’s Tennessee Brewery will open to residents and businesses in late 2016. The Downtown Memphis Commission, an independent development agency, facilitates many of these projects.

In Binghampton, about five miles from downtown, the Broad Avenue Arts District is a notable example of an arts-based corridor revitalization. Guillaume Alby’s mural, This is We, faces a half-mile-long strip of galleries, restaurants, bars, and boutiques—businesses that often signal successful culture-based reinvestment.
Pat Brown
 

What does small-scale urban investment look like in Memphis, and how does it relate to the city at large? Of the six rebounding neighborhoods in the Memphis metro area, only one is in the dense, older urban core—the South Main Arts District. There, local firm archimania is building the first net-zero office in Tennessee and a residential complex to enliven a downtown corner.

These changes are not isolated: Four miles northeast in Crosstown, an old Sears distribution center is turning into an ambitious mixed-use, “health and well-being complex.” And at Memphis’s easternmost edge, Shelby Farms Park is undergoing a dramatic 20-year transformation that will tie it securely to surrounding communities.

Memphis asks the same question as many other cities: When certain districts come back strong, despite an overall climate of disinvestment, how does this affect the entire city?

“Archimaniacs” Push the Boundaries of Prime Downtown

“We are in a growth period, and I don’t think it’s just because of the economy,” said principal Barry Alan Yoakum, referring to his firm, archimania, but he could have been talking about the excitement around new development in the city as a whole. Based in prime downtown Memphis, the firm is currently building itself a mixed-use, net-zero office complex eight blocks south of its current location.

Founded in Memphis in 1995, archimania is committed to revitalizing downtown. The firm purchased an awkward, 30,000-square-foot piece of land “for next to nothing” at East Carolina Avenue and South Main Street five years ago. Despite its prime location, the property was a challenge to develop, with 12 feet of infill and an AT&T line running through the center. To prime the site, archimania lowered the line and brought the property level with the sidewalk.

This is the firm’s second net-zero project. The approximately 5,000-square-foot office building currently under construction will be the firm’s headquarters, and an adjacent 6,000-square-foot structure will contain six apartments. For Yoakum, the ambitious choice was simple: “We wanted to share more of what that property can handle. We’re able to place apartments on the back side so that when our offices are closed at night there’s something to activate that space.”

The complex extends activity on South Main, the busy spine of one of Memphis’s largest arts districts. Yoakum mused on the transformation: “When we came here 20 years ago, it was nothing, it was pretty dead. It is now one of the busiest places in Memphis. People ask, ‘Why are you going farther south?’ Well, we want to bookend the development of South Main.”

A Memphis Icon

Crosstown Concourse, a $200 million, mixed-use redevelopment of a former Sears distribution center, will invigorate Memphis’s Crosstown neighborhood.
Courtesy LRK
 

The revitalization imperative extends out past downtown. In a neighborhood four miles northeast of the South Main Arts District, Todd Richardson, a professor of art history at the University of Memphis, is leading the redevelopment of Crosstown Concourse, a $200 million conversion of a former Sears distribution center into a “vertical urban village.”

This is Richardson’s first foray into development. Crosstown Concourse “is really a civic project,” he explained. The idea came about six years ago as an outgrowth of Crosstown Arts, a community-based nonprofit that Richardson cofounded with Christopher Miner in 2010. Building on the city’s rich arts and music history, Crosstown Arts staged hundreds of events, exhibitions, lectures, and performances to start conversations about the changes that could happen in Memphis.

The surrounding urban fabric is strong. Crosstown Concourse is bound on three sides by historic districts. It’s close to Overton Park, home to Memphis College of Art and the Memphis Zoo.

Crosstown Concourse’s section depicts an extraordinary range of uses. Public art and community-based arts programming share space with a charter high school, restaurants, 265 apartments, and 620,000 square feet of commercial space.
Courtesy LRK
 

The scale of the project—large—matches that of the city. Richardson emphasized that the 1.5-million-square-foot deco and art moderne structure, built in 1927, “is a real icon in Memphis.” The ten-story, three-square-block distribution center stands sentry over Crosstown, a neighborhood of low-slung homes and strip malls. At its peak, Sears employed 1,500 workers in the distribution center and retail store before closing the facility in 1993.

Richardson saw a need for a signature revitalization initiative that would get the neighborhood and the city excited. His eclectic team of fifty—architects, developers, business owners, activists, and financiers—want Crosstown Concourse to “put the neighborhood back on the mental map of Memphis.” Local architects Looney Ricks Kiss and Vancouver, Canada–based Dialog are collaborating on the project. Community institutions like the Church Health Center and St. Jude contributed to the development in its nascent stages, investing both for the project’s quality and its spirit of civic engagement.

Others followed the anchors: 550,000 square feet of commercial space is already leased. With the development slated to open in 2017, the City of Memphis estimates that it will create 800 jobs and generate $37 million in new wages per year.

From North America’s tallest freestanding elevator in the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, Designed by local firm o t marshall architects, it’s possible to see the speedboat shop, ponds stocked with live alligators, cypresses shrouded in Spanish moss, and Big Cypress Lodge, the rustic hunting cabin–themed hotel encircling the pyramid’s perimeter.
Courtesy Bass Pro Shops
 

About 3,000 people are expected to pass through the building each day. For the development team, “density is a welcome by-product” of mixed-use, but the real driver is promoting diverse functions that work well together. Following the anchors, the structure is programmed for a 150,000-square-foot wellness center, a charter high school, and an arts area. Floors seven through ten feature 265 loft-style apartments, and 620,000 square feet of offices are spread over floors two through six. The ground floor boasts 60,000 square feet of restaurant and retail opportunities.

Adaptive reuse can be expensive. Crosstown Concourse costs $9 million more than the lavishly kitsch Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. The project received funding from 21 sources, including historic preservation tax credits.

A relatively small proportion of the street-level floor is reserved for commercial businesses to spur retail development in the surrounding neighborhood. There’s a spillover effect already, Richardson said, citing a spate of restaurant openings close to the site.

Does Richardson have concerns about gentrification? “Not yet. Neighbors are so happy that something’s going into the building. They’re excited about it.”

Development on the Edge

James Corner Field Operations is spearheading a 20-year master plan for Shelby Farms Park, Memphis’s largest green space. Marlon Blackwell Architects of Fayetteville, Arkansas, designed outbuildings to activate space in the park’s core.
Courtesy MBA
 

652,050 Memphians fan out over an area bigger than New York City. Despite Memphis’s size, the six lane roads and highways that slice through the city cut the drive from its eastern edge to the banks of the Mississippi River on its western edge to less than 30 minutes.

Twelve miles east of downtown, Shelby Farms Park is Memphis’s largest natural feature aside from the Mississippi. The 4,500-acre green space (almost five times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park) sits on the city’s outskirts, though around one million people live within a twenty-minute drive. The park is now undergoing a total renovation with new facilities by Fayetteville, Arkansas–based Marlon Blackwell Architects (MBA) and a master plan by New York’s James Corner Field Operations.

Acquired by Memphis through annexation in 1973, present-day Shelby Farms Park has a strange past. From 1825 to 1828, some of the land that the park now occupies was the Nashoba Community, a utopian settlement that educated and emancipated slaves. One hundred years later, the commune was converted into a penal farm that ran through the mid-1960s.

The boathouse opens out onto 80-acre Patriot Lake, a recreational focal point at the heart of the park.
Courtesy MBA
 

Shelby Farms Park was transformed into its present recreation-oriented program in the 1970s, though the space hosts more diverse activities than a typical city park. Agricenter, the self-anointed “Versailles of American agricultural technology” and the region’s largest urban farm, is building on the penal farm’s legacy of progressive farming and education, operating on 1,000 acres in the southeast corner of the park. Its buffalo herd is a crowd favorite.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC), the park stewards, commissioned Field Operations to develop a roughly 20-year master plan in 2008. Primary goals of the $70 million project include creating an identity for Shelby Farms Park; connecting the park to the city and surrounding county via infrastructure improvements and better way-finding; promoting biodiversity; and improving recreational facilities.

Courtesy MBA
 

Field Operations divided the park into 12 “landscape rooms,” such as orchards and berry fields, fishing ponds, and areas for horseback riding and agricultural development. Signature projects like the Wolf River pedestrian bridge, the Shelby Farms Greenline, and the Woodland Discovery Playground are already complete. Fifty-two-acre Patriot Lake will be expanded to 80 acres; plans call for planting one million trees.

Much of the facelift focuses on the Heart of the Park, a central recreation area anchored by Patriot Lake. Currently under construction, these upgrades will open to the public this fall.

MBA designed four main structures to reactivate the core, a visitor’s center, a boathouse, an amphitheater for concerts on shore or films facing the lake, and a retreat center–restaurant, as well as lakeside pavilions. The center has an “ag-tech” aesthetic, explained project designer Stephen Reyenga. Referencing downtown’s orientation toward the river, the west-facing porch “frames the view out toward the lake.” The design incorporates local material where possible: The porch roof is Tennessee cypress; the stone is quarried from Arkansas. The restaurant tenant will be a branch of The Kitchen, the Denver-based nonprofit and upscale farm-to-table restaurant.

A Challenging Context

The Shelby Farms Park master plan is being implemented in phases. A central element of the Field Operations–designed Woodland Discovery Playground, completed in 2011, is a winding arbor planted with native trees and vines that demarcates the space’s six play areas.
Ron Coon / Aerial Innovations
 

New developments like these three can have a trickle-down effect by spreading prosperity, especially in disinvested areas. Optimism sustains urban revitalization. Archimania, Todd Richardson, and SFPC justifiably believe in the transformational potential of civic-minded changes. The enthusiasm surrounding these three developments is palpable across Memphis. Citywide, trends are encouraging: Downtown residential occupancy rates are at 95 percent. The Broad Avenue Arts District and the remediation of Overton Square were cited by many during AN’s visit as examples of successful corridor revitalization.

Archimania’s complex should activate a southern corner of downtown, Crosstown Concourse may spur significant redevelopment, and Shelby Farms Park will likely broaden access to better public space. Quality amenities can anchor a neighborhood: These projects are bright spots on city terrain marked by persistent disinvestment. They should be praised for their intent and watched closely for their outcomes.

“There’s a cognitive bias we bring to neighborhood change,” said Joe Cortright, economist and coauthor of the report Lost in Place. “We don’t notice the very slow deterioration of neighborhoods.”

Although famous for its musical contributions, Memphis has strong public art citywide. Since its founding in 1997, the UrbanArt Commission has completed over 140 projects, often in collaboration with community groups. Downtown, Jeff Zimmerman’s A Note for Hope (2008) overlooks AutoZone Park, home of the AAA Memphis Redbirds.
Audrey Wachs / AN
 

Long after the closing of the frontier, American cities still absorb collective fantasies of transformation. Until recently, Memphis left the door ajar: While most 19th-century cities closed their borders, Memphis grew by annexation into the 2000s.

Suburbia, though, accounts for most of metro Memphis’s rebound. Five of six rebounding neighborhoods are located outside the core downtown or in West Memphis, Arkansas. Declines in poverty rates may not be the result of new investment and opportunities for residents: The research is unable to determine whether residents in rebounding areas are getting wealthier, or whether there is an influx of people with higher incomes. Particularly in the South, Cortright noted, rebounding neighborhoods tend to be on the periphery of the metro area where formerly rural areas were developed into suburbs.

Architecture alone is not equipped to attack structural problems. Beyond neighborhood-level transformation, there’s a limit to what a few signature projects can do to reverse the fortunes of a struggling city. For two years in a row, Memphis has had the highest poverty rate of any metro area of more than one million people—almost double the national average of 15 percent. Tom Jones, a consultant and blogger at Smart City Memphis, notes that there are more people living in poverty here than the entire population of Chattanooga. While gentrification dominates the conversation in large metropolises, the effects of concentrated poverty, not gentrification, are the greatest challenge for most cities.

Is the city of Memphis rebounding? The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis offers perspective: Stubbornly high unemployment, a lackluster housing market, and weak growth in most industries indicate that there are many obstacles to economic recovery, although education, health, and business services remain relatively strong. Urban renewal projects “provide reasons for optimism.”

When sprawl and entrenched poverty are prevailing conditions, what constitutes successful urban revitalization? At what scale? These questions can be asked not just in Memphis, but St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, and many other lower-density, high-poverty cities that are nevertheless experiencing reinvestment in targeted areas.