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After a year-long design process, Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios have unveiled their design for the restoration and reconfiguring of one of California’s most famous spaces: Philip Johnson’s Christ Cathedral—otherwise known as the Crystal Cathedral—in Garden Grove, California. The church was purchased by the Diocese of Orange in 2011 after its founder, televangelist Robert H. Schuller, filed for bankruptcy.
The plan converts the former Evangelical cathedral into a Catholic one, addresses several pressing technology and site issues, and makes the church the clear centerpiece of its 34-acre, seven building campus, which also includes structures by Richard Neutra and Richard Meier.
Inside, in order to make the altar the focus of the space (a necessity of Catholic mass) the team will convert the cathedral to an antiphonal layout, with the altar at the center and the congregants on either side. The move, said Johnson Fain principal Scott Johnson, not only makes sense from a religious standpoint but also spatially: “With the trapezoidal shape it’s the most intuitive thing to do,” he said.
Above the altar the designers are planning a dramatic baldacchino, a suspended canopy made up of glistening metallic fins with a large crucifix hanging from its open center. Around that composition, along the interior skin of the building, the architects have proposed a treatment of rigid “petals” that cover each of the cathedral’s more than 10,000 panes of glass, opening between 15 and 45 degrees. The petals will control light and heat (both are problems in the space), and will also improve the acoustics. On the exterior the team will clean the church’s windows and restore the existing shell.
Outside the cathedral, the team is surrounding the building with a new plaza intended to give it a position of centrality in its crowded campus. The space will be lined with dark and light concrete and travertine pavers, dotted with water elements, landscaping, “light pillars,” shrines, and chapels, and ringed with flowering trees. The new landscape “creates a boundary between it and the mundane,” said Rios Clementi Hale partner Frank Clementi. The transition toward the cathedral will be marked by “layers of sacredness,” he added.
The campus, with the remaining buildings now more clearly defined as support structures, will be master planned to better manage a wide array of events. “It’s a huge undertaking,” said Clementi. “One treads with caution,” added Johnson of working on such an important landmark.
Johnson’s team is focusing on the cathedral itself while Clementi’s is focusing on the surrounding area, but both are engaging in a healthy back and forth, said Clementi. That conversation also includes the cathedral’s ministry, which both architects have praised for their openness and generosity. “They’re people of faith, and they actually have faith in the designers,” joked Johnson.
The building is expected to reopen in 2017.
Designer Massimo Vignelli, born January 10, 1931, in Milan, Italy, died peacefully in his New York City home on May 27, 2014. One of the world’s most consistent supporters of a modernist approach to design, architecture, and life, Vignelli was widely known for his work on signs and diagrammatic maps of the New York subway; the identity for American Airlines; and for a vast array of publications, signage, products, and furniture for clients including the U.S. National Park Service, Knoll, Heller, Artemide, Casigliani, Feudi di San Gregorio, Ducati, and the British GNER Railway. He worked in tandem with his wife Lella for most projects, particularly on interiors such as Saint Peter’s Church and SD26 Restaurant in Manhattan, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Poltrona Frau showrooms in Italy and the U.S.
Many people list award-winning artifacts as Vignelli’s most meaningful legacy, but these products and projects were a tangible result of his intent to make the world a better, more organized place. Vignelli’s unwavering belief in design as a tool to benefit society grew naturally from his childhood. Familial stresses and the political upheaval as Italy was torn apart in World War II disrupted his schooling and when he was 15, life was further confused by the untimely death of his father. Vignelli first became aware of furniture and architectural design thanks to a family friend and this provided a meaningful focus for his intellect and skills as he excelled in studio and art history courses.
He furthered his education as an avid reader of Domus and international design magazines. Assisting a cousin who was studying architecture brought him into the studios of Italy’s leading modernist architects; the views of Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Giancarlo de Carlo on life and work strongly influenced the young Vignelli. Issues of politics, economics, and war raised ethical and societal questions and led to his self-directed search for answers. At that time, Vignelli’s learned distrust of the inequities of capitalism and of America was contradicted by his interest in innovations in American architecture and by the fact that many Bauhaus masters had resettled in the U.S.
In 1950, Vignelli enrolled in the architecture program at Politecnico di Milano. For a time, he rented a room to Swiss designer Max Huber, who became his mentor for graphic design and typography. In 1951, he was a student volunteer at an architectural conference on Lake Como. There he met Elena (Lella) Valle, who accompanied her architect father to the conference. Lella would become his wife (in 1957) and lifelong business partner. Later, both would study architecture at the University of Venice.
In 1957, Massimo earned a fellowship at Towle Silversmiths and the Vignellis moved to Massachusetts. Lella continued her studies at MIT. The couple traveled across the US; while visiting Chicago, Massimo was offered a teaching position at the Institute of Design and a part-time position in design research at Container Corporation. The Vignellis stayed in Chicago until their visas expired in 1960, when they returned to Milan and opened their own design office. During this time, Massimo defined a language of visual form that would provide the foundation for his entire career.
In 1965, Vignelli was a co-founder of the short-lived Unimark International; through this position he became influential in establishing a comprehensive approach to American corporate identity and in promoting the widespread use of the Helvetica typeface. Unimark brought the Vignellis to New York, but in 1971 he abruptly resigned from the company to form Vignelli Associates with Lella. From that time, their firm continued under their leadership along with a second company, Vignelli Design (for licensed products). Their showcase office was on Tenth Avenue from 1984 to 2000, then the Vignellis downsized their business and moved to their home office.
Massimo fulfilled a lifelong goal by actively working until his final days. Vignelli clients often became Vignelli friends. His love of architecture resulted in some of his favorite projects as he designed books for and developed close friendships with many architects, including Richard Meier, Harry Seidler, Peter Eisenman, and Tadao Ando.
Vignelli’s constant battle against mediocrity, obsolescence, and the consequent deterioration of society itself lasted through his lifetime. His impassioned embrace of an engaged life came with a ready smile, quick wit, raised eyebrows, and a nimble mind, but he also aimed sharp criticism at anyone whose work failed to meet his strict standards. “There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence,” he said. This led him to a lifetime of teaching, sharing, and explaining ideas and methods with consistency, clarity, and patience to clients and designers alike. He was active in several professional organizations during his career, serving as president of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) and of AIGA, as vice president of The Architectural League, and as member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA).
Massimo Vignelli’s most meaningful legacy was relationships. He was a designer—a builder—not simply of materials, but of ideas and of people. Besides visiting and lecturing for many schools and organizations, he began offering a series of Master Designer Workshops through the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). In 2010, the Vignellis donated their archives to RIT. The archives are housed in a Vignelli-designed building with exhibition and teaching spaces. “The Vignelli Center is not only the building and the archives, but it is sharing our philosophy of the importance of design theory, history, and criticism,” he said.
Massimo Vignelli is survived by his wife Lella, daughter Valentina, and son Luca. His final days were honored by an outpouring of mail, thanks to Luca’s suggestion of a “Dear Massimo” letter-writing campaign. Hundreds of letters arrived from those who felt Massimo’s influence. Some were witty, some serious, but all expressed gratitude and support to the mentor who touched their lives and work in a meaningful way. It was a final reward and a warm tribute to Massimo Vignelli, whose great desire was “to rid the world of ugliness.”
“Is Landmarking Out of Control?” That was the question posed by Crain’s New York at a forum it hosted in mid-May. To answer that noticeably leading question, Crain’s invited some of the biggest names in the city’s preservation and development worlds to hash it over coffee and pastries at the New York Athletic Club in Midtown.
The debate played out along familiar lines: The pro-development side—Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) President Steven Spinola, Columbia University professor Kenneth Jackson, and Nikolai Fedak of the blog NY YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)—said that landmarking has its place, but New York should focus more on its potential for growth than its picturesque past. Jackson made that case in more explicit terms, saying that “history is for losers,” “no one comes to New York to look at buildings,” and “if you’re more comfortable with fish, trees, and aging houses, move to Vermont.”
On the other side of the debate were Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Ronda Wist, the vice president of preservation at the Municipal Art Society (MAS), who explained how historic districts create a vibrant, livable city that creates jobs, attracts tourists, and increases property values.
This type of preservationist versus developer back-and-forth is not new—these battles have been waged over the streets of New York for years. But, now, as Mayor de Blasio sets out to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, the issue of landmarking—specifically, the designation of historic districts—has become a flashpoint in the debate over the city’s affordability crisis.
So, when exactly, did the landmarking process supposedly get “out of control?” A quick look at the numbers shows it happened under Mayor Bloomberg. Yes, as glass towers were rising and megaprojects were being approved, “pro-development” Bloomberg was designating more historic districts than any mayor since the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was founded in 1965. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg added or extended 41 historic districts—topping Giuliani’s designations by 23 and Koch’s by 14. More than half of those designations were in outer boroughs.
AN / NYC.GOV
Near the end of Bloomberg’s three terms, REBNY started issuing studies on the impact of all this landmarking. In July, the Board found that nearly 28 percent of Manhattan properties were landmarked; a subsequent press release declared: “Excessive Landmarking of Manhattan Properties Stifling Economic Growth.” To arrive at that figure, REBNY counted both historic districts and specific landmarked buildings in its calculation. Four months earlier, the Journal reported that historic districts, by themselves, only encompassed 10 percent of the island and two percent of the city overall. REBNY now puts that latter figure closer to four percent.
In September, REBNY was out with another study; this time it claimed that no affordable units had been created on landmarked properties in the borough since 2008. “Landmarking Curtails Affordable Housing Development in Manhattan,” read the press release.
And then in June—with a new mayor in town—the same argument. The latest study, which encompassed the entire city, found that only 0.29 percent of new affordable units built from 2003 to 2012 were on landmarked properties.
This finding was immediately dismissed—and mocked—by the Historic Districts Council. “[REBNY] is at it again,” said the Council in a statement. “The crisis in affordable housing… is not a landmarking issue; this is a deeper indictment of the real estate market to provide for the needs of New Yorkers and the subtle failure of government to guide market forces to help meet that need.”
A spokesperson for the LPC told AN, “the Commission is currently reviewing the findings in the REBNY Report.”
When asked about landmarking’s impact on affordability, preservationists tend to reject the notion outright. Since landmarked properties represent such a small percentage of the city overall, they say historic designation has little—if anything—to do with the city’s housing crisis, and question REBNY’s seriousness about wanting to create affordable housing. Laurie Beckelman, the chair of the LPC under Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, said REBNY’s claims on this issue are a “cheap shot” and “total rubbish.”
Fifteen of the city’s top developers did not respond to AN’s request for comment for this story, but REBNY spokesperson Jamie McShane, said, “we are working with the de Blasio administration and other stakeholders on how to address the need for more housing, particularly affordable units. Responsible landmarking is one issue of many in addressing that need.”
As this debate plays-out, the Board is quick to tout its support for Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. “Mayor de Blasio deserves a lot of credit for putting forward an honest plan that attemptsto deal with the housing needs for all New Yorkers. [The plan] identifies the problems and provides a realistic roadmap for solutions,” said REBNY president Steven Spinola. “[The Board] thanks the mayor for his commitment to this issue and we will continue our work with the administration to implement these critical objectives.”
The plan, however, does not touch the issue of landmarking. In 115 pages, the word “landmark” only tangentially comes up in a footnote and in the glossary. And that is partially because the mayor is not targeting the West Village’s brownstones or Soho’s cobblestones to build his 80,000 new units of affordable housing. And the industrial and under-used areas he is eyeing to rezone for residential use are not being considered for historic designation.
To achieve his ambitious goal within 10 years, de Blasio is launching a multipronged approach that also includes mandatory inclusionary zoning, raising taxes on vacant lots to encourage development, and reevaluating Bloomberg’s land lease plan to build on New York City Housing Authority property. The mayor has also been packing more affordable units into Bloomberg-era developments like the Domino Sugar Factory and Atlantic Yards.
But even with these new, permanently affordable units—and the many more market-rate apartments slated to rise alongside them—New York City will still be a very expensive place to live in a decade’s time. The city cannot, and will not, stop building; most everyone agrees that freezing construction would only make matters worse. But there is plenty of debate about how much the city should build, where it should do so, and if supply can ever meet demand.
The bigger question, then, is: Can New York City build its way out of the affordability crisis?
“It is impossible,” said Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a housing advocacy group based in New York. “We do not have billions and billions of dollars to throw at this problem. We have to think creatively.” Benjamin supports new development, but wants the city and state to focus on ways to preserve the apartments that are currently affordable.
And that is exactly what the mayor’s plan does. Because while de Blasio’s pledge to build new affordable units, and increase the city’s overall housing stock, has received the most attention, it gets him less than halfway to his goal of 200,000 units. The bigger piece of the plan is focused on preserving affordable units, about 120,000 of them. The details on how, exactly, he plans to do this are less clear, but the mayor’s office has said that city agencies will “use every tool at their disposal” to protect rent-stabilized units from being deregulated.
This is where the LPC believes it can aid in de Blasio’s efforts. “Since historic districts are also home to affordable housing units, the LPC will work with the Department of Housing Preservation & Development to align efforts to preserve both affordability and architectural character in these areas,” said a spokesperson for the Commission. “The LPC also understands that the city must continue to grow while maintaining a judicious approach to designation of historic properties.”
Andrew Berman—the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and one of REBNY’s most vocal critics—readily admits that landmarking is not the way, or even a way, to build new affordable units. But he believes that landmarking can be a tool to preserve rent-stabilized units that still exist in some of the most coveted zip codes in the world. “[Landmarking] can slow down the pushing out of long-term tenants and the disappearance of existing affordable housing because of anti-demolition protections,” said Berman.
He also pushed back on the “strong correlation” that REBNY drew between high incomes, limited racial diversity, and Manhattan’s historic districts in its July study. “We are talking about parts of the city that are, for the most part, some of the most distinctive, historic, and architecturally interesting,” he said. “They are naturally going to be places that are likely to have become more expensive, not because they are landmarked, but because they have these qualities that people find increasingly desirable.”
Unleashing development in, or around, historic districts, he said, would not necessarily lead to more affordable units; it could build a foundation for luxury condos that lift prices higher. He points to the glass towers lining the Hudson River, just outside of the Greenwich Village historic district, as glossy examples.
But in the debate over the future of landmarking, something resembling common ground starts to appear in terms of the process itself. The LPC’s approval procedures for new projects in historic districts—and renovations on landmarked properties—has been criticized by many for being too slow and overly expensive for property owners.
Peg Breen made clear to AN that the landmarking process is not broken, but that it could be improved. And to do that, she said, the LPC’s budget should be increased. “[The Commission] is woefully understaffed and overworked,” she said. “It needs an adequate staff to handle the load, and they do not have that now.”
Whether that will happen is entirely unknown—as are most aspects of landmarking under Mayor de Blasio. The big question hanging high above any concerns about process or funding is what’s next? On preservation, will de Blasio be another Bloomberg?
Six months into the mayor’s term, that remains a question neither side can answer. And de Blasio’s selection of Meenakshi Srinivasan to head the LPC provides few clues about the future of landmarks in New York City. The choice of the then-chair of the Board of Standards and Appeals surprised most onlookers when it was announced in May.
While landmarking is not expected to have an extensive impact in the affordable housing plan, in the coming months and years, the LPC could have a direct role in shaping New York City’s skyline. If the controversial Midtown East Rezoning plan is adopted, and taller towers head for the sky, the Commission will help decide the fate of the area’s older stock.
It could also adopt a proposal from a group called “Iconplans,” which would upend the selling of air rights. As the Journal reported, the group’s plan allows non-profits, universities, and religious institutions to sell air rights above their landmarked properties to developers who could use them elsewhere in the city—likely places where they can build taller. Currently, those air rights can only be transferred to adjacent sites. The LPC told AN it would consider this type of proposal. “As the administration continues to develop its housing and economic development policies, the expanded sale of air rights will be a relevant part of the discussion, which will occur across agencies,” said the LPC spokesperson.
Now, with the mayor’s housing plan in effect and the Commissioner in her new role, preservationists and developers are eagerly waiting for the Commission to answer that same question posed by Crain’s back in May: “Is Landmarking Out of Control?”
Its response could transform the city.
Channel the puckish spirit of Philip Johnson, for an afternoon at least: Director Henry Urbach invites you and three guests on a private tour of the Philip Johnson Glass House and its 49-acres of beautiful grounds. This National Trust Historic Site was created to be a catalyst for the preservation and interpretation of modern architecture, landscape, and art, and as you explore the house and grounds, Urbach will explain the place's history and evolution.Bid on the experience here. Private helicopter ride with Iwan Baan According to Van Alen:
Get a bird's eye-view of an important new building with architectural photographer Iwan Baan, who will take you on a private helicopter ride during one of his upcoming shoots, currently planned for Los Angeles, Paris, New York, or Chicago. Afterwards, join Baan for a private walk-through of the project being photographed; you're likely to be one of the very first visitors.Bid on the experience here. Hudson Valley hike with Rafael de Cárdenas According to Van Alen:
Sometimes you need to leave New York City for a little while to remember why you love it so much. Escape city life for a day with architect Rafael de Cárdenas as he takes you to breakfast and then on a hike in New York's Hudson Valley. Discuss architecture and design with de Cárdenas as you explore this beautiful landscape; he may even take you to his favorite secret waterfall.Bid on the experience here. Oregon motorbike tour with Brad Cloepfil According to Van Alen:
What could be better than a motorcycle tour of Oregon Wine Country? Going on that tour with architect Brad Cloepfil, whose firm Allied Works is deeply influenced by the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Together you'll sample the area’s finest Pinot Noirs at four distinct wineries, and go on a private tour and tasting at Sokol Blosser Winery's new tasting room, an elegant Allied Works building tucked away in the hills.Bid on the experience here. Discover architecture in Rwanda with Sharon Davis According to Van Alen:
What does the future look like for 300 Rwandan women? Full of potential, thanks to the Women's Opportunity Center, designed by architect Sharon Davis. Join her on a private tour of this extraordinary complex that is allowing women to grow their own food, raise their own animals, and use traditional African crafts to earn financial independence and rebuild their lives after war. The series of clustered pavilions is organized in the same way as a traditional Rwandan village, and uses bricks made on site, retained earth walls, and cooling green roofs.Bid on the experience here. Milanese dinner at home with Paola Antonelli According to Van Alen:
Ever wonder how a design visionary chooses the objects and furniture that surround her? Find out when MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, who has developed some of the most compelling and trenchant exhibitions of design and its role in every aspect of our culture, invites you and three guests to her apartment for a home-cooked Milanese meal. Discuss everything from culinary traditions and the tools that have grown up around them to the issues and ideas on her radar right now.Bid on the experience here. Cocktails and Model Museum tour with Richard Meier According to Van Alen:
How does one of the defining minds of contemporary architecture like his cocktail? You'll find out after Richard Meier himself leads you and two friends on a private tour of the newly-opened Richard Meier Model Museum, where he displays a career-spanning collection of architectural models and an exhibition of his sketches, renderings, photographs, and sculptures. After the tour, the four of you will head to Meier's favorite bar for cocktails and conversation.Bid on the experience here. Tour of Eero Saarinen's Bell Labs with Alexander Gorlin According to Van Alen:
The Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, is revered by architects and research scientists alike: The Eero Saarinen-designed complex is famed for its mirrored curtain wall, innovative plan, and role as the site of Nobel Prize-winning research in laser cooling technology. Architect Alexander Gorlin takes you on a private tour of this mid-century hub of technological ingenuity that he is restoring and transforming into a mixed-use town center with housing, retail, and a wellness center for the surrounding community.Bid on the experience here. Architecture, art, and food in Seoul with the Kukje Gallery According to Van Alen:
Are you curious about the dynamic and burgeoning Korean art scene? Seoul's Kukje Gallery is at its very heart, and since its founding in 1982 has been one of Asia's leading exhibition centers. The newest gallery space there is K3, a pavilion designed by architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu of SO-IL. A Kukje director will give you and three guests a private tour of this striking new space, and afterward, enjoy dinner for four at the renowned Café at Kukje Gallery.Bid on the experience here. Preliminary furniture sketch from Freecell Architecture According to Van Alen:
Do you have an idea for amazing piece of furniture, or have a room that needs a custom piece? Take a trip to Freecell Architecture, a Brooklyn-based 3-D installation, design, and furniture studio, where they will work with you to take your rough idea and transform it into a buildable design. Whether that is a desk that folds into seating, a table with glowing electroluminescent surface, pneumatic seating with built-in-technology, or something as-yet undreamt, these skilled designers will create drawings for you that are elegant, precise, and entirely your own.Bid on the experience here.
With a career spanning more than 50 years, Richard Meier has a remarkable and ever expanding body of work. Architects, students, or the general public can now explore the process behind his architecture at the just opened Richard Meier Model Museum in Jersey City, New Jersey.
In addition to the 400 or so models, the facility also includes more than 200 architectural drawings (a small fraction of the firm’s archive), as well as sculptures and art from Meier’s personal collection, and more than 1,000 books and periodicals. The standouts of the Museum are a pair of models, 18 and 27 feet across, of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. “It’s interesting to see how the project evolved over twelve years,” Meier told AN. “It’s very gratifying to me.”
The new incarnation of the Model Museum is more than four times the size of its previous space in Long Island City, Queens. Located at Mana Contemporary, a massive art studio and storage facility in an old industrial complex, it also includes a showroom for Richard’s daughter Anna Meier’s furniture. The elder Meier is happy to be a part of the emerging scene at the Jersey City complex. “It’s a very lively place, a destination,” he said, noting the presence of artists, craftspeople, and dance studios in the building.
Meier sees the museum as a cultural and educational resource, and hopes, in particular, that architecture students will access the collection. “I have some very rare magazines,” he added. Architecture PhD students, take note.
The Richard Meier Model Museum is open by appointment every Friday beginning this spring and appointments can be made through the office of Richard Meier & Partners. Email requests can be sent to M.Musuem@RichardMeier.com.
In late January, Richard Meier & Partners unveiled plans for a 40-story mixed-use tower and a 27-story hotel along Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s monumental main commercial boulevard. While the project looks straightforward at first glance, its carved out shape will open it to the elements and break new ground in tall building design.
“Everything happens on the inside,” said Bernhard Karpf, Associate Partner at Richard Meier and Partners. The exposed, sloped atrium extends about 25 floors through the building. Its large opening becomes thinner as it enters the core. The developer, Diametro, is staffed partially by architects, and was receptive to this unusual technique. The outdoor spaces also fit well into Mexico’s rich tradition of outdoor courtyard space.
The exterior of the buildings will be composed of glass curtain walls (of varying opacity), covered in strategic locations by steel louvers for shade. Another large open space will be located on the podium connecting the top of the hotel’s parking structure with the larger tower.
“We didn’t want to do another cookie cutter with a pretty facade,” said Karpf. The firm is working on a few other projects in Mexico, but this is the first under construction. Completion is expected within the next three years.