All posts in Preservation

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Boom or Bust for Phoenix's Warehouse District?
According to a recent article on azcentral.com, Phoenix’s Warehouse District is in the midst of a renaissance. Or is it? The man behind several adaptive reuse projects in the neighborhood says not so fast. “It’s like every five years someone gets excited about it and writes the same article,” said developer Michael Levine. While he admits there’s been an uptick in interest in the mid-century industrial buildings, he doubts his fellow landowners’ motives. “If you give them enough money...they’d have the [buildings] demolished,” he said. Levine grew up in Brooklyn and attended Parsons, where he considered becoming an architectural designer before a retrospective on the work of Gordon Matta Clark convinced him to switch to art. “I wanted to get my hands dirty,” said Levine. After college, Levine moved to Phoenix, doing all kinds of work, from residential contracting to building visual displays and starting an art gallery. When he began manufacturing for multinational companies, he needed a larger workspace, and moved into his first warehouse. “Basically the buildings are like big three-dimensional sculptures,” said Levine. Eventually, the buildings themselves became Levine’s subjects. He renovated his first warehouse in 1992, his second in 1999. Phoenix, it turns out, is a particularly difficult place to be a champion for adaptive reuse. For one thing, the city didn’t have that many warehouses to begin with. “The best warehouse in Phoenix would be the worst in Detroit,” observed Levine. In addition, said Levine, the city’s reluctance to embrace the International Building Code combined with its early adoption of ADA standards to make it “almost impossible to save a building.” Even a recent preservation program hasn’t done as much as advocates might have hoped for the Warehouse District. In 2006, the city, aware that its pre–World War II building stock was rapidly dwindling, launched a special category of grants (funded through the city’s bond program) specifically for preserving warehouses. “It hasn’t been quite as successful as we’d hoped, but it hasn’t been a complete failure,” said Kevin Weight of the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office. The office had hoped there might be another bond issue, but then the recession hit. “We really don’t have the incentives to offer that we did before, so that’s part of why it’s not moving as quickly as we’d like,” said Weight. According to Levine, the problem is that would-be renovators have to compete with new construction. “The real story of the Warehouse District is it’s the cheapest land in town,” he said. Preservationists have scored a few big wins, as in 2007, when a lawsuit spared the Sun Mercantile Building (an E.W. Bacon-designed warehouse built in 1929) from a  condo project. But the trend still seems to favor new over old. “They demolish 10, 13 buildings, then save one building,” said Levine. “It’s been like tokenism.” There are a few bright spots in the Warehouse District’s recent history, including several of Levine’s projects: 605 E. Grant Street (1917), originally owned by the Southwest Cotton Company; The Duce (525 S. Central Ave, 1928), built for Anchor Manufacturing Company; and Bentley Projects (215 E. Grant Street, 1918), first occupied by Bell Laundry. Then there’s 22 E. Jackson Street, the 1930 Arizona Hardware Supply Company building renovated by Dudley Ventures. A number of additional warehouse buildings have been listed on the city’s register of historic buildings. Levine cites the recent relocation of several of Arizona State University School of Art graduate student buildings to his 605 E. Grant Street. “The fine artists get it...ASU has finally gotten it,” said Levine, though he went on to express dismay at an ASU urban planning professor’s embrace of a nearby luxury-apartments project. That said, the Warehouse District renaissance doesn’t yet seem to have reached the tipping point. The city’s out of money to assist preservationists, at least for now. And Levine thinks that some of the recent interest in the neighborhood may be a passing craze. “However much they love it, unfortunately it’s a fashion thing to these people,” said Levine. “It’s really cool to be in a brick building...For me, I really want these buildings to be around for another 100 years.”
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Despite Preservation Push, Rice University's Martel Center Demolished After All
Never mind! After all that fuss to preserve the iconic Texas tin structure, Rice University's Art Barn met the Grim Reaper on Wednesday, April 16. While a group was able to salvage the building’s corrugated metal siding, wrecking crews tore away at the Martel Center's structure, marking a definitive end to efforts of preservationists to move the building to another site in Houston. Andy Warhol’s famous oak tree planted in front of the former structure will remain intact, but once the dust clears only a grass lawn will serve as tombstone. A rogue power line temporarily stalled the demolition, thereby buying a commemorative moment for the Art Barn’s historical and cultural import. The building’s spirit will live on through the Menil Collection it once housed, as well as its legacy with other tin houses.
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Justin Davidson Warns of Looming Shadows at St. John the Divine Development
Rendering for the site. (Courtesy DNA Info /  Emily Frost) New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson has called on Mayor De Blasio to protect the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine from being overshadowed by new apartment towers (massing diagram pictured). The site adjacent to the Cathedral has been cleared and construction seems imminent, but Davidson believes the mayor can get involved to stop the current Handel-designed plans. Instead of two towers, Davidson proposes one taller and more slender tower that's sited farther from the street, more affordable units, and landmark status for the rest of the property. (Image: Courtesy DNA Info / Emily Frost)
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Updating Washington, D.C.'s Mies van der Rohe Library
Earlier this year, the Washington, D.C. Public Library announced that Martinez+Johnson and Mecanoo had won their competition to design  the next phase of the city's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.  Check out AN's coverage of the winning design here. The firm beat out two other finalists to revamp van der Rohe's iconic work. Here's AN's guide to the competition and the runners-up. According to a press release from the D.C. Public Library, each team “developed two preliminary design ideas: one of a stand-alone library and one of a mixed-use building with additional floors.” All three teams propose ways to respect and restore the structure’s original facade, but re-imagine the library’s interiors and offer ideas for what can go on top of it. There are also two competing proposals to add “a cloud” into—or onto—Mies’ structure. The Runners-up: The Patkau Architects/Ayers Saint Gross proposal removed existing interior floorplates to create what they’re calling a “Community Mixer.”  Above this courtyard-like space will be “the cloud,” a “new technological form” that “distributes daylight, broadcasts information, and sustainably generates energy.” The STUDIOS Architecture/The Freelon Group team proposed a completely revamped roof with gardens, a café, a pedestrian walkway, an amphitheater and possible housing. And, yes, they’ve got “a cloud” too; it will be “ever-present through the building” and include “new library programs associated with sharing, innovation and prototyping.” Martinez and Johnson + Mecanoo's winning proposal: Read about the winning plan in AN's recent article on the project.
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House in Cambridge by Armando and di Robilant

A translucent polycarbonate skin transforms an early-19th century Massachusetts home.

On a well-traveled street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about halfway between Harvard University and MIT, sits a house not like its neighbors. Its simple massing and pitched roof indicate old bones. But its skin is all 21st century. The house, recently renovated by Alessandro Armando and Manfredo di Robilant, is clad in translucent polycarbonate panels that reveal the structural and insulating layers beneath. For the architects, the project was an experiment in applying a cladding system designed for large-scale projects to a single-family home. “We thought this could be a possible test-bed for something more standard, something that could at least be thought of as a standard way of renovating and improving a typical American detached house,” said di Robilant. “This house is very small, but we’re now trying to fit it toward possible standardization of this approach.” When Armando and di Robilant first visited the house, its facade was in bad shape. Disintegrating wood topped by a layer of metal siding (from a 1960s update) failed to protect the home from Cambridge’s snowy winters and hot summers. The architects peeled away the old materials and thickened the facade’s profile, beginning with a layer of rigid Thermax insulating panels. Around this they built an external skeleton of TimberStrand with Parallam columns, to shore up the house’s structural system. To the timber frame they attached 40-millimeter polycarbonate panels by Rodeca. The Rodeca panels further insulate the house and offer UV protection, but they are transparent enough to provide a glimpse of what lies beneath. “The insulation panels are not directly exposed to the air, but you can see them from the outside,” said Armando. “You can see all the layers, this was one of the main features we expected to achieve, to reveal all the exterior coloring of the house.” The air gap between the inner and outer layers of insulation further boosts the home’s thermal performance, as it funnels hot air up and out before it reaches the interior.
  • Facade Manufacturer Rodeca, Weyerhaeuser, Dow Building Solutions, Bertram Corporation
  • Architects Alessandro Armando and Manfredo di Robilant, Samir Srouji
  • Facade Installer Bertram Corporation
  • Consultants Sami Kassis (Structural Engineering)
  • Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Date of Completion October 2013
  • System polycarbonate panels over laminated timber structure and rigid insulating panels, custom sliding shutters
  • Products Rodeca PC 2540-7 polycarbonate panels, TimberStrand LSL, Parallam PSL columns, Thermax sheathing, custom aluminum shutters by Bertram Corporation
The most eye-catching feature of the renovation is a pair of floor-to-ceiling windows at the northeast corner of the house. Armando and di Robilant encased these in custom mahogany frames, then attached sliding aluminum shutters fabricated by Wisconsin contractors Bertram Corporation to the exterior of the house. The shutters are easy to slide manually along tracks attached to the house’s structural frame. Oversize wheels at the base of each shutter roll along the concrete base at the front of the house. “We made these big wheels to evoke something like a toy, a childish object,” said Armando. The slats of the shutters are spaced far apart near the top of each window to allow daylight to penetrate, and closer together near the bottom, to maximize privacy. In order to accommodate the shutters’ upper rails, Armando and di Robilant drilled holes in the adjacent Rodeca panels. The customization worked: the architects seamlessly integrated the window and panel systems without sacrificing watertightness. “The Rodeca system was born mostly thinking of big facades,” observed di Robilant. “It had been used in a number of cases with more surfaces. Here I think we tested, and I think this test was quite successful, the limits of Rodeca in terms of what is the minimum surface which is still okay for this system.” The architects analogize the facade system to a Russian samovar, or hot water boiler. Like a samovar, with its nested heating element and partly hidden hot-water pipe, the house’s facade reveals its own organizing principle to the knowing eye. “The idea was really to show the anatomy of the skin,” said di Robilant. “We focused our attention on the big window, but it’s also very much about the facade, and the discourse of the metaphor—the samovar.”
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These are the ten most threatened buildings in Illinois
Preservation group Landmarks Illinois identified its ten most endangered historic places in the state Tuesday, a list which includes the embattled Uptown Theatre, a Jens Jensen landscape, and Chicago’s Central Manufacturing District on the Southwest Side. “The sites named to the list are all exceptionally important to not only local residents, but the local economy,” said Bonnie McDonald, Landmarks Illinois’ president (Read AN’s Q&A with McDonald here). “By calling attention to the potential for their reuse and revitalization, we are encouraging job creation and economic development across Illinois—something everyone can support.” The group has been issuing the list since 1995. Of the buildings called out for preservation each year, a third of the properties have been saved, less than a quarter have been demolished, and the rest remain up in the air. Half of this year’s list falls in the Chicago area, including Jens Jensens’ Camp Algonquin in suburban McHenry County. The 116-acre camp along the Fox River was established in 1907 but closed in 2011 amid financial difficulties. Its 47 buildings are in various states of disrepair and many are slated for demolition. In March, State Senator Pam Althoff introduced two bills to fund their rehabilitation. Downstate properties include Hotel Belleville, a 1931 Art Deco building on Belleville, Illinois’ town square. The city, about 16 miles southeast of St. Louis, recently issued a Request for Proposals for the redevelopment of the building. Read more about the 10 historic places on Landmarks Illinois’ website:
  1. Camp Algonquin
  2. Central Manufacturing District 
  3. Halsted and Willow Gateway 
  4. Hamilton Primary School 
  5. Hotel Belleville 
  6. McAuley Schoolhouse 
  7. Old Millstadt Water Tower 
  8. Robertson Building
  9. Uptown Theatre 
  10. U.S. Marine Hospital 
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Grocery Store Tycoon John Catsimatidis Wants to Save Philip Johnson's New York State Pavilion
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire-grocery-store-tycoon-turned-failed-mayoral-candidate said he will write a check to save Philip Johnson’s iconic New York State Pavilion in Queens, New York. That is, if someone presents him with the right “visionary” plan.             At a recent event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair, Catsimatidis told the New York Daily News he wants to see another World’s Fair in Queens in the near future. “I can make it happen,” he told The News. “But you need people who have dreams.” It, of course, will take more than dreams alone, and, as the publication notes, Catsimatidis does not have “a specific plan, timeline, or strategy” behind his offer. Oh, the little things. But, if Cats—as he was known during his unsuccessful, but entertaining, mayoral campaign—is true to his word, then he can expect to write a pretty hefty check. A study by the New York City Parks Department found that preserving the structure as-is will cost about $50 million, and renovating it for new use would set someone like Catsimatidis back $70 million.
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Pier Carlo Bontempi and Ruan Yisan accept Driehaus awards for classicist architecture and preservation
Italian architect Pier Carlo Bontempi and Chinese preservationist Ruan Yisan last weekend received the highest honors in the world of classicist design—a school of though that AN previously examined alongside the more widely known Pritzker Prize. The 2014 Richard H. Driehaus Prize went to Bontempi, an architect from Parma, Italy whose work includes a block recovery plan for that city’s historic center, as well as the Place de Toscane and the “Quartier du Lac” resort in Val d’Europe near Paris. In a WTTW documentary made for the occasion of the award, Bontempi likened traditional and classical design to well-made salami and other local delicacies—modernists, Bontempi said, cut through the whole sausage, while those with an eye to the past are more careful in their preparation. He told the crowd gathered at the award ceremony Saturday in Chicago that he considered it a great compliment when a Dutch couple confused one of his buildings with a string of historic structures along the road to Rome, wondering why it wasn’t included in their guide. Administered since 2003 by the school of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, the $200,000 Driehaus Prize “is awarded to a living architect whose work embodies the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact,” according to its website. Ruan Yisan received the $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Prize, which is “given to an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its architecture and art through writing, planning or promotion.” Yisan, a historic preservationist and professor of architecture at Shanghai’s Tongji University, has helped catalogue and preserve numerous cities and cultural sites around China. He supervised the Yangtze River Water Towns preservation project, and won protection for the Pingjiang Historic District in his native Suzhou—both sites have since landed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The professor, who turns 80 this year, told the award audience Saturday that the American remittance of funds paid after China's 1900 Boxer Rebellion helped educate a generation of architects and designers who would sustain the nation’s architectural preservation movement through the 20th century. “It’s good karma,” he said through a translator. (Somewhat ironically, American designers and universities are also helping reshape contemporary China in a fashion decidedly more modern than that honored by the Driehaus Awards.)
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Revive two Detroit viaducts in this Michigander-only contest
A nonprofit in Detroit is calling on artists and designers “to breathe new life into the historical viaducts at Second and Cass Avenue in Midtown.” In partnership with the New Economy Initiative, Midtown Detroit, Inc. will sponsor public art and light installations in the TechTown District of Midtown Detroit. Accepted proposals win $75,000 per viaduct. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, April 30. Applicants can propose interventions for one or both viaducts. Apply here. The two viaducts, located between Baltimore and Amsterdam Streets in TechTown, were fully operational railroad bridge grade separations. Originally constructed in 1934, they’ve fallen into disrepair. While Detroit’s been happy for international design attention in recent years, this competition has a residency requirement. It’s open to “all professional artists, architects, designers, design firms and/or teams consisting of these entities located in the following eight southeast Michigan counties:  Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.” Non-residents can join a design team as long as the project lead can prove physical residency in southeast Michigan. Read the full list of guidelines here.
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Rizzoli Bookstore to Likely Lose Their Manhattan Home
New York City will soon lose another one of its bookstores—at least temporarily. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has denied landmark status for 31 West 57th Street, the century old building that houses the truly iconic Rizolli Bookstore. This clears the way for the building’s owners to demolish the current structure and put up what is expected to be a commercial or residential tower— this is 57th Street, after all. The owners of the building are reportedly trying to find a new home for Rizolli.  
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Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower opening to public tours for first time
An unusually vertical Frank Lloyd Wright building in Wisconsin will open its doors to the public for the first time since its construction in 1950. The Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin has housed SC Johnson for 32 years, anchoring its 153-foot tall mass with a distinctive “taproot” foundation. Its tree-like core and wrap-around windows will now be open to visitors, beginning on May 2. Tours will run on Fridays and Saturdays through September 27. SC Johnson’s Wright-designed corporate campus is a glimpse of what the architect’s ambitious urban planning vision might have looked like had it taken root beyond a few scattered examples such as the site of the 15-story Research Tower. That building, as well as the company's 1939 Administration Building, are now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Museum of Modern Art in New York is mounting an exhibition on Wright's radical approach to urbanism, which included seemingly contradictory bids for a sprawling “Broadacre City” and mile-high skyscrapers that pushed density to the brink of absurdity. The show is called Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal. Research Tower is not the only bit of Wright’s portfolio to see some sunshine lately. In December the architect’s first independent commission—the William Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois—went on the market. Weeks later the balcony over Wright's studio in Oak Park announced it would open for public tours for the first time in decades.
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Joseph Eichler's Mid-Century Homes Reborn in Palm Springs
A few years ago, Realtor Monique Lombardelli fell in love with the work of Joseph Eichler, the developer whose architect-designed tract homes proliferated throughout Northern and Southern California in the decades following World War II. “[The Eichler homes] provide such a great environment, more of a relaxing, open feel,” she said. Lombardelli’s passion led her to produce a documentary on Eichler’s legacy, which in turn piqued her clients’ interest. “I started getting a lot of clients who wanted one, and there wasn’t anything to show them,” said Lombardelli. “Then I sold one that was a remodel, and everyone said, ‘I want an Eichler.’” Lombardelli wondered: was it possible to build new, Eichler-inspired homes based on the developer’s original plans? She describes the process of uncovering the plans as a “treasure hunt” during which she felt like Sherlock Holmes—following evidence from one archive to the next, trying to convince the archivists that her project was worthwhile. “It’s funny because all the people at these different archives, they said, ‘These plans, most of them have been thrown out, nobody cares. Why do you want them?’” recalled Lombardelli. She eventually found luck at the archives at UC Berkeley and Stantec. “Stantec has everything, it was a mecca, a nirvana for Eichler,” said Lombardelli. “I walked in there and it was like being in heaven.” Lombardelli purchased rights to everything the archives hold, which so far totals 65 plans. (The archives are so dense, said Lombardelli, that they are likely to uncover more plans as time goes on.) To turn her dream of building “new” Eichlers into a reality, Lombardelli needed a developer. That’s where Troy Kudlac of Palm Springs’ KUD Properties comes in. “I gave up a couple of times,” said Lombardelli, citing inflated estimates. “Modernism should not be that expensive—that’s what Joe [Eichler] said originally, that modernism should be experienced by everybody.” Kudlac agrees. He plans to build one or two Eichler-inspired homes in Palm Springs on spec. If all goes well, he’ll develop a small tract of about ten homes. “With something this kind of cutting edge and revolutionary, I’ve got to prove the concept,” said Kudlac. KUD Properties will submit plans to the city of Palm Springs by the end of March. They hope to break ground by mid-summer. In the meantime, Lombardelli is fielding inquiries from developers in Tampa, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Brazil, London, and elsewhere. She’s resisted requests to alter the plans, except where modern building codes require it. “I think we really need to respect what we’ve been brought up with, what our history is,” she said. “There’s a soul in each of these houses that really resonates with me. To duplicate that is very difficult, but I think if you’re duplicating that to make them live on, we have to keep them the same."