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Still basking in the glow of its recent St. Petersburg Pier competition win, Michael Maltzan Architecture yesterday won yet another commission: to expand and renovate Art Center College of Design’s hillside campus in Pasadena, to refurbish a former post office building on the school’s south campus, and to oversee a master plan for the entire institution.
Other firms on the shortlist were Behnisch Architekten, Barton Myers Associates, and Krueck + Sexton.
“I won’t be bored,” said Maltzan, referring to a wealth of new projects coming to his Los Angeles office, including the ambitious $50 million renovation of St. Petersburg’s Pier called “The Lens,” and the new Mashouf Performing Arts Center at San Francisco State University. “We feel very lucky. Now everything just needs to get moving,” he added.
The renovation of Craig Ellwood’s iconic 1976 glass and steel building in the hills above Pasadena will include reshaping and expanding the academic building, updating it seismically, installing new sustainable energy systems, and improving its roofing and glazing systems.
But before that work is even mapped out Maltzan will develop an “Academic Master Plan” for the campus, re-thinking how the college uses its facilities to adapt to new technologies and to inter-disciplinary education models. Maltzan will also oversee the organization of buildings and public spaces on the hillside and the rapidly-expanding south campus in downtown Pasadena. The first step in that plan, said Maltzan, is to “spend a lot of time with the art center community: students, faculty, administration and alumni. The information we get from that will be a big part of how we move forward,” he said.
Leading off the south campus expansion Maltzan will design the reuse of an existing post office mail distribution center at 870 S. Raymond Ave, adjacent to Daly Genik’s reuse of an existing wind tunnel facility, which was completed for the school in 2004. The program for the poured concrete postal building has not been finalized, but it’s likely that the 35,000 square foot space, which sits on a 2.5-acre lot, will be a center for fabrication and prototyping.
The post office property is expected to be ready for classes by Fall 2013, but a final budget and timeline for all the projects has not yet been finalized, said school president Lorne Buchman. Art Center will pay for much of the work with proceeds from a recent bond issue, and will be launching a major capital campaign to pay off that debt. Nearly five million of the seven million dollar cost to purchase the post office building came from alumni donations, added Buchman.
Buckman was sure to add that, “whatever we do building-wise is serving the school’s educational mission.” Buchman’s predecessor Richard Koshalek was reportedly pushed out after factions within the school felt he was focusing more on architecture than on education. Frank Gehry had been working to design a $45 million design research complex on the hillside campus until that plan was scratched in 2009. That plan had originally called for a number of new buildings by Gehry and Alvaro Siza, but was scaled down.
Last month we reported that LA’s long-dormant downtown federal courthouse was finally coming back to life, as the General Services Administration (GSA) announced plans to launch a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a design-build team. Yesterday the details of that job became a lot clearer at a “pre-solicitation” meeting, held at the LAPD headquarters downtown.
The new courthouse will be located on what is now a 3.7 acre pit at 107 S. Broadway, just down the street from Morphosis’ Caltrans building, LA City Hall, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, among many other important buildings. It will be the most significant commission in the city outside of METRO’s Union Station Master Plan, whose winner has not yet been chosen.
The building will measure 600,000 square feet and is projected to cost $399 million. It will contain 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers, and its primary tenants will include the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Marshals Service, the GSA, the Federal Public Defender and the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The project RFQ was released on February 6. GSA would not confirm an RFP date, but the project timeline calls for a contract to be awarded as soon as this August or September. Design is set to start by the end of this year, and GSA hopes the courthouse will be completed by 2016, a tight deadline driven largely, said officials, by an effort to avoid escalating construction costs.
William J. (Bill) Guerin, GSA’s assistant commissioner for project delivery, called it a “schedule-aggressive, budget-aggressive project.”
This will put pressure on the high profile field vying for the commission. Architects at the meeting included Morphosis, SOM, NBBJ, HMC, ZGF, Ehrlich Architects, Gehry Partners, Michael Maltzan Architects, Rios Clementi Hale, Gruen Associates, Brooks+ Scarpa, Perkins+Will (who won the previous competition for the site, a plan that was never built), Fentress Architects, and Cannon Design. Those that proceed with the RFQ will partner with an engineer and a contractor for the bid. Unselected shortlisted teams, said the GSA, will each receive a $250,000 stipend. (A significant improvement over Metro’s $10,000 stipend for Union Station.)
The winner will be selected by a team of five that includes two GSA architects, two GSA construction management experts, and a representative from the courts. The team will be advised by a “national architecture peer,” chosen from a pool of what GSA considers to be top U.S. architects, pointed out GSA spokesperson Peter Gray. Gray added that the selection team would be made up of several specialties because the commission will include architects, engineers and contractors.
“We look forward to seeing what the genius of the group brings,” said Lawrence Hales, GSA senior contracting officer.
As The Architect’s Newspaper first reported last week, Michael Maltzan Architecture has won an international competition to redesign St. Petersburg, Florida’s iconic pier. The firm beat out other finalists West 8 and BIG with “The Lens,” a project composed of a group of interconnected bridges and pathways arranged along a figure eight plan.
The project will frame the city through its sweeping, looped structure, forge a connection between downtown St. Petersburg and its waterfront, and create several new recreational opportunities, including the chance for visitors to get much closer to the water than they had in the past.
In 2010 the city voted to demolish its current pier, a 1970’s inverted pyramid structure containing a “festival market” that St. Petersburg’s web site refers to as “the most visible landmark in the history of the city.” But the market had fallen on hard financial times and the structure itself—battered by the elements over decades—was in dire straits, with repairs deemed by engineers to be virtually impossible. The city was ready to redefine both the pier itself and the city at large.
“We saw this as an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing,” said Raul Quintana, city architect for the City of St. Petersburg. “It’s something that cities the size of St. Petersburg don’t normally do. It’s very risky and forward thinking.”
A jury of three design experts (including San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz) and two local officials selected Maltzan’s concept after studying the entries for more than a month. The competition began in June with 30 registered teams and was narrowed down to three at the end of last year.
“Michael Maltzan just nailed it,” said Quintana. “His take really redefined what a pier is in the 21st Century.” Indeed The Lens’ shape and siting help rethink a typology that has long become outdated.
With the old pier, said Maltzan, “you walk out in a straight line, you get to the end of the pier, and you turn around to come back. You’re just retracing your steps.” The figure eight plan creates a “more complex and complete experience,” a circuit that introduces visitors to new elements throughout. The project’s shape will also allow for water-based activities in the interior of the loop, like kayaking and boating; a new element in an area where waters are generally very rough.
The project will also include a new tidal reef, a civic green, raised walking paths, an amphitheater, a water park and other leisure activities.
“It’s not a traditional architecture project. It’s not a tradition landscape project. It’s really a hybrid,” said Maltzan, echoing what has been said about others in a new generation of urban-scaled projects, like New York’s High Line.
West 8′s proposed plan, called “The People’s Pier,” would have been highlighted by a large circular pavilion called “The Eye,” sitting on a new shoal in the bay. It would also have included new preserved habitats, a public marina, and a new plan for ecological waterfront development. BIG’s scheme would have been made up of three parts: a park, a walkway, and “the wave,” a large spiral-shaped structure containing several programs. According to BIG, the structure would have been created by the pier folding in on itself. Closer to shore the plan would have contained a large swimming beach and a small forest.
Both of the other finalists, said Quintana, would have been inspiring, but with their singular iconic moves they were “more about the destination.” Maltzan’s scheme, by contrast, “is more about the journey.”
The first phase of the project is budgeted at about $50 million. St. Petersburg City Council is expected to vote on the project at its February 2 meeting (no means a done deal in this conservative city, said Quintana). If approved, the project will be supported with funds raised from a county-approved tax increment financing plan. The first phase could be completed within three years.
The project is among several new works helping revamp the city. Others include a new Salvador Dali Museum, a Dale Chihuly Museum, an expansion of the fine arts museum, a vital public art program, and the development of a new arts district.
“It really fits what St. Petersburg is becoming. Not what St. Petersburg used to be,” said Quintana.
For the last decade, with landscape architecture on the rise and architecture increasingly ceding territory in the urban realm, a new book appears on shelves every few years arguing for the integration of landscape and architecture. Beginning with Aaron Betsky’s Landscrapers of 2002 and Anita Berrizbeitia and Linda Pollak’s Inside Outside of 2003, these books are typically part coffee table tome and part manifesto, filled with images of the latest vegetated surfaces, creeping parasitically over walls and roofs. Embedded within the volumes are calls to arms, arguing that the two disciplines are one, and that the way forward is the breaking down of disciplinary bounds.
This year, almost ten years on from the publication of the aforementioned books (and some fifteen years after Charles Waldheim coined the term “Landscape Urbanism”) marks the publication of two such volumes, Diana Balmori and Joel Sanders’ trim, glossy Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture, and Landform Building, a fat block of texts and photographic images born out of Princeton University’s 2009 conference of the same name, edited by Stan Allen and Marc McQuade.
Balmori and Sanders introduce their subject matter through a pair of essays, the first, a well-researched historical framework laid out by Sanders, and the second Balmori’s more manifesto-like argument for an interdisciplinary practice. The pair note in their preface that their interest and approach stem in part from “urgent ecological concerns” that they suggest would be better answered by a more integrated practice model, and in part from the simple creative potential they argue is inherent in the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries—an approach they term “Interface.”
The book divides “Interface” into three interconnected categories, Topography, Ecology, and Biocomputation, each presented via a brief introductory timeline and essay followed by a series of projects. The projects range in scale from small built components—the aggregative blocks of Aranda/Lasch’s Grotto or the floating sensors of Amphibious Architecture, a project by Columbia University’s Living Architecture Lab—to large urban interventions—Weiss/Manfredi’s Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle or the Parque Atlántico by Batlle i Roig Arquitectes in Santander, Spain. In between stretches a broad spectrum of buildings and landscapes. Included in the compilation are a wide variety of unbuilt competition entries, research projects, and built projects, spanning from the relatively unknown to the iconic.
If this appealing volume suffers from one thing, it’s its very inclusiveness. The three categories are so open-ended as to become almost meaningless, particularly in that topography clearly underlies the vast majority of them. The selection of projects is similarly broad and uneven. Some projects, like Peter Eisenman’s City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, ongoing since 1999, appear at this point like relics of a pre-Landscape Urbanism era of form-making. Meanwhile, many of the unbuilt projects, such as Höweler + Yoon’s Eco-Pod and Balmori and Sanders’ own NYC 2012 Olympic Equestrian Facility, remain firmly within the realm of the fanciful without approaching the depth and nuance that evolve out of grappling with the realities of constructing such spaces. At the same time, some of the built projects are so conceptually thin that one wonders at their inclusion. Also notable is the omission of certain practitioners and projects: the terraced housing projects of Bjarke Ingels Group, in particular, come to mind. Projects are generally represented by brief—too brief—textual descriptions, photographs or rendered views, and drawings. One longs for a slightly smaller selection of projects, represented in greater depth.
However, the strength of the book—and this is not to be taken lightly—lies in its framing of ecology, and in its strong stance on the potential power of integrating landscape and architecture to address ecological issues through built form. Balmori and Sanders write:
Rather than oppose space and matter, and as a consequence architecture and landscape, designers need to see them as an accumulation of independent processes as complex as any machine or, indeed, any creature. This awareness of the environment as a complex system puts architecture and landscape on equivalent terms and will encourage practitioners to create designs that approach the efficiency and performance standards of a living being.
One might argue that the focus on ecology is part and parcel with the integration of systems—and disciplines—put forward in the book, and in fact should underscore all of the projects within its pages, as opposed to being just one of three categories. The handful that do not fit this description—the vast shadeless surfaces of Eisenman’s City of Culture are, again, a striking example—perhaps do not belong in the book at all.
In contrast, Landform Building puts forth a far more singular and strongly grounded premise. In many ways, the book follows conventions first introduced by S, M, L, XL back in 1995: low-res, full-bleed photographic images interspersed throughout the volume pack a punch, providing a sort of unifying ground within which essays, projects, and discussions are differentiated by strong graphic and typographic identities. The hypothesis of the conference and this ensuing volume is outlined in a series of compelling essays written by Stan Allen, and supported by projects, texts, and debates culled from both architectural history (essays by Kenneth Frampton and Reyner Banham) and the conference itself.
The book includes a wide selection of projects, broken into chapters on Form, Scale, Atmosphere, and Process, and often accompanied by text or conversations with the designers. In the Form chapter, at last, we find BIG, represented by their housing project “The Mountain”: a heap of parking in a developing area of Copenhagen, with terraced housing piled on top. Also included are several crystalline projects by Mansilla+Tuñón. Within the Scale category, we find the even more overtly crystalline Spina Tower by Ábalos and Sentkiewicz, as well as buildings by Steven Holl and a seemingly out of place park by Stan Allen himself. The Atmosphere section brings us, among others, the incomparable Kanagawa Institute of Technology by Junya Ishigami. Finally, Process focuses on innovation in fabrication and structural solutions, depicted through projects by Office dA, Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Michael Maltzan.
Building from the theoretical underpinnings of Kenneth Frampton’s essay, “Megaform as Urban Landscape,” which was first presented at the University of Michigan in 1999 and was reformulated for this publication, Allen makes an impassioned argument not for the disciplinary integration of architecture and landscape, but rather for the reintegration of large-scale “landform building” techniques into architectural practice. The book puts forward a sort of alternative architectural history, unearthing a trajectory of design strategies, from terraced housing to mat buildings to megastructures, in which built form rises from the land as a recognizable and formally organized surface, making its iconic mark upon an otherwise undifferentiated ground or urban fabric.
Indeed, as the title suggests, Landform Building focuses heavily and unabashedly on form. Nowhere is this more evident than in the images selected for the publication—spread after spread of photographs and renderings of mountain-like objects. Despite a riot of images, we do not encounter a sectional drawing until page 119; throughout the book, sections appear only a handful of times. The exploded axonometric, the preferred visual trope of Landscape Urbanists everywhere, is equally scarce.
Representational choices are telling. While the section and the exploded axonometric have the capacity to express layers of information, systems, elements in relation to one another, the photographic image and the rendering—particularly as used in this book—only depict the surface and its overall formal expression. The emphasis on the singular, outer shell of the building as object—unusual or landscape-like form not withstanding—betrays a dismissal of the very advances made possible by the contemporary landscape techniques that Allen calls out in his introductory essay. The surface of a building, however intricate, bears no capacity on its own to perform as contemporary landscapes do—to organize systems from ecological, hydrological, infrastructural, and climatic to programmatic. Indeed, although many of the buildings contained within the pages of Landform Building engage programmatic and formal complexities, most seem to stop short of addressing these other layers of information and potential influence. As for landscape itself, it generally fails to appear in anything more than its nineteenth-century incarnations: a framed view; an outdoor room; a lung for the city.
Ultimately, Landform Building presents a strong, coherent treatise on one potential direction for architecture, illustrating its points through a broad array of well-selected projects within a consistent and compelling graphic framework. But the book fails precisely in the area in which Balmori and Sanders’ Groundwork prevails. Allen and his compatriots at the Landform Building conference appear locked in the same fight for disciplinary autonomy that has pushed architecture into its current corner. Still regarding the urban realm as a disjointed jumble that can only be made intelligible by oversized architectural iconography, the proposition forgoes the possibilities inherent in a cross-disciplinary, performative, systems-based approach.
Figuring prominently in both text and images in not only Groundwork, but also Landform Building, the Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park, that poster child for Landscape Urbanism, remains perhaps the most concrete example of this approach thus far. The project successfully integrates landscape, architecture, infrastructure, program, and ecology on a formerly derelict site. And, yes, it also operates as a formally compelling icon within the city.