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Churches Under Fire

St. Patrick's Cathedral also potentially threatened by fire this week
In the wake of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, cities around the world are surely taking note on how to best preserve and protect local architectural landmarks. In New York, two highly-trafficked churches, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, have already come under closer watch. Vice News reported that on Wednesday night, New York City Police counterterrorism officers arrested Marc Lamparello, an adjunct lecturer in philosophy at Lehman College, who walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with four gallons of gas, several bottles of lighter fluid, and a handful of lighters. While officials are still unsure whether he planned to commit a crime, the 37-year-old suspect was “emotionally disturbed,” police said. Lamparello has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and trespassing as of this afternoon, according to the NYPD News's Twitter.  The neo-Gothic church sits on Fifth Avenue across from Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1878, it was designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. Today, it’s one of the city’s most iconic places of worship and a National Historic Landmark that sees an influx of over 5 million visitors each year. The cathedral has been added on to and renovated extensively since first opening; MBB Architects most recently completed a $177 million restoration of the building in 2015. This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s has been subject to some form of terrorism. In 1914 and 1915, respectively, a small bomb exploded on the northwest corner of the cathedral and a trio of Italian anarchists tried to detonate a bomb inside the church. While St. Patrick's Cathedral was only threatened with potential arson this week, a beloved parish uptown actually did get some real heat. The crypt at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Revival structure in the world, caught fire on Sunday morning. New York Daily News reported that a small blaze broke out at 10 a.m. and was extinguished by the fire department in under an hour. Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, the late-19th-century piece of architecture was most recently renovated in 2008 after a 2001 fire swept through the north transept of the church, damaging the gift shop and a bit of its famous Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. In 2017, the building and its historic grounds were designated a New York City Landmark.
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Albright Albright Albright

Albright-Knox Art Gallery reveals new expansion renderings
OMA’s expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, is continuing apace and has gained a new collaborator: Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and his art and architecture workshop, Studio Other Spaces (SOS). The $160 million AK360 expansion project—up from what was originally $80 million—was first announced back in 2016 when the art institution decided to add another 30,000 square feet to its campus. Any changes to the gallery would have to be done with care, as the gallery’s central Gordon Bunshaft–designed building from 1962 sits on a Frederick Law Olmsted landscape. Bunshaft’s wing was an addition to an even older Beaux-Arts museum built in 1905. After unanimous approval by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the board that manages the gallery, a revised scheme by OMA was approved in 2018. On April 11 of this year, further details, including the groundbreaking date for the expansion and design refinements to the scheme, were unveiled. The AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project will add an entirely new OMA and Shohei Shigematsu–designed building to the north side of the Albright-Knox campus. The new building is intentionally ethereal and appears draped in a translucent sheet; a wraparound promenade will allow visitors to take in views of the historic landscape. Inside, the northern building will add visitor amenities and 30,000 square feet of gallery space for special exhibitions and the gallery’s permanent collection. The revision last week revamped the internal galleries according to an update from the Albright-Knox Gallery, but a full layout won’t become public until further in the design process. One major detail that has come to light is an addition by Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann of SOS. Covering an adjacent open-air sculpture garden, added in 1962 alongside the Bunshaft building, to create an all-weather gathering space had been part of the renovation plans since the beginning, but SOS has proposed turning the new roof into an art piece. Common sky, a fractalized canopy of glass and mirrors within a steel diagrid, would sprout from a central “trunk” and rise from the center of the courtyard to cover the new Indoor Town Square. The central column of Common sky would be hollow, allowing rain and snow to fall and drain away without directly exposing visitors to the elements. With construction expected to begin at the end of this year, the gallery has announced that operations at its main Elmwood Avenue campus will wind down as 2020 approaches. At the beginning of next year, the 15,000-square-foot Albright-Knox Northland, located at 612 Northland Avenue in Buffalo, will open and display special exhibitions and installations that don't require museum-quality conditions. Programming for the new space will be announced in the coming months. Furthering the gallery’s mission during construction will be the Albright-Knox Art Truck, which, beginning in spring 2020, will travel Western New York providing publicly-accessible classes, activities, and projects.
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Black Imagination Matters

Robots and poetry come alive at Black Imagination conference
On a humid, gray morning at Princeton in a cubic glass pavilion in a robot arm–equipped garage, architect Mario Gooden sat on a stool silently while discordant sounds emanated from two televisions flanking him that played images, barely visible under the sun streaming in through the translucent walls. Us viewers sat on the benches wrapping the room. Gooden moved his stool and sat again. Finally, he began speaking. Reading from a black folder he talked about space-time, general relativity, and black holes, and about the Black Panthers, being age 13, being American, cinema’s star-crossed lovers, the “image-city,” being in the wake, or being the wake. So began the second day of Black Imagination Matters (BIM, so named to “scramble” the usual meaning of the acronym in architecture), a two day conference organized by V. Mitch McEwen, which was the culmination of a month of workshops this past March and April which included prototyping fictive technologies from W.E.B. Du Bois’s recently-discovered short story “The Princess Steel” as well as choreography workshops with drones. This past weekend's events showcased numerous architects, theorists, writers, and artists thinking about “architechnipoetics,” or the intersections between the ways we make our world in bricks and circuits and words and movement. “You’re composing images with your body,” Gooden incanted over syncopated, and at times, dissonant sounds. Eventually he fell back to silence, though the soundtrack continued. At the end of Gooden’s silence, McEwen asked for our own. The sky cleared. Then, a slightly more usual panel with Jenn Nkiru, beth coleman, and Jerome Haferd. coleman began by asking one of the most difficult questions of all: “What would it be to be free?” Many others joined in during the conversation. In response to discourse on the spiritual and celestial, author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, who presented later and then spoke in a panel alongside artist Mario Moore, offered that the many ways of telling and documenting time in various African traditions is something that, to some extent, can be known, and that the archive of such traditions, no matter how troubled, perhaps offers some grounding. The BIM Incubator was incredibly capacious for an event organized by an architecture school, bringing together poets, dancers, filmmakers, scholars, technologists, architects, and others who presented and celebrated inter- and antidisciplinary approaches to thinking about space, building, the future of the city, and the power of Blackness within it. Collaborative and open, BIM was modeled on Donna Haraway’s use of the notion of "sympoiesis," a process of collective making and knowledge production. Science fictions and science presents were blended throughout the event's discussions, most especially by Haferd, whose presentation on his projects in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park began with Ursula K. Le Guin; Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, and Sun Ra all got namedropped throughout the day. Saturday’s events took place between Princeton’s Architecture Laboratory and the robot-outfitted Embodied Computation Lab. Rhythm; the water; terrestrial freedom; celestial freedom; the archive; the body; time; telling time; telling times; (im)permanence; the traps and powers, the uses and uselessness of representation; visibility and its transgression (what is secrecy and sacredness in an era of mass surveillance and documentation?, probed Nkiru); the meaning of “practice”; the problem of authenticity— these all were themes that were returned to throughout the day. The convening of so many people itself was a sort of architectural act, making a space through a day of ongoing interactions of speech, sound, images, and movement. And there was so much movement, especially for a university workshop, not only in Gooden’s multimedia performance but also in poet Douglas Kearney’s listening workshop during which he permitted participants to be as still or move as much as they felt to the music and sound he had created. Amina Blacksher next presented her double Dutch robots, two robot coordinated robot arms, that with the help of a human being, became semi-automated jump ropes. After Blacksher went first, people took turns trying to show off their skills. Despite their supposed “precision,” the robots have difficulty being as accurate, synchronized, and quick as young Black girls who jump rope, showing the incredible complexity of embodied and kinetic intelligence that is so often devalued and overlooked. Also working with robots, Lauren Vasey demonstrated the early stages of robots that used facial recognition to behave differently based on people's features, raising questions about the built-in algorithmic biases in new AI technologies. Then came an especially energetic three-person dance piece choreographed by Olivier Tarpaga titled WHEN BIRDS REFUSED TO FLY. All this motion suggested that perhaps architecture doesn’t stand, but rather, and more accurately, buildings balance. The day ended with sunset as Kyp Malone played his guitar and sang, accompanied by projections he’d designed.
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Crítica de Choque

"Pan Americas" conference looks at architectural relationships across a hemisphere
Earlier this month a dozen or so Latin American architects gathered at The City College of New York (CCNY) Spitzer School of Architecture for a “Pan Americas” conference. A few colleagues from New York joined them, including CCNY professor Michael Sorkin, who gave an impassioned speech about the poorly compensated resource extractions imposed on Central and South America by “el norte,” from oil to sugar, and about how Latin American architecture is “a polymorphous tradition that continues with enormous vitality.” There were two thematic pulls in the conference: the realities of the region’s economic and political conditions, and the vital and witty Latin American architecture that manages to emerge out of them anyway. One of the first slides of the conference showed Le Corbusier’s Modulor. It was barely recognizable as it had acquired a domestic environment, and was now found reclining on sofas, in poses other than the familiar one with the outstretched arm. The presenter, Mónica Bertolino, an architect and professor in Córdoba, Argentina, was making the point that when modern architecture arrived in Latin America it had to be tempered with local materials. But this is not to say that the architecture is any less modern, albeit less known. Hans Ibelings and Mauricio Quiros rightly pointed out the lack of coverage of Latin American work in books about modern architecture. They hope to address this with their upcoming publication about Central American architecture, but they also argued that what they call a peripheral condition (relative to Europe and the United States) could be a source of creative strength and encouraged Latin American architects to revel in it. The landscape architect Maria Villalobos, who gave the most impassioned lecture of the conference, is doing just that. She studied at Versailles and Harvard before returning to Venezuela to design the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo and it was this designer, one so deeply knowledgeable on French gardens, who resisted the cliched formal garden approach and came up with something inspired by the diverse Venezuelan habitats. Two other young designers presented outstanding work, Dana Víquez Azofeifa, from Costa Rica, and Inés Guzmán from Guatemala. Víquez Azofeifa uses the native biodiversity of Costa Rica to ameliorate the urban problems of its capital city San José. She grew up in Costa Rica, went north to study and work, and then returned home to start the firm PPAR with her partner Jose Vargas Hidalgo. “El norte” may have in the past robbed its southern neighbors of their raw resources, but now these designers traveling north are bringing home professional experience and intellectual insights. Guzmán was perhaps more aware of the complexity of her geographical allegiance and called herself “a Guatemalan citizen of the world.” She presented several projects by her firm Taller KEN, which she founded in 2013 with Gregory Melitonov. Her stint abroad included working on Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, but it was James Wines of SITE (in the audience and also a presenter), whom she credited as her inspiration. Then, when she showed Madero Café in Guatemala City, one couldn’t help but think of SITE’s Ghost Parking Lot project from the 1970s. In that project Wines buried cars under asphalt in a shopping center in Hamden, Connecticut, while Taller KEN impaled them on a forty-five-foot-high red cube. James Wines’s own presentation was a plea for more work like this. He showed images of t-shirts with various calls for social justice written on them—is this what activism looks like today, he asked the audience? He would like to see that activism make its way into built design work, and Taller KEN’s Madero Café is an example of this. The big red box calls attention to itself among undifferentiated stretches of trafficky roads and low-rise commercial strips. Then, inside, the only daylight comes from the top, completely isolating the cafe patrons from the surrounding context. Taller KEN critically responded to the wanton deforestation of Guatemala’s rainforest by putting a piece of it, albeit symbolically, inside the box, like the precious thing that it is. If there’s one insight from this conference that is applicable to the discipline of architecture in general it is that socio-cultural concerns in architecture are not only compatible with exciting design, but can even be the motivators. The last discussion of the conference revolved around the imaging of architecture. What are the possible effects of social media on what gets designed? The best answer came from Fredy Massad, Argentinian by birth but living and working in Barcelona and writing on architecture for the Spanish newspaper ABC. His most recent book of architecture criticism is Crítica de Choque (Shock Criticism), which places recent developments in architecture in the context of major political events—the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the financial collapse of 2008, etc. Massad is critical of the lack of discourse in an image-driven culture of architecture promotion. He rebukes the uncritical production of images of architecture in a book entirely devoid of images, and we readers find respite in this sea of words. With this book, we feel like characters in a Wim Wenders film who, overwhelmed by the bombardment of images, turn to words for redemption. Massad’s lecture did include some images, and notable among them was the portrait of Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Massad argues, and others at the conference agreed, that Aravena aestheticized low-income housing in a way that was not beneficial to those the architecture was meant to serve. Massad has termed what Aravena does a kind of “Adamismo,” as in making himself the “Adam,” the person at the beginning of all things socio-political, and in the process erasing all the efforts that came before him. The future of Latin American architecture depends on its multifariousness, not in the singularity of a star. Perhaps the best moment of the conference was when Álvaro Rojas, co-organizer of the event with Guillermo Honles, started his presentation by playing a song, Ojalá que llueva café (I hope it rains coffee) by the popular Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra. The students around me looked up from their phones and laptops and broke into roaring laughter. Is this the “shock” that Massad argues is needed in architecture today? For about four minutes an auditorium full of people accustomed to always be doing something did absolutely nothing except listen to a song. Perhaps this is the point of this and any conference, to take time out from the daily grind and just listen.
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Olde Towne Booming

Facades+ Boston will dive into the trends reshaping the city
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On June 25, Facades+ is returning to Boston for the fourth year in a row. The conference, organized by The Architect's Newspaper, is a full-day event split between a morning symposium and an afternoon of workshops led by top AEC practitioners. Leers Weinzapfel Associates (LWA), a Boston-based firm with projects nationwide, is co-chairing the conference. Panels for the conference will focus on the changes underway in Boston, ranging from new educational structures, the city's new tallest residential building, and historic preservation projects. Participants for the conference's symposium and workshops include Behnisch Architekten, Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Bruner / Cott, Arrowstreet, Consigli Construction, Walter P. Moore, Autodesk, Atelier Ten, Harvard GSD, the Wyss Institute, and Okalux. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, LWA's designer and business development representative Zhanina Boyadzhieva and associate Kevin Bell, the conference co-chairs, discuss their firm's growing body of work and the developmental trends within the city of Boston. The Architect's Newspaper: Boston is known as a relatively quiet city with a predominantly low-slung skyline. How is current development reshaping that identity and what does it mean for the future? Zhanina Boyadzhieva: Boston is indeed a “quiet” city, but it is also a hub of innovation and creative thinking. In the past few years, we have observed dynamic design work, largely by local firms, on several fronts: 1) creative re-envisioning of historical landmarks through readaptations and additions such as Smith Center at Harvard University and Congress Square in downtown Boston 2) careful insertions of new landmarks in the skyline such as One Dalton 3) fast development and growth of existing or new resilient neighborhoods such as Harvard’s Allston campus. Each design solution addresses unique urban conditions and entails holistic thinking about city planning, resilience, and sustainability, coupled with a sense of function, form, materiality, and human experience. Naturally, facades combine all of these considerations and become dominant players in the reshaping of cities. The diversity of approaches we observe—controlled material juxtapositions of old and new, sculptural form-making, and playful screening strategies—are testaments to ongoing design experimentations here. There is a search for new methods to address creative reuse, high performance, material fabrication, and user experience.  AN: The city possesses one of America's largest concentrations of brutalist buildings, as well as large historic districts. How can Boston embrace its heritage while moving forward? Kevin Bell: The rich building history of Boston, including modern landmarks like City Hall, and its brutalist companions make for wonderful urban fabric for intervention and a great place for an architect to practice. This history should serve to elevate our expectations for new buildings and major renovations in the city. The recent warming to Boston’s brutalism, its strong geometry and bare materials, is welcome, encouraging designers to consider rather ignore these local icons. It presents the opportunity to consider adaptation and re-envisioning through sustainability’s lenses, the human experience, and materiality. If we can dramatically improve the energy efficiency and human use in these sensitive historic buildings, we can achieve the same in new construction and create a model for continued improvement. AN: What innovative enclosure practices is LWA currently executing? KB: As a firm, we have a legacy of designing efficiently in an urban context. Often, our site is an existing historic building or a tightly constrained sliver of land, or sometimes, there's no site at all. This fosters a sensibility within the studio toward compact volumes, materially efficient, with taut fitted skins, a practice that serves us well as we work to make evermore energy efficient and sustainable buildings. We're also redefining our performance expectations around our clients' commitments to energy efficiency, many of whom have established operational carbon neutrality as their aim by mid-century. The enclosures we design today will be part of that efficiency equation. They must be considered to be part of a carbon neutral organizational environment as a performance baseline above simple compliance with today's codes or target certifications. Envelope performance, especially the use of innovative glazing materials, is a logical extension of the way we think about reactive, efficient space and energy efficiency targets in building enclosure design. Our Dartmouth Dana Hall renovation and addition, under construction now, is an example of this process and practice. We worked closely with the college to define a program for building reuse around its energy use reduction targets that dramatically improved envelope efficiency. Through the design process, we worked with our design and construction partners to continually refine the design while holding to incremental improvement in energy efficiency at each step; our modeled efficiency improved even as we moved through cost reduction exercises. The result is a highly insulated building, triple glazed throughout, with a thermally improved, south-facing glass curtainwall system combining vacuum insulated high-performance glass modules with integrally solar shaded, triple glazed vision glass as part of a building with a predicted energy use index (pEUI) in the middle twenties before the introduction of site renewables. AN: Which materials do you believe are reshaping facade practices? ZB: Materials are the agents of larger design strategies shaping the practice such as resilience, sustainability, and human experience. The aim to rethink and cherish historical buildings, for example, leads to a careful layering of existing and new materials that contrast and simultaneously enhance each other. Heavy textured concrete at the Smith Center is supplemented by light and open transparent glass, green walls and warm wood. Traditional brick block at Congress Square is juxtaposed with a floating glass box on top of sculptural fiber-reinforced plastic panels. On the other hand, the vision to create new landmarks that celebrate and reshape the Boston skyline result in the careful sculpting of distinctive volumes as in One Dalton, a tall glass skyscraper with careful incisions of exterior carved spaces for human use. Finally, the goal to produce energy efficient but playful envelopes leads to a game of patterns composed of an inner insulated layer with an outer wrapper of perforated metal screens or angled aluminum fins. Each choice of material and its manipulation reflects a larger vision to create a unique experience in the city. Further information regarding Facades+ Boston can be found here.
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Mapping the Amazon

Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere
For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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OMA Heads West

Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu plot inventive works across California

Although the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has been in business for decades and keeps a steadily growing constellation of offices around the globe, the firm has, until recently, had a relatively modest profile on the American West Coast.

But things are changing. As West Coast cities pursue new building efforts—including new neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive public parks, and experiments in multiuse complexes—OMA’s brand of frank intellectualism has slowly found a preliminary foothold in California.

The firm’s expanding Golden State presence includes a recently completed urban master plan for Facebook’s Willowbrook campus in Menlo Park, a residential condominium tower in San Francisco, as well as a trio of inventive projects in Los Angeles. Over the next few years, these projects are poised to join the Seattle Central Library and the Prada Epicenter Los Angeles, both from 2004, OMA’s only completed West Coast projects to date.

The latest westward push represents an ascendant energy emanating from the firm’s New York office, where OMA partners Jason Long and Shohei Shigematsu lead many dynamic projects taking shape across the continent and in Japan. When asked if a new California outpost was in the works for OMA, Shigematsu replied, “It’s always been a dream of ours,” before adding that current conditions were favorable but not exactly right for a potential OMA West branch. “Maybe if we get more projects out here.”

First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)

Also created in collaboration with Studio-MLA, the new First and Broadway Park in Los Angeles is set to contain a playful 100,000-square-foot retail, food, and cultural programming pavilion that anchors the ecologically sensitive park. The pavilion will be capped with an edible rooftop garden and a dining terrace that overlooks L.A.’s City Hall.

Along the ground, the park will be wrapped with ribbons of bench seating, elements fashioned to create interlocking outdoor rooms and plazas surrounded by native oak and sycamore trees. Water-absorbing landscapes around the seating areas are designed to harvest and retain rainwater while solar collection and a “Golden California” landscape lend the project its ecological bona fides.

The Avery (Transbay Block 8)

Related California’s crenelated 575-foot tower, known as The Avery, is part of a larger development created in conjunction with Fougeron Architecture for a blank site in downtown San Francisco’s bustling Transbay District.

For the project, the designers have carved a generous paseo through the buildable envelope for the site, creating a new retail and amenity plaza while also lending a tapered look to the 55-story tower. The gesture animates views for a collection of condominiums, market-rate apartments, and affordable housing units while also bringing sunlight down into the paseo and to the mid-rise block designed by Fougeron. Currently under construction, the tower is expected to open in 2019.

Audrey Irmas Pavilion

The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is the firm’s first cultural and religious project in the region. The trapezoidal building shares a site with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and is made up of three interlocking volumes that connect to the outdoors via a sunken rooftop garden designed by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA. An arched portal connects to a shared breezeway between the pavilion and the temple, which is framed by the leaning pavilion. The latter was designed with a pronounced slant both out of deference to historical structure and to illuminate the courtyard.

Referencing unbuilt proposals for Universal City and the L.A. County Museum of Art, Rem Koolhaas, OMA cofounder, said, “[The Pavilion] is part of a very consistent effort to do things here. It’s exciting if one thing happens to succeed, because architecture is a very complex profession where maybe a quarter of all attempts get anywhere.”

The Plaza at Santa Monica

Shigematsu explains that one concern driving the firm’s California projects involves delving into the region’s rich history of indoor-outdoor living. The approach is fully on display in The Plaza at Santa Monica, a 500,000-square-foot staggered mass of interlocking buildings intended to create a new mix of public outdoor spaces.

With a cultural venue embedded in the heart of the complex and ancillary indoor and outdoor public spaces laid out across building terraces, the complex aims for a unique take on the regional indoor-outdoor typology. The building is set to contain offices, a 225-suite hotel, as well as a market hall and public ice-skating rink.

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Walk the Dinosaur

Matter Design and CEMEX conjure monumental concrete constructs for TED 2019
TED 2019, a week of speaker sessions, workshops, and conversations about the directions technological and political progress are leading society, has touched down in Vancouver. Appropriately enough, the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based firm Matter Design and CEMEX Global R&D have used the event to unveil the fruits of their concrete research. Matter Design is no stranger to experimental stonework (nor is CEMEX, for that matter). Engineering tightly-interlocking slabs and complex concrete forms have been a constant in their research, and both Janus and Walking Assembly take their explorations to the next level. Janus was originally revealed simultaneously last year at the American Academy in Rome and on the campus of MIT. Matter Design and CEMEX teamed with composers Federico Gardella and Simone Confort to create a multi-sensory experience that demonstrates how heavy masses can still move with a rollicking sense of joy. In a video of the display of Janus, a crescendo of whispers draws the crowd’s attention to the stage, where they’re presented, in both senses of the word, with an enormous box mocked up to resemble Rome’s four-gated Arch of Janus. The blue, orange, and pink box slowly flops over to reveal that it’s simply a wrapper, and from it emerges a massive concrete wrecking ball, or kettle ball–shaped object. Emphasizing the split nature of the Roman god that Janus takes its name from, the concrete object, a solid ball with a hollow handle on top, wobbles and spins but always returns to an upright position. Walking Assembly continues on the theme of playfully rocking solid concrete masses with another historical twist. How did ancient peoples move the Moai of Easter Island? One theory is that these massive statues were designed to be “walked,” or gradually rocked, into place. Walking Assembly, seeking to divorce the concept of masonry’s scale from that of the humans placing it, returns to these preindustrial construction techniques. These massive masonry units (MMUs) are designed to be moved and fit into place without the help of cranes or other construction equipment. Using rounded edges, handle points, and by pouring variable-density concrete to control each MMU’s center of gravity, the components can be easily rocked, tilted, and rolled into place. Both projects, through using computer modeling and advanced fabrication technology, force the objects themselves to do the heavy lifting and free the user, or construction worker, to play around with the components. It's a fitting tie-in for a conference probing where technology can take us.
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Fascist Facades

Photographs document the Italian Fascist architecture of Eritrea

Walking the central streets of Asmara, Eritrea, for the first time can be quite a puzzling experience for a foreigner. The capital city is full of structures and modernist buildings that blend Art Deco and Futurist styles. Shops and bars have signage that could easily be found in Italy: Farmacia Centrale, Bar Crispi, Cinema Roma, mixed with many in the Tigrinya and Arabic languages.

In fact, the city was planned and built in its current form during the Italian colonization of Eritrea starting in the 1890s. When the Fascist Regime took over, Mussolini set out to build an overseas empire with Asmara as the model city of his colonial expansion.

Many recognize the effects of colonization on the architectural quality of the city. But few acknowledge one of its most controversial aspects: racial segregation.

Since the very beginning, the city’s master plans aimed to separate Italians from Eritreans and enforced this when dividing the city into four separate sections: a European-only quarter in the south, an Eritrean quarter in the north, a mixed zone around the central market for both groups, and an industrial zone in the northeast.

Historically, Eritreans needed a special permit to cross into the European-only side of Asmara to go to work as housekeepers, artisans, and masons. Today, some of the local elderly still refer to the city’s center as the “Fenced Field” because one of the original Italian outposts was called Campo Cintato–or “fenced field” in Italian.

The Eritrean quarter, known as Aba Shawl, was the most densely populated in the city and largely left unplanned. Ninety years later, the effects of this lack of planning are still visible today. The construction quality of the buildings is not comparable to the rest of Asmara; some have neither running water nor bathrooms. When it rains, the streets get coated in mud because there is no stormwater drainage system. The people who live here are still poorer than inhabitants elsewhere in the city.

But despite all of this—or perhaps due to the lack of planning—Aba Shawl has become the Eritrean face of Asmara, which complements the Italian part of town.

Starting in the 1910s, Italian architects merged vernacular Eritrean elements into the architecture of the city—both in Italian and indigenous areas—and constructed a mosque, an Orthodox church, and movie theaters for the Eritrean population.

In 1938, the Fascists, intending to enforce newly drafted racial law, set forth a plan to bulldoze Aba Shawl and relocate its dwellers farther out from the city center. However, the local governor—afraid of alienating the indigenous population—stopped the plan. A few years later, Mussolini lost control of the country to the British, and Eritrea began a decade-long struggle to achieve full independence. This didn’t come until 1993, after a gruesome war with Ethiopia. Since then, the Eritrean capital has been in the process of reclamation and reappropriation of its colonial past and architectural legacy. In 2017, UNESCO declared the center of Asmara, including Aba Shawl, a world heritage site.

When asked why Asmarinos care so much about their city, a worker from its heritage office said: “These buildings might have been designed by the Italians, but it’s our grandfathers who built them, it’s us who preserved them and live in them. These buildings are our own buildings now.”

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Two Become One

Two major art and design fabricators merge into new powerhouse
Two major players in art and design fabrication are merging into one powerhouse. UAP (Urban Art Projects) announced this week that it is acquiring the near 50-year-old, New York-based Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry. The merger, according to a press release, will give both businesses a stronger geographical foothold and connect them to more artists, architects, designers, and developers. Together, both mainstay institutions have over 70 years of experience with the fabrication of fine arts and architectural projects. UAP, a global firm with 8 satellite offices, helps clients deliver bespoke structural art and design pieces for public and private use. The New York team has recently collaborated with Kohn Pederson Fox on the newly-opened 10 Hudson Yards, the Public Art Fund on the 2017 exhibition Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, as well as SHoP Architects, and the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Polich Tallix, established in 1968, has worked on public art projects with prominent artists like Louise Bourgeois, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Alexander Calder, and Richard Serra. The company has also worked alongside major architectural studios such as Zaha Hadid Architects, John Portman & Associates, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and Herzog & de Meuron to produce special art pieces for building projects. UAP’s Group Managing Director Matthew Tobin noted the importance of the acquisition. “UAP’s global reach, collaborative vision, and investment in advanced manufacturing and design robotics,” he said, “combined with Polich Tallix’s unmatched knowledge of traditional manufacturing, makes us a strong, dynamic and highly responsive art and design resource for world-class creatives.” Dick Polich, founder of Polich Tallix, expressed a similar sentiment: “Our greatest asset is the skill of our craftspeople and by joining forces, our firms have boldly expanded our capabilities and expertise.” A previous version of this article said that Polich Tallix's facility would be moving, however, we have since learned that is not the case.
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Moving Parts

Performa 19 probes the Bauhaus's legacies in performance and architecture
For its eighth iteration, the Performa Biennial (Performa 19) will be embodying the radical spirit of the Bauhaus, which celebrates its centennial this year, with performances across New York City. Investigating the confluence of artistic, technological, and political events that birthed the interdisciplinary school in its own day, Performa 19 reframes the 1923 exhibition Art and Technology; The New Unity to consider “what is the art school of the 21st century?” Taking place over the course of three and a half weeks in November, the biennial will include commissions from global artists including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ed Atkins, Nairy Baghramian, Tarik Kiswanson, Paul Pfeiffer, and Samson Young. There will also be partnerships with numerous other institutions in the collaborative, multidisciplinary spirit of the Bauhaus. “One of Performa’s important roles is to provide critical historical background and context for today’s performances by visual artists,” explained RoseLee Goldberg, founding director and chief curator of Performa. And history, power, and architecture will be taken up by many of the artists. Baghramian, for example, will use dance and theater to investigate the role of the body and gender in architecture and domestic space, while Arunanondchai will create a musical that draws from the Thai tradition of Ghost Cinemas, outdoor movie screenings that began after the Vietnam War as a way for the living and dead to commune among one another. In addition to these new commissions, legendary dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer and dance scholar Emily Coates will reconstruct Rainer’s 1965 piece Parts of Some Sextets from materials held at the Getty archives. While we often think of the Bauhaus as a school of architecture and design, Goldberg pointed out that the architecture department was itself slow to launch, yet “a theater department was there at the beginning. [It] took the form of a centralized workshop for exploring cross-disciplinary projects; the drawing department used it to examine movements of the body in space, visual artists and photographers to explore lighting design, and performers and designers to construe fabulous parties, such as the Metal Party.” Drawing upon the department and school's inventive legacy, as well as engaging publications like The Bauhaus Stage, Performa 19 will exhibit how theater at the Bauhaus, and performance more broadly, bridge disciplines and connect bodies and spaces through time. Performa 19 will run from November 1 to November 24, 2019, in New York City.
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Gulf State of Mind

Review: Jean Nouvel gives Qatar a museum that matches its context perfectly
The opening of the Jean Nouvel–designed National Museum of Qatar, in Doha, Qatar, marks another step in the country’s mission to set itself apart from its neighbors and solidify its cultural position in the world. For one to understand the motivations behind the design and construction of the newly opened National Museum, one must first understand a bit about the geopolitical context that it has been built in. Like many of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region, Qatar has been building at a pace and level of quality that is nearly unmatched in the world. Yet, unlike the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar is not building to attract tourists or even business interests. Since 1971, when Qatar gained its full independence from the British, it has worked to distinguish itself as a fully autonomous nation. The intensity of this drive has been amplified in the past few years by a series of events and political upheavals that have isolated the small country. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed economic and political embargoes on Qatar after years of growing tension over international trade and other international relations. In an act of defiance, Qatar countered by leaving the Gulf Region’s oil cartel, OPEC. These events have led to stronger internal support for Qatar’s ruling emir, who has taken a hard line with the blockading neighbors, and solidified the country’s resolve to stand culturally and economically independent from the region. The National Museum is designed and programmed specifically to display the country’s unique culture and history to international visitors and, perhaps more importantly, to Qataris. Broadly covering the nation’s natural and political history, exhibitions reach back tens of thousands of years through the discovery of oil and natural gas off the coast in the mid-20th century to explore what it means to be Qatari. Perhaps ironically though, Qataris only make up around 12 percent of Qatar’s of 2.7 million residents. The rest are foreigners, most of which are migrant service and construction workers. It remains to be seen whether a forthcoming planned gallery covering the country’s current events will highlight the immense contribution of migrants to the past decade of development. Notably, Qatar has been criticized for the use of underpaid labor and unsafe construction practices, particularly pertaining to the many 2022 World Cup stadiums currently under construction. Recent years have seen laws passed down directly from the emir to protect workers’ rights, and while progress has been made, some human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, say there are still issues to be addressed. Whether one argues the museum’s contents show a complete image of the nation or not, the building itself has a lot to say. Like many “signature” architecture projects, it may be the architecture of museum that will be most memorable for those who visit. A bombastic tour-de-force of engineering and construction, there is little argument about the visual impact of the project as a whole. Unapologetically designed to look like the crystalized mineral formation known as a desert rose, the museum is composed of dozens of large discs. Intersecting at various angles, the discs produce the facade, roof, walls, ceilings, apertures, and structure. Enable by engineering help from Gehry Technologies and ARUP, the geometric theme and is relentlessly executed. One is hard pressed to find any public facing spaces that are not completely shaped by the seemingly random arrangement of discs. There are no columns, no rectilinear apertures, no perpendicular intersections, and no flat ceilings. In many spaces even the floor ramps and bends in a choreographed play with the walls and ceiling. All artifacts and exhibition pieces are shown in the round, while the tilting walls are filled with carefully mapped projections of artist-made films. The effect is quite successful and makes for a strong retort to those who argue that museum walls should always be flat. The museum’s galleries are organized into an irregular crescent, which produces a large Baraha (courtyard) with the help of the 20th-century royal palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, a cultural landmark in its own right. This outdoor room provides a new civic space able to accommodate thousands. This is an important aspect of the project, considering Doha lacks similar spaces, besides the main Souq, over a mile away. The museum’s position near the waterfront is also significant. While still separated by the city’s major traffic artery and a thin waterfront parkway, many of its neighbors are government or administrative buildings, which are cut off from the city by high security fences. In stark contrast to the oft-foreboding nature of the area, the museum’s grounds include large gardens designed by French landscape architect Michel Desvigne, and includes multiple children’s play areas, large desert plantings, and a lagoon complete with a monumental fountain sculpture by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. Despite the formal exuberance, many of the spaces have a similar feel, in part to the limited material, color, and building palette. This is to say, once you have seen part of the project, there are few surprises. The formal complexity does not translate into complexity in plan. For the most part the entire building is one path, even if that path is varied in width and direction. Each gallery intersects with the next with no hard thresholds or transitions. Occasionally, a change in ceiling height or a slant in the floor differentiate one gallery from the next, but overall the experience is generally consistent throughout the project. This is a bit disappointing considering the innumerable possibilities the project’s formal language implies. On the other hand, this may be excusable as the expressed goal of the museum is to present a clear vision of Qatar’s past and present. Though a few more moments of unexpected shortcuts, detours, or unique spaces could have been a pleasant release from the project’s surprisingly simple plan. The few places where relief can be found from the disc organization are in the gift shops, designed by Sydney-based Koichi Takada Architects. Riffing on the theme of desert rock formations, the shops take the shape of the Dahl Al Misfir (Cave of Light), a dramatic cave system in central Qatar. Undulating contoured wood walls push and pull, providing space for lighting and shelving, while the tall spaces reach up to irregularly shaped windows and skylights, mimicking the cave’s dramatic illumination. Takada is also responsible for two cafes and a restaurant in the project that all stick closer to the Nouvel design, while still departing from the strict aesthetics of the galleries. If the intent of the National Museum is to educate the Nation of Qatar and celebrate the work of the Qatari people, the message it sends is one of a proud young nation that is finding its place on the world stage while contending with less than friendly neighbors and has been shaped by a seemingly insatiable appetite for iconic buildings designed by A-list international architects. Along with the Arata Isozaki master-planned Education City, the OMA-designed National Library, and the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, this latest addition to this uncanny desert menagerie raises the bar for civic iconography with its structural and metaphorical gymnastics. For all these reasons the project seems to fit into its context perfectly, and in the same sense could be nowhere else.