Los Angeles and San Francisco passed green building standards for municipal buildings in 2003 and 2004. Now both cities are getting the ball rolling where it really matters: proposing new green building standards for private development.
On June 19 the City of Los Angeles unveiled a draft proposal that would require all new buildings of 50,000-plus square feet or 50-plus units to be LEED compliant. The city would also provide financial incentives and expedited processing for LEED Silver or Gold projects. Meanwhile on July 11, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s new Green Building Task Force issued a report to the mayor recommending that the city use LEED standards for large commercial buildings and highrise residential buildings. The proposal calls for incentives like development bonuses, property assessment equalization, and fee reductions; and it suggests that developers meet LEED Gold standards by 2012. Neither code recommends immediately legislating green building standards for smaller buildings, although San Francisco’s proposal discusses phasing in such requirements down the line.
Despite this limitation, such standards would go a long way toward reducing the environmental impact of buildings in California, since so many large projects are privately owned. Boston is currently the only U.S. city to have adopted such standards. According to the American Institute of Architects, buildings account for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions and about three-quarters of all electricity generated at power plants.
“Greening our building standards will help the city achieve its sustainability goals, whether it is reducing our carbon footprint, preventing urban runoff, or diverting materials from landfills,” said LA City Council President Eric Garcetti in a statement.
Both plans must be passed by their respective legislatures before moving forward. LA’s proposal would likely be drafted and ready for review by various city commissions and city council members by September or October, said Sam Siegel, Legislative Deputy for Garcetti. Mary Leslie, Los Angeles Business Council (LABC) president, predicted that it may take about six months for it to pass City Council. The San Francisco proposal must pass that city’s Board of Supervisors. The San Francisco task force is aiming for new standards to be put in place by January 2008.
The Los Angeles plan was codeveloped with Global Green, a sustainable building nonprofit, and the LABC. It came after a year of discussions between members of various city agencies, and after two months of focus groups consisting of environmental groups, architects, developers, and others. The tenmember San Francisco task force, which has been meeting since last March, is made up of developers, architects, and building industry members.
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Los Angeles and San Francisco passed green building standards for municipal buildings in 2003 and 2004. Now both cities are getting the ball rolling where it really matters: proposing new green building standards for private development.
When Con Edison released a proposal on May 4 to raise electricity rates, many proponents of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sustainability initiative started immediately working to make sure that the utility’s capital improvement programs are not at odds with the goals of PlaNYC, the sweeping effort to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Gil Quinones, a senior vice president with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, vowed to use the 11-month approvals process to secure investment from Con Ed to support the mayor’s plan. And while it’s early, Con Ed looks inclined to cooperate.
Every few years, Con Ed proposes a schedule of rates, called a rate case, which the state reviews and uses to set allowable profits. This year, the utility requested a rate increase of 17 percent per residential bill for a total 11.6 percent bump, but that’s only part of the story. A central element of PlaNYC is a proposal to spend a tenth of the city’s energy bill on efficiency measures to green-up city owned buildings. Privately owned buildings would come next, with retrofits to come through a mix of incentives and mandates. Con Ed’s investment in power plants and lines will determine much about that mix, so the city is carefully preparing to challenge the proposal.
“We want to make sure they’re making the investment in their infrastructure to support anticipated growth,” said Quinones. “Con Ed had indicated that they intend to invest in energy efficiency to achieve a 500 megawatt demand reduction on top of their current effort. If that is their target then we are aligned.”
Also optimistic is Ashok Gupta, a senior scientist with Natural Resources Defense Council, who advised on the mayor’s initial sustainability planning last year. In setting gas rates earlier this year, Gupta told AN, Con Ed embraced the idea of “revenue decoupling,” which would tie its rates to the gap between forecast revenues and actual delivery, rather than to the total amount of energy it sells. “Revenues and profits would not be tied to how much energy they waste,” said Gupta. “That would be a huge step to help triple or quadruple investment in efficient equipment.”
Gupta explained that the Public Service Commission, a state-appointed body that approves all utility rates, will probably extend revenue decoupling to electricity. A procedural hearing is set for June 18, after which EDC and advocates will submit comments. The final rates and incentives could come via a negotiated deal or an adjudicatory process. Advocates like Gupta aim to get the PSC to add performance incentives and targets to encourage the emissions reductions that the mayor and Governor Eliot Spitzer have announced.
“Implementing PlaNYC is mostly in these procedural hearings,” Gupta said. “Efficiency is about a lot of things lining up, whether it’s office lighting or envelope issues. You need to really scale up these efforts to be comprehensive.”
The English architect Richard Rogers has been selected as the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate. Rogers, who accepted a life peerage in 1996 and is known as Lord Rogers of Riverside, will be given a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion on June 4, 2007, at a ceremony in Inigo Jones’ 1691 Banqueting House in London.
Lord Rogers joins his compatriots James Stirling, the 1982 winner; his former partner Norman Foster, who won in 1999; and Zaha Hadid, who took the honor in 2004. He gained early acclaim for his collaboration with Renzo Piano on the 1977 Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and has long been recognized as one of the most accomplished architects practicing today. Rogers was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Gold Medal in 1985 and, last year, the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale.
In the past he may have been overlooked for the award because he has produced fewer buildings than past Pritzker winners, but the quantity of his production is more than made up for by its remarkable quality. His portfolio ranges from a house for his parents in Wimbledon (1968), which served as a prototype for a portable housing scheme he dubbed the Zip-Up House; the Lloyds of LondonBank (1986);Millennium Dome (1999); the Madrid Barajas Airport (2005); and the Welsh Assembly Hall (2005). Barajas Airport received the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize, another of the profession’s highest honors. He currently has three projects underway in New York—the expansion of the Javits Center, a mixed-use development at Silvercup Studios in Queens, and an office tower at the World Trade Center.
Rogers’ career has always been marked by a larger public engagement. When Prince Charles began to advocate against modernism in the 1980s, Rogers was at the forefront of the profession’s response. More recently, he has served as the London Mayor Ken Livingston’s primary director of city planning, which is an unofficial post. He is also well-known for his collaborative approach to design, and in a recent interview, said that it is one of the things he likes most about being an architect. “Architecture is collaborative, and an equation that takes into consideration not only good buildings but social inclusion, public space, and social responsibility,” he said.“Today, we must also consider sustainability and climate change.”
The prize comes at an auspicious time in the 72-year-old architect’s career: His firm, the Richard Rogers Partnership, will soon announce that it is changing its name to Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners in recognition of the work of two longtime collaborators, Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour.
The English architect Richard Rogers has been selected as the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate. Rogers, who accepted a life peerage in 1996 and is known as Lord Rogers of Riverside, will be given a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion on June 4, 2007, at a ceremony in Inigo Joness 1691 Banqueting House in London.
Lord Rogers joins his compatriots James Stirling, the 1982 winner; his former partner Norman Foster, who won in 1999; and Zaha Hadid, who took the honor in 2004. He gained early acclaim for his collaboration with Renzo Piano on the 1977 Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and has long been recognized as one of the most accomplished architects practicing today. Rogers was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architectss Gold Medal in 1985 and, last year, the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale.
The Centre Georges Pompidou (1977, top) established both Rogers and his then partner Renzo Piano as formidable talents; Barajas Airport (bottom) in Madrid was completed in 2005 and won the coveted Sterling Prize the following year.
(top) Richard Bryant; (bottom) Katsuhia Kida / Courtesy RRP
In the past he may have been overlooked for the award because he has produced fewer buildings than past Pritzker winners, but the quantity of his production is more than made up for by its remarkable quality. His portfolio ranges from a house for his parents in Wimbledon (1968), which served as a prototype for a portable housing scheme he dubbed the Zip-Up House; the Lloyds of LondonBank (1986);Millennium Dome (1999); the Madrid Barajas Airport (2005); and the Welsh Assembly Hall (2005). Barajas Airport received the Royal Institute of British Architectss Stirling Prize, another of the professionns highest honors. He currently has three projects underway in New Yorkkthe expansion of the Javits Center, a mixed-use development at Silvercup Studios in Queens, and an office tower at the World Trade Center.
Rogerss career has always been marked by a larger public engagement. When Prince Charles began to advocate against modernism in the 1980s, Rogers was at the forefront of the professionns response. More recently, he has served as the London Mayor Ken Livingstonns primary director of city planning, which is an unofficial post. He is also well-known for his collaborative approach to design, and in a recent interview, said that it is one of the things he likes most about being an architect. Architecture is collaborative, and an equation that takes into consideration not only good buildings but social inclusion, public space, and social responsibility,, he said..Today, we must also consider sustainability and climate change..
The prize comes at an auspicious time in the 72-year-old architectts career: His firm, the Richard Rogers Partnership, will soon announce that it is changing its name to Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners in recognition of the work of two longtime collaborators, Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour.
Though much has changed in Jamaica, Queens, since 1961, one thing that has not is the zoning map. For the past five years, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has been hard at work on a new zoning plan to balance economic growth downtown while protecting the surrounding suburban streets from overdevelopment, while also emphasizing mass transit, sustainability, and affordability. The draft plan,which was released on January 29, will be the second largest rezoning in city history, encompassing 368 blocks.
“We call this strategy fine-grained zoning,” DCP commissioner Amanda Burden said in an interview.“We looked at every street and lot and block to find the existing use and look at what is appropriate for the strength of the neighborhood.”
The greatest strength in Jamaica, according to planners, is its transportation assets. The area is served by the F train along Hillside Avenue, and the E, J, and Z trains along Archer Avenue. The Long Island Railroad’s Jamaica Station serves 10 of the 11 LIRR lines and adjoins the new AirTrain Station,which combined serve more than 100,000 riders a day.DCP hopes that by increasing density around these transit hubs, it can encourage development without exacerbating Jamaica’s congestion problem.
Under the new plan, a high-density commercial and mixed-use zone will replace the industrial zone surrounding Jamaica Station. One-story repair shops and warehouses create a barrier between it and downtown Jamaica.Any displaced businesses will relocate to industrial zones in eastern and southern Jamaica,which will increase in density so as not to threaten business investment in the rezoned areas.
City planners also hope Jamaica’s access to John F.Kennedy Airport will attract corporations.“It will facilitate business centers from all over the world,”Burden said. “Travel-related, shipping-related—it can be anything that has to do with global business.” She added that the downtown area has potential for four million square feet of office space along with hotels and apartments.
The suburban streets that are so quintessentially Queens will be down-zoned to protect their character. The current zoning allows multistory apartments,which John Young, director of the DCP Queens office, described as backwards.“It actually encourages tear-down and build-up instead of preservation.”The new zoning will lower the densities to protect the detached and semidetached one- and two-family houses typical in the area.
To offset the loss of housing potential in these down-zoned neighborhoods, and again emphasize mass transit, densities have been increased as high as 12 stories along the major thoroughfares of Jamaica and Hillside avenues and Sutphin and Merrick boulevards. Limits have been placed on the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) along these corridors to encourage affordable housing for those who might be priced out the new development. Developers can only build out to the maximum FAR if they make 20 percent of units affordable or subsidize equivalent housing within a half-mile.
Planners have also tried to address the increased activity generated by new houses and businesses. In addition to the masstransit focus, some streets and sidewalks will be widened, new interchanges will be created, and below-grade parking will be required in the densest areas.
Local politicians familiar with the plan expressed a range of opinions on it. Councilor Leroy Comrie said,“We have to ensure that whatever plan is final protects whatever residential community it abuts.” He also raised concerns about flooding, given a high water table, but expressed general optimism toward the project.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was more skeptical.When asked what concerned her most about the plan, she said three things: “Traffic, traffic, and traffic.Not to mention parking.”
“We’re concerned about the little guy,” she added.“I’m not opposed to it, I’m just worried about overdevelopment. People come to Queens for the serenity and the backyards, for its calm nature.”
New York City may not be the greenest American city, but a new law, a new building code, and new department in the Mayorrs Office aim to change that.
The first large-scale changes began last year when Local Law 86 was passed on October 3, 2005. (See sidebar.) For many city-funded projects, the law, which established green building practices for municipal construction, will take effect on January 1, 2007. Its impact, however, is already apparent, according to John Krieble, the director of Sustainable Design at the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The DDC serves as the managing agency for the construction projects of dozens of city agencies, from the Fire Department to the Department of Transportation, Libraries to Parks and Recreation; of its 400 active projects, which represent $2.4 billion, nearly 30 are expected to receive LEED certification. In the next year alone, the DDC will be kicking off 15 new LEED projectssequivalent to the total number of DDC-managed LEED projects completed in the last eight years.
BKSK Architectss design of the Queens Botanical Garden administration building, a DDC project, is on track to achieve the first LEED Platinum rating in New York state. The drive to go for
the highest LEED rating comes from client support. The reward
is in the bragging rights,, said Krieble. Though the rating does
not offer any monetary award, the public relations opportunities
can be significant..
Local Law 86 was not an easy victory for environmentalists; nor
is it as stringent as it could be. During its formation, for example, it met with resistance from the Carpenterss Union. The bill originally included a requirement for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)) certified wood products, which promote sustainable forestry; the union raised opposition because members felt it would diminish their work, so the stipulation was removed before the bill passed.
Still, the city is making a concerted effort to include environmental concerns in its future development. On September 21, Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability within his Office of Oper-ations. The new office, led by former McKinsey consultant Rohit T. Aggarwala, is charged with helping to develop a plan for the cityys long-term growth with sustainability in mind, and to make New York City a green operation,, according to a press release. Given its incipience, the office has yet to detail specific initiatives and would not comment for this article.
The Mayor has also convened a Sustainability Advisory Board, which met for the first time on September 27. Chaired by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the 17-member board includes architect Robert Fox, partner of Cook + Fox Architects, whose firm designed the Durst Corporation and Bank of Americaas One
Bryant Park, which is the first highrise in New York to seek LEED Platinum certification. The board also includes Ashok Gupta of
the Natural Resources Defense Council and Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association. The Mayorrs Office will also benefit
from a partnership with the Earth Institute of Columbia University, which will provide pro bono academic and scientific expertise.
In order for the city to prioritize its goals, it must first assess its current environmental impacts. With the looming threat of global warming, the city has taken first steps toward developing a greenhouse gas inventory, by measuring the carbon emissions
of all municipal operations, from the electricity consumption of
city buildings to the exhaust of city vehicles. The Mayor also announced an effort to measure the carbon emissions of the
entire city by March 2007.
Krieble would like to see this inventory used to develop baselines for carbon emissions against which reasonable targets for reduction can be established. He suggests helping city agencies
to work toward lowering their emissions by providing incentives
or access to revolving funds to enact necessary changes.
Raising the bar for municipal buildings and operations is
perhaps an obvious first step for any city with sustainability
goals. However, in a city like New York, where development is
dominated by private builders, itts almost more crucial to
establish policies that regulate or encourage green building practices. For the past few years, the Department of Buildings (DOB) has been working to revise the cityys building code, consistent with the efforts of many cities and states to adhere
to the International Code Councills (ICC) construction codes.
The state of New York adopted a version of the ICC codes in
2002; New York City stayed exempt from the process because
of its size and complexity. The current city building code, though often amended, was last overhauled in 1968. The DOB hopes
that the new codeeits first part was signed in December 2005,
and its second part will be submitted for approval in early 20077will reflect the density and high-rise capacity of New York.
As they currently stand, the ICC and NYCCs building codes do
little to promote green building practices. But Deborah Taylor,
AIA, LEED AP, who serves as the DOBBs executive director for special projects and MEA (Materials and Equipment Acceptance Unit), expects that we will see two major changes that will be unique to the New York City code. First, fee rebates may be offered for seven different types of achievement: energy conservation, renewable energy, water conservation, use of brownfield sites, construction and demolition waste-recycling, bicycle facilities, and achievement of LEED. The commissioner
will be able to draft specific standards to initiate the rebates,
which may apply to new construction, renovations, and existing buildings.
Second, the plumbing code could permit a water conservation
plan that, if approved, will make it possible to use graywater systems and waterless urinals, which are not permitted by the current code without special permission from the DOB. Provisions in the code could also establish green roof standards, to ease
their approval process. The new electrical code, passed into
law in 2001 and with an amendment before City Council, makes
it easier to build with photovoltaics by providing parameters that
were missing prior to the electrical codees own overhaul.
While our current code is not particularly green, we look
forward to passage of the proposed code and further greening
in the future,, Taylor acknowledged. New York, like all cities, is constantly looking at other cities for examples of good green practices. For example Houston is already using the ICC code.
Although the city lacks any formal green building incentive programs, New York became the first state to start a tax
incentive program in May 2000 through the New York State
Green Building Tax Credit (NYSGBTC), in collaboration with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Both offer multiple programs to offset energy modeling and other protocols like commissioning and
incorporating green strategies. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which administers the tax credits, began accepting applications for the first period of funds on September 30, 2002, and disbursed $25 million in seven credit component certificates,, which allow recipients to claim credits over five
. In 2005, new legislation was passed to provide another $25
million for tax credits; the DEC has until 2009 to accept
applications for the second period of funds that will be distributed from 2006 through 2014.
Asked if the city should consider mirroring the state policy, architect Chris Garvin, co-chair of the New York AIA Committee
the Environment, stated, Financial incentives are appropriate sometimes, but private industry can make money by saving energy and there is no need for the citizens to subsidize that. [Building green is] a smart way to do business.. However, in
cases where the ownerrs additional expense does not result in savings, incentives could help. For example, owners of buildings that hold water from the cityys overly burdened sewer system
do not typically receive a financial payback. Retaining water
in holding tanks on site burdens owner and helps the city, by reducing combined sewer outflows (CSOs) to our rivers.
Incentive should encourage this type of practice.
Though New York is clearly planning for the future now, in other parts of the country, city initiatives have already had a great
impact on their development. On February 22, 2000, the Seattle City Council approved the Sustainable Building Policy, part of the cityys Environmental Management Program. Under the policy,
new city-funded projects and renovations with over 5,000 square feet of occupied space must achieve a LEED Silver rating. According to the cityys 2005 five-year report, 38 projects were either completed, under construction, or designed to achieve a LEED rating. In the fall of 2001, Seattlees LEED incentive Program began offering $15,000 for LEED-certified buildings and $20,000
for a certification of Silver or above. A year later, the city released strategies for creating more sustainable affordable housing projects in a document entitle seaGreen: Greening Seattlees Affordable Housing. The initiative is part of the cityys Office of Housing and has resulted in the construction of 18 SeaGreen multifamily housing projects as of 2005. Seattle also encourages green roofs via financial incentives. By 2005, the city had
provided over $300,000 for design and consulting fees for LEED projects.
Chicago, too, has enacted several policies to encourage green building strategies. In November 2005, the city announced a new grant program for green roofs. Owners of residential and small commercial buildings may apply for a $5,000 grant to help with
the planning and installation of a green roof. In January 2006,
20 grants were awarded.
While New York is prioritizing green construction, for now, the current trends in green building are driven more by enlightened clients and architects than lawmakers. Though the Mayorrs Office may be feeling the pressure to catch up, the drive to change the building industry continues to come from the private sector.
Sarah Cox is a New Yorkkbased writer who has
worked Previously for Dwell and Architectural Record.
Local Law 86
A cornerstone of sustainable building is buying local: Sourcing products and materials from local manufacturers both conserves fossil fuel energy that is expended to transport of a product
and supports the regional economy. The New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), a not-for-profit founded in 1997, supports this sustainable strategy by helping to strengthen the local manufacturing economy. NYIRN has developed a free
online business-to-business network (www.madeinnyc.org) to
help connect them to architects, designers, and builders.
Furthermore, NYIRN encourages its network of nearly 4,000 industrial businesses to stay competitive by developing
sustainable products and practices.
The city has thrown its support behind their efforts: In 2005,
City Council awarded NYIRN, with the Industrial & Technology Assistance Corporation (ITAC), an economic development nonprofit also devoted to retaining jobs for New Yorkers, a
$75,000 grant. NYIRN also administers a City Councill funded program, the North Brooklyn Energy Grant, and recently allotted $50,000 toward Brooklyn-based Colonial Glasss purchase a cogeneration plant, which would remove its operations from the power grid.
While there is still no widely adopted standard about what exactly
a green manufacturer is, NYIRN director of business services Tanu Kumar acknowledged that at least 30 businesses within its network are fully committed to the cause of sustainability. Among them: Mercury Paint in Brooklyn, which makes non-toxic, non-VOC paint and varnishes; DFB Sales in Long Island City, a manufacturer of solar shades and environmentally sensitive window treatments; and Green Depot in Brooklyn, a supplier of green building materials ranging from recycled denim insulation to bamboo flooring. Herees a closer look at a some of the suppliers in the network:
Corkkwhich is actually the bark of a cork treeeis a rapidly renewable resource, and does not endanger the tree when it
is harvested. Of a growing number of cork distributors in the
United States, Globus Cork is one of the few that imports raw material and does manufacturing on site. The material used for
the companyys glue-down and snap-lock tiles is an industrial
byproduct from the wine and other cork-stop industries. It can be dyed to resemble stone or wood, and muffles sounds. It also adds cushion to hard surfaces, making it ideal for environments like
retail or banks where people spend a lot of time standing. Cork maintains a median temperature around 60 degrees, so it can
be applied on a heat-absorbing surface like cement for insulation, reducing energy costs. Globus also uses all water-based stains and adhesives, so its products do not produce harmful off-gases.
Based in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, IceStone offers hard surfaces made from 100 percent recycled glass that can be used as flooring, countertops, or even wall cladding. Cook + Fox used the product, which comes in 24 colors, in its own sustainably designed office and has specified it for the bathroom counters in One Bryant Parkkthe largest order Icestone has had to date. Currently, the glass used by IceStone is brought in from out of state because New York does not sort and crush glass by color, as most other cities do. This will change, however: On July 21, City Council approved an initiative to build a glass recycling plant in Red
Hook. Our ultimate goal is to have no waste,, said IceStone spokesperson Ilya Perchikovsky. It would be ideal for us barge over glass from Red Hook, which would be more sustainable
Bettencourt Green Building Supplies
Williamsburg-based Bettencourt Green Building Suppliesss main inventory is a variety of reclaimed and recycled wood products
for flooring and construction. The company carries well-known products like Plyboo (plywood bamboo), as well as lesser-known sustainable alternatives such as Kirei board, an MDF-like sorghum grass composite made from the agricultural byproduct of sorghum harvests, and Dakota Burl, a sunflower-seed hull composite that looks like burled wood. Co-founder Bart Bettencourt has also started a furniture design business called Scrapile, which reuses locally reclaimed woods.
The Department of Design and Construction took its real steps towards sustainability in April 1999 when it released High Performance Building Guidelines, a 26-page document that laid out how city agencies might improve the environmental and economic performance of its buildings. With chapters on construction administration, energy use, water management, and material selection, the tone of the booklet is hortatory, with a big emphasis on the economic benefits of green buildings.
The days of gentle urging are about to end: Local Law 86 (LL86), which goes into effect this coming January, takes these general guidelines and gives them the force of law. It means that all municipal construction projects over a certain size and budget must be LEED-certified with a minimum Silver rating, which generally means that the finished project will consume 25 percent less energy than a comparable building that doesnnt employ the LEED strategies. To make sure that city agencies are complying with the new rules, the Office of Sustainable Development within DDC will assign a representative to monitor the progress of every project that is subject to LEED rating requirements. And though LL86 has yet to go into effect, many DDC projects already underwayyincluding the three belowwbegan to follow its mandate.
The Bronx Zoo Lion House
Bronx, New York
Completion: June 2007
When FXFowle took on the restoration of the Bronx Zooos Lion House, a 1903 Beaux Artssstyle building by Heins & LaFarge, they had to completely overhaul the landmark buildinggs systemsswhich the original architects hid as much as possible to reveal the structurees exposed trusses and skylights. For the skylights, ethylene tetraflouroethylene (ETFE), or inflatable plastic pillowss were installed. Depending on how much air is pumped into these membranes, they are capable of adjusting shading and the amount of heat and ultraviolet light they let through, which may vary according to daylight conditions. In other words, they can control the levels of ultraviolet light needed by the plants and animals without creating excess heat within the interiors. With a geothermal system designed to reuse excess heat throughout the building, the architects have managed to reduce the energy use in the building by 57 percenttone of the reasons that the Lion House is the nationns first LEED-rated landmarked building.
Queens Botanical Garden
Queens, New York
Completion: July 2006
It makes sense that the architects of a new building in a botanical garden would be particularly concerned with minimizing its energy footprint, but BKSK has taken its design for an administration building at the Queens Botanical Garden to the next level, i.e., a LEED Platinum rating. To reduce the consumption of potable water, the architects went further than the familiar low-flow fixtures and waterless urinals, and devised a rainwater catchment system on the roof that drains into a manmade stream whose plants clean the water. Along with a graywater system, the 15,000-square-foot building and its surrounding meadow uses 41 percent less potable water than a structure of comparable size. The buildinggs energy use is projected to be 48 percent less than is typical for a building of its size, and the $14,500 annual energy savings means that strategies like geothermal heat pumps, high-performance glass, and photovoltaic panels should pay for themselves within seven to eight years.
Courtesy Viioly Architects
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Brooklyn, New York
Rafael Viioly Architects
Completion: Fall 2007
Since childrenns museums are typically places where kids learn experientially, Rafael Viioly Architects embedded several of the sustainable strategies that will earn the Brooklyn Childrenns Museum (BCM) its LEED Silver rating in a way that kids can understand. The L-shaped addition surrounds a series of roof terraces where visitors can see photovoltaic roof panels in action. The bright yellow color of the buildinggs exterior does more than just catch the eye: it absorbs far less heat, reducing the load that would ordinarily have to be removed with an HVAC system.
The primary way the museum will achieve its projected 25 percent energy savings is by using a geothermal heating and cooling system. Water at a constant temperature will be drawn from two 345-foot- deep supply wells: When the water has run its course through the buildinggs HVAC system, it will be discharged back into the nearby aquifer.
The Biennale featured, in the Arsenale and various national pavilions, the works of many photographers known for their urban documentation, including Armin Linke, Gabriele Basilico, Edward Burtynksky, Antoni Muntadas, Bas Princen, and Sze-Tsung Leong. Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri's site specific_SHANGHAI 04 (2004), above, and Spanish photographer Dionisio Gonzalez Heliolopolis (2006), below, both appear in the mini-exhibition C on Cities, curated by the magazine C International Photo Magazine.
Courtesy Galerra Max Estrella
Cities Without Architecture
Architecture critic and author; professor at Syracuse University in Florence
Behind this year's Venice Architecture Biennale lurks a daunting moral imperative: Something must be done before the planet is overrun by urbanization. But whether architecture is the problem or the solution remains a serious doubt. The title of the show, Cities, Architecture, and Society, is peculiarly inaccurate in that the content of the major exhibition in the stadium-length Corderie of the Venice Arsenal is devoted to 16 urban regions of a size and complexity that can no longer be called cities. Any of them—London, Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai—are made of a fusion of several cities around a historic core city, each comprising a sprawling megalopolis of millions of inhabitants in areas that are usually more than 50 kilometers in diameter. Aside from this linguistic anomaly, the main exhibition suffers from a more egregious absence: There is no architecture: that is, there are no memorable projects presented meaningfully through drawings, models, or photographs. The buildings and projects that are visible in an impressive series of films and photographs used in the show are furtive—always incidental to some greater reality. At first this lack of architecture strikes one as a pleasant surprise in an exhibition known for its incestuous relationships to star architects and its tendentious promotion of formal trends. But after 300 meters of being hounded by statistics and zenith views of cities, one starts to miss the company of celebrity authors and their trademark works, or at least some sense of a project for architecture.
This year's director, Richard Burdett, professor at the London School of Economics and architectural advisor to the Mayor of London, aside from delegating the Golden Lion career award to his close friend Richard Rogers, has studiously avoided giving any notion of a criterion for architecture. Good intentions, however, are blazoned on the walls—sustainability and social justice—but they are not given any particular aesthetic agenda. Nor do the few specific examples, such as the transport system in Bogota, offer any notion of what can be done. An exemplary project for urban regeneration, for instance, Barcelona's 22@, a 200-hectare new town, is thrown in with hundreds of images and completely lost. Burdett's vision of the megalopolis, as he states, is of promising challenges, providing the opportunity to re-design the meanings, the functions, the aptitudes and the positive features of the various urban structures and strategies. But the display remains primarily analytical.
The alarm over uncontrollable urban growth has been sounded frequently since the end of the 19th century, when Ebenezer Howard, reacting to the inhumane densities of London, the world's first boundless megalopolis, proposed the Garden City as a means of restoring the balance between city and nature. Two generations later Jose Lluis Sert published the modernist notions of decentralized urbanism in his 1942 tract Can Our Cities Survive? And more than 50 years back the most influential urban historian, Lewis Mumford, was constantly engaged in battles against sprawl and urban growth. The Dutch Pavilion directed by Aaron Betsky recuperates some of the bird's-eye-views of how Dutch architects confronted the question of urban crowding, using archival materials, such as H. P. Berlage's 1910 plan of South Amsterdam and the 1960s beehive scheme of Bijlmemeer. The Austrian Pavilion, curated by Wolf Prix, also recuperated historic exhibitions of urban utopias, including a recreation of Fredrick Kiesler's 1925 City in Space and Hans Hollein's 1964 malaprop collages of aircraft carriers in wheat fields. These historic works were in fact the closest thing to an architectural agenda in the Biennale. The only other truly inspiring exhibit from a formal point of view was Metro-polis, curated by Benedetto Gravagnuolo and Alessandro Mendini, devoted to the new subway system in Naples, a series of art-stations designed by well-known international architects and artists as varied as Dominique Perrault and Anish Kapoor.
If the question of rampant urbanization is by now rather old, what's new about Burdett's analysis? Nothing, really, except the consideration of the ever-increasing dimensions of scale and the influence of digital technologies, which have resulted in the concept of flows. He promises that 75 percent of the world will live in urban situations by 2050, but since most of Europe and developed nations have already surpassed this measure, this fact does not seem so controversial. Uncontrollable urban growth is a vexing problem in terms of its environmental consequences, but this has not really yielded a show that provides convincing solutions; rather, it is a bit like walking through a geography textbook. There have been other recent exhibitions, such as MVRDV's traveling installation Metacity/Datatown (1999) and Rem Koolhaas and Stefano Boeri's Mutations: Harvard Project on the City at the Arc en Reve in Bordeaux (2000) that were more successful in creating a graphic method for appreciating the quantitative difference of the contemporary megalopolis.
A surprising number of the national pavilions were devoted to what can be called everyday urbanism. The Australian Pavilion in fact uses the term specifically, the Belgian is devoted to the beauty of the ordinary, and those of the U.K., Hungary, Korea, and many others worked on the pervasiveness of vernacular and commercial landscapes, which in general excludes the work of architects. The Japanese eccentric Terunobu Fujimori was featured in his country's pavilion, offering a movement called ROJO (Roadway Observation Society). One had to remove their shoes to walk through the charred wooden walls into a room paved in tatami mats to look at the weird collection of things found on the roadside and the architect's arcane additions to these landscapes.
The U.S. Pavilion was typically out of step. While the choice of the theme of Hurricane Katrina was a good one considering that most large urban agglomerations contend with a considerable degree of risk from disaster—a subject that has been beautifully investigated by Paul Virilio—the curatorial team of Architectural Record and Tulane University completely avoided the international scandal of the disaster in New Orleans, and the continuing scandal of governmental indifference. They simply offer some student project–like solutions on stilts that will never be built.
The Spanish Pavilion was one of the most formally satisfying, and while it includes many fine urban projects, the focus is exclusively on the presence of women. It presents three dozen white boxes, each with a vertical video screen showing a woman from the waist up, speaking about urban questions. The curator, Manuel Blanco, somewhat like the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, has produced an exclusively feminine version of a world dominated by men, presenting women who work as planners, politicians, artists, developers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and, of course, architects. Architect Carme Pinos commented, "Everyone says how great I look in the video, but no one seems to have noticed my tower," referring to her recently finished the 20-floor Torre Cube in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her comment captures the spirit of this year's Biennale, which downplays the role of architecture.
The French Pavilion is by far the most exuberant and popular, and perhaps best captures the overall atmosphere of this year's Biennale as cities without architecture.. Directed by architect Patrick Bouchain, it sprawls outside and over the top of its neoclassical porch, with deck chairs and card tables scattered about. Inside one finds scaffolds that shelter a bar, kitchen, and a workshop for artisans to make tee-shirts and other take-home items. The structure also supports a stair for ascending to a roof terrace where visitors can enjoy a sauna, sundecks, and hammocks. A frolicking, hedonistic, and purposely messy affair, much in the spirit of Lucien Kroll, who was involved in its planning, this invasion of the existing structure makes a serious case for participatory design by adaptation rather than settling for the imposed formal order of architects.
Digital Globe / Telespazio
QuickBird satellite views of (from left to right) Milan, Barcelona, and Bogota. Similar views of all the cities under examination appear in the Corderie of the Arsenale.
The Big Reconciliation
Chair of architectural history and theory at the Applied Arts Academy; research fellow in the urbanism department of the Technical University of Delft
For over five hundred years, since Leon Battista Alberti, architects and urbanists formed a whole, working together in the making of cities. That is until the early 1970s, when architecture and planning went through The Big Divorce in American architecture schools. Among the reasons for the break-up was the drying up of publicly-funded support for urban revitalization programs. Urban issues were, largely, thrown out of architecture schools. Key figures left for schools of government and policy, geography departments, and such. As a result, for the past 30 years, architects and urban professionals stopped speaking to one another almost entirely.
Now, Richard Burdett, director of the Cities Program at the London School of Economics and head of the itinerant Urban Age conference series, has, at the request of the Venice Architecture Biennale organizers, kick-started a dialogue between the two disciplines. In order to do so, he presented some of the grubbiest, grittiest, and dynamic cities in the world, including among others Istanbul, Shanghai, Caracas, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.
The concept behind the exhibition is exciting, with greater implications for the health of the planet and humanity than the latest architectural trends. No one has attempted a comparative study of the world's megacities on this scale before. The exhibition itself won't likely wow the general public, however. Panels of text, images, and charts filled with unprocessed information about the lower depths of urban reality is not the stuff of blockbusters. Among the show's shortcomings is the fact that issues like density and society are raised but are left hanging in the air. In the age of Google Earth, one might also wonder why more interactive media was not used. But what the show lacks in depth of coverage will presumably be supplemented by other activities throughout the next two months while the Biennale acts as a forum for debate and an incubator for policy brainstorming with a planned series of high-level workshops. Here, one supposes that issues like democratic rights, sustainable growth, local government versus World Bank–dictated rules of governance, and Hernando de Soto's brand of neoliberalism will be addressed.
The theme of cities had a galvanizing, almost psychoanalytic effect on many national pavilions. At the U.S. Pavilion, Robert Ivy's team at Architectural Record along with Reed Kroloff of Tulane University grappled with the profound dysfunctionality of post-Katrina New Orleans and wound up with a statement of the inability of architecture alone, in spite of endless good will, to overcome certain political and social realities. The French Pavilion, perhaps as a form of expiation for the race riots that marked the nation's suburbs last year, was turned into one big pop-anarchist Rabelaisian bistro, celebrating togetherness in the midst of delicious food smells and plentiful wine. Austria fell back on two of its bluest chips, venerable masterpieces by once rebellious artists, one by Friedrich Kiesler of 1925 and one of 1964 by Hans Hollein. By contrast, the Hungarian Pavilion took a chance on an independently minded, youthful approach—examining the reach of Chinese-made goods in the world—and came up with a relevant contemporary statement on a specific urban reality. At the Russian Pavilion, the work of Alexander Brodsky, with his hilariously Gogolian black humor, offered a commentary on urban life in Russia today. The Spanish Pavilion was devoted to 52 of the most important women involved with architecture and urbanism in Spain. The overwhelmingly encouraged feminine presence goes a long way in explaining why this country has such great architecture and cities.
Of all the countries, Great Britain was the most active in organizing real discussions. Paul Finch, the editor of Architectural Review, together with Odile Decq, Peter Cook, and Robert White of White Partners should be commended for presenting a series of public debates called The Dark Side Club, which took place every night during the vernissage from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., after all the other parties had ended. And the British Council assembled a panel called My Kind of Town: Architecture and Urban Identity, featuring Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, author Alain de Botton, Nick Johnson of visionary development firm Urban Splash, critic Alice Rawsthorn, and Sudhev Sandhu, author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. Judging by the international attendance, these lively events might set a trend in future Biennales.
Richard Rogers used the high-profile moment of winning this year's Biennale Golden Lion Award for Life Achievement to stress the need for strict government regulations, citing Portland, Oregon, as the most popular city in the U.S. because it is the best at regulating and containing sprawl and encouraging inner-city densification. Of all the speakers I heard, he was the one who got the most enthusiastic response. In the same vein, this Biennale brought the work of a generation of designers in their 40s to the fore, including James Corner of Field Operations in New York, Rahul Mehrotra of Mumbai, Yung Ho Chang of MIT and Beijing, and Jeremy Till from Sheffield, England, to whom architectural issues are not antithetical to urban, political, social, or ecological concerns.
Giorgio Zucciatti / Courtesy Venice Biennale
Courtesy Institute for Japanese Culture
Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrrger (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: With the opening of the Italian Pavilion in the Tese delle Vergini (near the Arsenale), the old Italian Pavilion in the Giardini was given over to dozens of smaller exhibitions organized by various schools, countries, and research groups. The facade of the pavilion is wrapped in Olivo Barbieri's photograph of the Gonehexin Road overpass in Shanghai. Bottom: The Japanese Pavilion is devoted to the work of Terunobu Fujimori, whose naturalist architecture features the use of charred wood, planted roofs, and rough stone and earth. Within this woven hut, installed in the pavilion, visitors could watch a slideshow of images taken by ROJO, the Roadway Observation Society, founded in 1986 by a group of artists, including Fujimori, dedicated to documenting extraordinary roadside phenomena.
Architecture Between the Cracks
Principal, Toshiko Mori Architect
The Biennale is basically a provocation from director Ricky Burdett to architects and planners. Why do architects not have a role in the forming of cities, why are we not involved more, or voicing opinions more? Why do we have such a lame role in civic discourse? Planners always seem to have good ideas, but they do not follow through. If they did we would not witness the degree of dystopia displayed at this Biennale. Planners do not have power, they are disengaged with physical reality; instead they seem to be buried in paper statistics. With the war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, poverty, starvation, and genocide erupting around us, how do we answer the questions posed by the exhibition's organizers: Can planning promote social cohesion? Can good governance improve things? Do we all answer "yes" and go and have a Bellini? This is when the 1970s come to mind: Back then, we went into action more directly and architecture's sense of purpose ran deeper.
How did architecture become perceived to be surface-deep? It's an apt question to ask in a city like Venice, where the tourist-pleasing Serenissima facade comprises less than one-third of the city. Going around on the vaporetto (ferry) #82, one sees the blue-collar industrial and working gut of Venice. Author Alain de Botton asked me if I liked the decoration on the building facades. I recommended the vaporetto commute so he could see beyond the place's surface happiness. Architect Patrick Bouchain, organizer of the French Pavilion Metacity/Metaville, where two dozen architects, graphic designers, and media artists set up house and every day go about domestic chores like cooking and sweeping, told me that in Paris, street sweepers are called technicians du surface. The traditional French respect for the worker stands in contrast to the country's recent crisis over the lack of assimilation of immigrants. Intolerance and antagonism are causing riots and lawlessness because people are unable to share discourse and civic values. The message is simply to go back to what we all have in common, and try to establish direct communication among lives in the cities. (The irony is that the pavilion encourages both a sense of community and anarchy, breaking the decorum of exhibition halls by making it an inhabited space, a fragment of a city, with all the transgressions they encompass.)
The Spanish Pavilion, curated, designed, and organized by the perfectionist super-phenom Manuel Blanco, is the individuated and collective voice of women in Spain from all walks of life: female vox populi. It is a very clear, powerful, and credible message. Women are animated, beautiful, sympathetic, and most of all humane. Manuel says his approach was obvious since Spain has a feminine prefix, yet female voices have been suppressed by strong male dominance in politics and culture.
The Irish have the most to show in terms of their efforts to balance Ireland's fast economic growth, ecology, large planning efforts, and sustainability. It is unfortunate that their room, in the old Italian Pavilion, is painted black, since their projects are realistic and send a positive message about the robust engagement of politicians, planners, and architects to make the semblance of utopian future possible.
The relationship and balance between the obvious and visible architectural quotient of a city versus the support fabric of its infrastructure is the point of this Biennale. I was not so worried that there was not enough architecture. A lack of buildings does not mean architecture is absent. There is a territory where architects can take over creatively, as is demonstrated by the Irish group show, which is filled with strong case studies.
There was a lot of dialogue and discussion going on during the vernissage, but one looming question was: Where were the Americans? The U.S. Pavilion sent a strong impression of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The intricate moving model of cubes suspended by fragile strings is a metaphor for New Orleans housing as a puppet of mechanized bureaucracy. Once these strings are cut, the cubes float aimlessly without life support (full disclosure: this is the work of GSD students). And yet Americans had a weak (if any) presence in the public discussions organized by the Biennale. It made me realize that not only is the U.S. isolating itself in foreign policy, but we may be in danger of isolating ourselves in the area of urbanism too. What can we learn from others, what can we share? Are we engaged in this global discourse? If so, we should certainly be able to have several alternatives and viable models other than New Urbanism.
Cyrille Weiner ( top); Stefan Jonot (bottom)
The French Pavilion has become temporary home to two dozen artists and designers, who have outfitted the neoclassical building with bunk beds, a kitchen, bar, DJ stand, rooftop sauna, and sundeck.
Stefan Jonot (top and middle); Danish Architecture Center (bottom)
Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrager (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: Their Tiles Garden is made over 60,000 tiles recycled from demolished structures in Hangzhou. Bottom: The Hungarian Pavilion made use of cheap, Chinese-made plastic goods to create animated canopies, wall-hangings, and other installations. The Danish Pavilion proposed various projects for sustainable development in China, including Magic Mountains, a green business district.
The End of the Line for the Biennale?
Architecture critic, London Sunday Times; editor, RIBA Journal
Despite the importance of the subject matter and the high seri- ousness with which it has been approached, this Biennale, for me, does not work as an exhibition. The long, long gloomy columnar promenade of the Corderie in the Arsenal complex—in recent years the heart of the show, crammed with goodies—has never been sparser. You feel you are attending a stern lecture. Only the lecturer is absent, and has sent along his notes instead.
The rest of the show, over in the pocket garden suburb of national pavilions and scattered here and there throughout the city, is as patchy as ever though one finds intermittent flashes of joy. But it is difficult to imagine where this exhibition can go from here. The last good one with a strong theme was curated six years ago by Massimiliano Fuksas, Less Aesthetics, More Ethics. That allowed plenty of provocative architecture, but it also required an analysis of the social dimension.
And now? The architecture biennales are always rather touch-and-go. The go button is always pushed late: It is always a scrabble to get it together in time. This one feels like the end of an era. If the series is to continue, it must be comprehensively re-thought. It must have a reason to exist.
The Laser-Print Biennale
Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute; Incoming Director, Cincinnati Art Museum
As far as I am concerned, the best room was the central space at the Italian Pavilion, where the imaginative power proper to art and architecture were used to confront, criticize, and speculate on the city as a reality, rather than reduce it to facts and figures. For sheer scale, the AMO layout, an aerial panorama of the whole Gulf coast, from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, could not be matched. And of course in our historical exhibition [at the Dutch pavilion] we tried to bring up the issue of the city as a real place for which we have to take responsibility as architects, not just as concerned citizens. For the same reason I appreciated the attempts by the Russians, the French, and the Hungarians to make this point in an imaginative way. And that would lead to my major gripe: Just as architects should not pretend to be graphic designers or landscape architects, nor should they claim to be sociologists or politicians. Positioning your work within a social and political field is one thing; claiming to be Al Gore is another. The imagination was buried too deep beneath the pavement of Venice this year to be unearthed by any statistical tools.
Highs and Lows
Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
The Venice Biennale is, as always, worth it, even though the overall lack of normall architectural scale—meaning models, drawings, reference to neighborhoods—made this year for a rollercoaster between the elegantly cold and the sometimes overdone touchy-feely. The show at the Arsenale belongs in the former category. Director Richard Burdett's momentous analysis of 16 great cities was impeccably presented in an installation designed by Aldo Cibic and his partners. The installation had some beautiful moments, some planned—the room comparing densities, for instance, filled with self-explanatory beautiful styrofoam stalagmites, or the views of the cities flowing under your feet in small connecting bridges—and some serendipitous: in the Caracas corner, an oil stain in the floor that ghostly mimicked the shape of the city hung on the wall just above. The deeper you went into the Arsenale, the more you could get lost in data, comparative studies, and gorgeous satellite pictures, but somehow you longed for people and buildings.
The pavilions were very uneven. One wonders why some nations don't just stay home, or rent out their pavilions to the other countries that might really have something to say. Among the interesting ones: the Spanish, curated by Manuel Blanco, my favorite, with women of all walks of life talking about their cities, with architecture a part of their soundtrack. The British, taking the city of Sheffield as a case study and exploring it at different scales, from sheep to satellite view. The Japanese were a bit out of theme, but soothing and beautiful. The Slovenian: at last some innovative architecture. The French overshared—do we really need to see guys cooking in a pareo?—but were a hit because they were very hospitable, to the point where otherwise respectable architects were hopping the fence to join their late-night parties and the police were called nightly to kill the fun.
Personally, I learned to blog. Together with London's Architecture Foundation, MoMA launched a wild beast of a blog that became quite the recipient of everybody's rants and raves (www.venicesuperblog.net).
Principal, Odile Decq Benoit Cornette
When we try to describe a city, we often start by quantifying its inhabitants, expressing through its size what typology of city we are speaking about: small, middle, large, or extra-large. The presentations of the 16 megalopolises in the Arsenale strive to analyze the phenomena of how they came to be. But never could a collection of quantified facts express what a city is.
Architects are dedicated to thinking about and organizing people and life; architecture exhibitions are dedicated to vicarious representations that are free of the noise and smell of flesh-and-blood cities. This Biennial takes a non-risky position, avoiding experiments on concrete strategies. It is a pity for the general public and the thousand of young future architects, desperate for inspiration for visions of tomorrow.
Director, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development
Richard Burdett's exhibition begins with a description of cities in a changing world and ends with an invitation to cities to change the world. At critical junctures, displays focus on issues such as income disparity, density, mobility, and information flows. Implied throughout are the issues of class and race, which underlie many of the disparities the exhibition highlights.
The individual city presentations varied in quality. New York's presentation (coordinated by Pamela Puchalski of the Center for Architecture) successfully captured several of the city's innovative planning and development initiatives such as the High Line park and the effort to build more housing along the city's waterfront. Given the city's penchant to diminish its mandated participatory planning processes by surrendering its decision-making role to the state, as they have in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal, I was surprised to read in the exhibition text that New York has decided to accommodate growth by capitalizing on its edges along the water, investing heavily in new housing projects in the outer boroughs, and involving its citizens in the debate on the future of the city. One wishes it were really so. Too little investment and far too little debate. Perhaps New York City should borrow from the Norwegian city of Tromss, which decided to call a time-out on large-scale development and engage its citizens in what is truly a public debate.
Painting by Numbers
After the painful, but visually enticing, onslaught of Burdettian data, statistics, and images of cities on the verge, perhaps the upcoming Venice Art Biennale will follow suit by filling the Corderie and Giardini Pavilions with the financial statements of artists, galleries, and museums (leaving out the art). Now that could actually be interesting!
Chair, Department of Art History, Columbia University; Incoming Philip C. Johnson Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
In 1933 CIAM studied 34 world cities in aerial overviews and statistical analyses aboard the S.S. Patris while cruising between Marseille and Athens. The result, the Athens Charter, published in 1943, was the lingua franca of postwar modernism's bid to take charge of the city through functionalist and universalist criteria. It was hard not to think how far we are from this venture of over 70 years ago, arriving by air in one of Europe's prime museum cities, Venice, to take in Richard Burdett's ambitious marshalling of aerial views and statistics comparing 16 cities on five continents. If the pious list of five recommendations at the show's conclusion had more to do with issues of city governance—even in a display largely devoid of analysis of the vastly different historical and political forces at play—the results displayed could not have been further from CIAM's taking hold of the reins through design. The Biennale was filled with small-scale interventions in the impoverished quarters of the Third World and landscape re-workings of the detritus of the industrial past in the cities of the First World. The shrinking city of Berlin, where capitalism and democratic political process has eclipsed Europe's communist past, were lumped together with Shanghai and with Mumbai, the latter earmarked soon to overtake Tokyo as the largest city in the history of civilization. Caracas, presented neutrally as yet another booming metropolis, with little acknowledgment of the distinct political and economic situation of the petroleum capital with its populist anti-imperialist leader (a not so subtle protest is registered in the Venezuela Pavilion where the sole exhibition objects are a grainy aerial photograph and a broadsheet declaring a complete lack of interest in any Westernn-imposed urban solutions). As the exhibition embraces the notion of a globalized crisis—with many of the virtues and problems of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth—the particularity of each city begs for attention. Projects were modest and isolated, except for large-scale planning sponsored by developers, who increasingly have turned to star architects.
What could have underscored how omnipresent a very different urban condition in 2006 is than the looming mass of the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, whose towering 15 decks threw the national pavilions at the Giardini in shadow during much of the preview. None of the tourists disgorged was clamoring for entry to the Biennale, even if the morning Gazettino di Venezia featured both the influx of international architects and a photo reportage on the visible erosion everywhere of Venice's fragile brick and stone fabric caused by the ever-increasing traffic of super tourist liners in the lagoon.
The No-Stop City
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi
The Italian Pavilion curated by Franco Purini presents the design of Vema, a theoretical city for 30,000 residents located between Verona and Mantua. Contained within an area measuring 3,720 by 2,300 meters, the city is divided into sectors designed by 20 groups of architects under 40, chosen from among the most promising young practices in Italy. The immense model of Vema, which dominates the exhibition space, can be appreciated on two levels. For the general public, Purini's project will seem to go against the grain: The creation of a newly founded city in a Western country, so similar to the Renaissance examples of Sabbioneta and Palmanova, is in clear opposition to the dominant urban model of sprawling metropolis or the Koolhaasian Generic City. What makes Vema contemporary are the projects designed by young architects. The result is thus a strange hybrid in which the ideal cities of Filarete and Vignola coexist with deconstructivist, super-modern, and neo-organic projects.
For insiders, Purini's project is an attempt, as brilliant as it is unconvincing, to reduce the tension between young, experimental architects and the old guard, of which Purini himself is a leading exponent. The video that accompanies the exhibition thus presents a picture of Italian architecture as a continuum, where the old and new coexist without conflict, and wherein we are able to overcome the violent clashes that have historically occurred, for example, between figures such as Manfredo Tafuri and Bruno Zevi, and gain inspiration from models as diverse as the baroque Paolo Portoghesi and the radical Archizoom.
Women on the Verge
Below is an excerpt of architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina's video observation included in the exhibition Espana [f.] nosotros, las ciudades (Spain [f.] we, the cities) at the Spanish pavilion, curated by Manuel Blanco. Hers was one of 52 recordings of Spanish women—clients, architects, citizens—speaking about their experiences of particular buildings or of urban life in general.
What interests me most about cities is how they are so radically transformed with each new technology, from gas lamps to trains to electricity to video cameras. Lately I have become interested in cell phones. No technology has transformed the city more than cell phones in a long time. They have completely revolutionized the relationship between public and private. To be in a city you no longer have to be in the street—you can join a friend in a cafe simply by calling—and if you are in the streets you may not be in the city, as when you are so immersed in a conversation that you are somewhere else and the streets you are walking become a kind of mirage. In fact, in almost any city today there are more people on the phone than in the streets. Every aspect of our experience has changed.
This became evident on September 11 when any traditional sense of public and private space became obsolete. In the heart of the spectacular nightmare, covered continuously by every single television channel, the most intimate exchanges were taking place. For the first time in the history of a catastrophe, the families and loved ones of many of the victims were among the first to know when they received cell-phone calls made from hijacked airplanes and from inside the World Trade Center towers. These calls carved out a whole new sense of space, a last vestige of domesticity.
In the aftermath of the events, the desperate attempts on the part of cell-phone companies to deliver the last messages that had not gone through attested to the importance of this form of communication. In a situation in which there were very few human remains recovered, those messages were all that was left, the very thing that is always missing in tragic accidents. No longer simply a fragile substitute for real people, the digital record became the most solid reality.
There was a new sense of space constructed by the unrelenting bombardment of repetitive images through TV and the Internet and the simultaneous exchange of the most intimate and unique, one-on-one communications via cell phones.
If 9/11 in New York revealed the cell-phone as the last vestige of domesticity, 3/11 in Madrid revealed the cell-phone as a weapon, triggering the train bombs. Personal defense became public attack.
Painting By Numbers
Principal, Coop Himmelb(l)au
The theme of the 10th International Architecture Biennale is key for the architecture of the next decades. Thus I find that though the main exhibition at the Arsenale displays a striking collection of different factors and important data, it fails in developing a theory or visions out of this information. On the other hand, the shows at the national pavilions in the Giardini present, with a few exceptions, the helplessness of architects in association with strategic city models.
I Heart New York
Principal, Alexander Gorlin Architects
Maybe Richard Burdett, the curator of the Architecture Biennale's Cities theme, should have first listened to Madonna's latest song, I Love New York, before putting together a mind-numbing, statistic-fest that completely fails to understand the essential experiential differences among cities around the world:
I don't like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork / Los Angeles is for people who sleep / Paris and London, baby you can keep
Other cities always make me mad / Other places always make me sad / No other city ever made me glad / Except New York, I love New York
Walking through the Arsenale, one would hardly know there was a difference between Bogota and New York. In fact it seems that Cairo is denser than New York, therefore...exactly—so what? The quality of the characteristics that make a difference between cities is leveled in this show by categories that have nothing to do with living in each place, such as stock market capitalization or the ranking of their commodity exchanges. Most of the cities appear to have been selected for politically correct purposes: one from continent A, one from continent B, and who knows why so many from South America? The show also suffers from extreme Google Earth–mania, an obsessive fascination with those satellite maps that are now available to everyone. But who experiences a city at 250 miles up in outer space?
In the end, the whole show should have been about New York—Manhattan, to be precise—in an attempt to understand why it is clearly the most exciting city on earth and the present-day capital of the world—I love New York!
If you don't like my attitude than you can F-off / Just go to Texas, isn't that where they golf / New York is not for little pussies who scream / If you can't stand the heat, then get off my street
The China Syndrome
Cathy Lang Ho
Editor, The Architect's Newspaper
China crops up often in the Biennale, which perhaps should not be surprising given its dizzying rate of urbanization and the extent to which its rapid development has affected global architectural and construction practices, not to mention the world's ecological balance. The Danish Pavilion followed curator Henrik Valeur's prompt: How can we improve people's living conditions without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life? The display presents the sort of dramatic statistics that Rem Koolhaas first introduced with his Pearl River research almost a decade ago, alongside theoretical projects by teams of Danish architects and Chinese architecture schools. Their fantastical gestures—business centers that resemble picturesque mountains, a peaking infrastructure-laden mega-wall circling a city—betray the sense that the country is still perceived, by too many in the world (including the Chinese themselves) as a tabula rasa.
Hungary had a quirkier approach to the topic of China as both a consequence and protagonist of globalization: Its pavilion was filled with artful installations made of cheap China-made toys: a canopy of chirping plastic penguins, a wall of plastic resin with repulsive furry toys imbedded within. The installation was part of a larger project, documented in a fine catalogue, investigating the impact of Chinese immigrants on the world's cities and of Chinese-made goods on life everywhere. It was one of the few projects that conveyed what I wish the Biennale accomplished more: how globalization and urbanization has affected people's lives. This was poignantly communicated in Hu Yang's Shanghai Living (2005), a photographic series displayed in the Italian Pavilion, showing a factory worker, shop-girl, office manager, and dozens of other Shanghai residents in their homes. Each is presented with a statement from the subject, personalizing the effects of the phenomena measured elsewhere in the Biennale.
Hu Yang's images are on display in C on Cities, a special photography exhibition in the Italian Pavilion, curated by the London-based publication C International Photo Magazine. Issue 3 is dedicated to its Biennale presentation, and is available through www.ivorypress.com.
Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
(Shanghainese general manager)
Up to now I am satisfied with my life, and I like photographing and collecting western art works during my leisure time. I have pressures, mainly from competition within the circle and requirement from inside. I want to do everything I can to promote Shanghai's photographing industry.
Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
We are leading a hard life and eat battercakes, pickles and a glass of water for all three meals. When our kids want meat dishes, we cook them an egg. We work more than 15 hours a day if it doesn't rain. We want our kids to be educated and not to live like us. I will risk anything for our kids to go to university. My eldest son is excellent and wins prizes every semester. I suffer being teased by local ruffians.
At the Hearst building on 57th Street, the trip up from street level on a side-skewed escalator embedded in a stepped glass waterfall feels a bit like scaling the sides of a pyramid. Reaching the mezzanine lobby of this old-new corporate headquarters is to experience a true sense of arrival, just as its architect Norman Foster surely intended.
The Hearst building is the most significant of the new crop of Manhattan icon buildings because it changes the terms of engagement. Instead of making itself known by powerhousing its way into the skyline like the Time Warner Center, Foster's first skyscraper in the United States enlists restraint and sophisticated technologies—qualities so much harder to grasp than a snappy image—to endorse a corporate brand. But whether all the advanced environmental, structural, or social engineering is for real or for show remains unclear.
The main lobby is a showstopper. Elevated three levels above the street, it is every bit as operatic—albeit with a sci-fi air—as the Aida-esque cast concrete original built by set-designer Joseph Urban and George P. Post in 1928, which has been preserved as a kind of orchestra pit from which the new skyscraper rises. Occupied by pharaonic phalanxes of 30-ton box columns and various mega-diagonals with artist Robert Long's six-story banner of mud art running up the core, this 35,000-square-foot space—which Foster calls the piazza—is rendered even more like a real town square since Urban's concrete walls have been stripped clean and furred out to look like the exteriors of, say, the walls of a Milanese bank building circa 1930. But instead of opening to the sky, the piazza is covered by a vast skylight. Tilting back in a cafe chair at Cafe 57 (aka the company canteen and the main occupant of the space), one stares right up at 36 stories of glass and steel muscle flexing its way to the skyline. Suddenly, the to-ing-and-fro-ing of people is reduced to an inconsequential shuffle, as soothing as the sound of the Jamie Carpenter–designed waterfall that has been computer programmed to mimic a babbling brook. Corporate confidence this suave is intimidating.
That makes it all the more significant that most of the building's rave reviews have dwelled not on Foster's magnificently controlled stagecraft but on its environmental and structural features. It's especially unusual given the business of its client: Hearst is a media giant, the third largest magazine company in the country, with a stable of titles including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen, and Esquire. For an empire fixated on image to put good works before good looks is a watershed moment in corporate branding strategy. In fact, Hearst is so proud of all the green stuff going on in the building that it has emblazoned its LEED Gold medallion right between the revolving doors leading into the building. And kudos to them for the 75 percent of the year that air-conditioners will be using outside air; the reduction in electrical energy use that can be estimated to be the equivalent of 1,074 tons of CO2; and the 14,000-gallon reclamation tank in the basement that is at the ready to supply some 50 percent of the water needed for all the building's plantings. And so on.
Not to diminish the building's very real accomplishments, but the United States is so far behind most European and Asian efforts when it comes to enacting sustainability measures that it's hard to get too excited about reducing electricity and water consumption. The building doesn't have nearly as many of the energy-saving strategies as Foster's Free University in Berlin and Swiss Re in London boast. In fact, its accomplishments as a green building are modest when compared to almost any other building by its own architect. It might rate well by local standards, but the truth is, every new skyscraper in New York should be LEED Gold–certified by now.
As for the diagrid structure, which has been described variously as a jack-in-the-box, a French-market net bag, and a hydraulic scissor-lift, it is derring-do of a higher order. The diagrid started out as a device to stiffen the east facade, which was necessary because the architects pushed the service core off-center, toward the western edge of the site, up against a neighboring 50-story apartment building. (They placed the core on that edge, reasoning that westward views would be blocked anyway by the apartment building.) But the diagrid looked so good, Foster went for the full wrap even though it creates floor plates that vary considerably in size, from 17,000 to 21,000 square feet. This is just another of the idiosyncrasies that a single corporate client can afford. At another point, the architects thought a cable rod running vertically through the building's corners might be necessary to steady any sway resulting from the 20-foot difference in floor-plate size at the extreme corners, but that became redundant once the longest beams were suspended from above rather than secured by a cantilever.
In a similarly productive collaboration between determined aesthetics and innovative engineering, the design team managed to come up with a way to make the lobby even more grandiose, in spite of structural necessities. (The space is already an impressive structural feat in that its skylight is the primary support for the old concrete shell of the Urban structure.) Foster was not going to let the opening between the modest ground-floor entrance and the spectacular mezzanine lobby look like some trap door from below. Instead, there is a gaping 80-foot-by-30-foot space through which the elevators rise, thanks to a specially devised ring beam that disperses the force thrust of all those mega-columns supporting the tower.
Traditionally, the job of corporate icons has been two-fold: to show off institutional might and to instill employees with slavish devotion. The Hearst building accomplishes the first of these tasks with impressive pizzazz. The office floors should please employees, too, even if views from some senior editorial offices are slashed right through with big fat braces. The plan is conspicuously open with cubicle walls that are lower than American Dilbert cells and higher than their Euro-equivalents. And all perimeter offices have glass walls allowing sunlight to flow in unimpeded.
Still, there's an overall sameness, even with the glorious conference corners where unimpeded glass meets vertiginous views. They made me think of the good-old bad days when hierarchies were more visible, even aspirational. Here, there's no art department ghetto where the music blasts and the walls are tacked-up with messy collages. There's no editor-in-chief lair with furnishings better than the rest, inspiring ambitious underlings to plot their climb up the masthead. All that sunlight is well worth the loss of outdated modes of status reinforcement, right?
But then deep in the heart of the building is the Good Housekeeping Institute. It is a strange and vital place where stacks of new products are piled around and row upon row of lab equipment sits at the ready to test everything from the latest washing machine from Miele to the next generation of Fruit Loops, all hoping for the coveted Seal of Approval. The Institute, with its messes and lab-coated technicians huddled at a counter sharing lunch, underscored the complete aesthetic control and good taste that practically smothers the rest of the building.
Since the 1920s, the Institute has held luncheons in a special dining room that has received numerous U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, as well as Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. Hearst executives decided to replicate the original dining room in the new 29th floor Institute—a Mount Vernon set piece, complete with black marble fireplace, sconces, rugs, and furnishings re-installed intact. Apparently, they think that our presidents are more comfortable in a colonial-style setting rather than in a space like the 46th-floor boardroom where two diagonal columns intersecting the northward view of Central Park etch a mighty V for victory.
The new Hearst building is a welcome addition to the Manhattan horizon. It may not dominate the skyline but it certainly raises the bar for the next corporate brand with ambitions.
Gross square footage: 856,000 sq feet
Total construction cost: $400 million (estimated)
Architect: Foster and Partners: Norman Foster, Brandon Haw, Mike Jelliffe, Michael Wurzel, Peter Han, David Nelson, Gerard Evenden, Bob Atwal, John Ball, Nick Baker, Una Barac, Morgan Flemming, Michaela Koster, Chris Lepine, Martina Meluzzi, Julius Streifeneder, Gonzalo Surroca.
Fit-out: Norman Foster, Brandon Haw, Mike Jelliffe, Chris West, John Small, Ingrid Solken, Michael Wurzel, Peter Han
Associate architect: Adamson Associates; Tishman Speyer Properties, development manager.
Engineers: Cantor Seinuk Group, structure; Flack & Kurtz, mechanical; VDA, vertical transportation.
Consultants: George Sexton, lighting; Ira Beer, food service; Gensler, interiors.
General contractor: Turner Construction
All Images: Chuck Choi / Courtesy Foster and Partners
Olivo barbieri / courtesy yancey richardson gallery
Italian photographer Olivio Barbien`s site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)
Downtown Los Angeles is misunderstood. To most observers, there is no there there. Like the rest of the great metropolis, downtown is amorphous, indecipherable, a suburb in reverse that is occupied by day and empty by night. Yes, we`ve got the Frank Gehryydesigned Walt Disney Concert Hallla crown jewel to rival any city`s crown jewel. (And, don`t forget, ours was designed first, before Bilbao!) But the concert hall stands in singular aloneness, surrounded by parking lots, drab government behemoths, and piles of granite and glass tombstones occupied by elite bankers and law firms. What L.A. needs now is some big-time infill.
To an extent, this is underway. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimated in February that there has been $12.2 billion worth of built and planned construction in the downtown area since 1999. Lofts and condos are hot. More than 26,000 new residential units have been added since 2000. Thanks to an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance that eased the city`s regulations for restoring older buildings, historic properties are being converted at an unprecedented rate. The city has a new cathedral by Rafael Moneo and a new state transit building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, while an arts school by Wolf Prix is the works. Meanwhile, local firm Rios Clemente Hale is designing a 40,000-square-foot plaza to anchor a 3.8-million-square-foot hotel-cum-mall-cum-residential-complex, known as L.A. Live!, adjoining the Staples Center, home court of the Lakers. The arena, which follows the nationwide trend of stadiums returning to cities` downtowns, is credited with a spurt of big-box growth at the south end of downtown since its opening in 1999.
Still, the view of a neglected and empty downtown persists because the city`s civic leaders, their developer patrons, and their acolytes in the press remain committed to transforming the admittedly grim but prominent civic center, which sits relatively removed from the rest of downtown, at the top of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill has suffered more from the misguided attention of city bigwigs and planners than perhaps any neighborhood in Los Angeles. In 1961, bulldozers began clearing hundreds of flophouses, SROs, fine Victorian homes, and small shopssthe very things that made it a genuine, lively community. More than 10,000 residents were displaced. In one way or another, the city has been trying to get them back ever since, but 50 years of urban renewal has produced an eyesore and an international embarrassment. This is the downtownn that gets all the attention, and is frequently mistaken for the city`s real, other, downtown.
olivio barbieri/coutesy yancey richardson gallery
Italian photographer Olivio Barbieri`s site specific_LOS ANGELES (2005)
Unfortunately, this predicament is perpetuated by relentless efforts to pour more capital into Bunker Hill. The latest, a $1.8 billion scheme, was given the official seal of approval in late April when, after nearly two years of anticipation, Gehry unveiled a design for what is called the Grand Avenue Project. The private-public development, headed by New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, aims to transform Grand Avenue into a destination not only for downtown but for the entire region,, in the words of one leading public official. When it`s all completed, we`re going to have Gehry in stereo,, he boasted.
Whether Gehry in stereo can convert a 9-to-5 bureaucratic stronghold into a 24/7 boomtown is anyone`s guess. Still, the mistake is one of interpretation. Downtown Los Angeles has several centers. Bunker Hill, which is cut off from the rest of downtown by geography and freeways, is a hilltop governmental-cultural ghetto. The action, as a more sober Frank Gehry used to admit, is elsewhere. (Gehry once famously said that if the choice had been his own, he would have built Disney Hall somewhere along Wilshire Boulevard. That street, which connects downtown to the beaches in Santa Monica, is, as Gehry said, our true downtown, only it`s vertical..)
Downslope from Bunker Hill is Broadway, L.A.`s oldest main street. You can`t find a stronger contrast to the arid altiplano rising several blocks to the west. Broadway is teeming. You can get your shoes shined on the street. You can pop into the Grand Central Market and stand at a counter to snack on marinated cabbage and gorditas. You can stroll the wide, bustling sidewalks, in search of a fedora or a wedding gown. You can get married on Broadway, and pick-pocketed, too. You can buy bootlegged Mexican movies and tiny packets of Chiclets chewing gum.
Broadway bustles because it has hundreds of ground-floor shops, tightly spaceddlike any good main drag. And as John Kamp, a local city planner points out, Broadway is also successful because it has so many bus stops. People come to Broadway because it is part of their everyday trajectory through the city, not a special trip to an unlikely destination.. The crowds justify high rents, which in some cases are higher per square foot than on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
A bit further south and east is another area on the rise, the Fashion District, which borders Skid Row. In the past several years, the neighborhood has sprung to life with none of the fanfare or money heaped on Grand Avenue. The district has, in fact, benefited by being overlooked. A vestigial industrial zone where building owners are not required to have front yards, rear yards, or other setbacks, it contains a large stock of urban-friendly buildings. Buildings typically have multiple entrances. One, on the 800 block of South Main Street, has 14. Others might have a dozen small storefronts in the span of 150 feet of sidewalk frontage. The pedestrian-friendly scale allowed wholesalers to open their doors to retail. While garment workers sew upstairs, fashionistas ply the streets below, hunting for cheap knock-offs and bargain trendy buys. Here, too, rents rival those on Broadway. Buildings are selling for as much as $570 a square foot.
These are but two examples of other downtowns. There are still others, such as Little Tokyo and the nearby Arts District, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. These parts are thriving not because someone has managed to give them a theme but because visually interesting, authentic, aurally stimulating businesses are pressed hard against the sidewalks. These are the parts of downtown Los Angeles that have never been relieved of the compression that brings urban life to the surface. Check them out, and you will see that Los Angeles has a downtown. It`s just not where you`re told to find it.
Greg Goldin is the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine and a regular contributor to the L.A. Weekly. He guest-edited this issue of AN.
FRANK GEHRY, KING OF THE HILL
In 1980, Frank Gehry was one of the more modest members of the "L.A. Dream Team" assembled to develop a visionary, but ultimately unrealized scheme to redevelop what remained of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, whose decaying Victorian mansions had been bulldozed 20 years before in the name of urban renewal. He was still regarded as an outsider seven years later when he won the competition to design Walt Disney Concert Hall in the same Grand Avenue area. Now he`s back as king of this particular hill, with schematic designs for the site he tried to reshape two decades ago.
Gehry Partners` proposal for Grand Avenue.
The popular and critical success of Disney Hall has endeared Gehry to the suits who run downtown, and their new bad boy is Thom Mayne, whose Caltrans building and iconoclastic approach to urban planning they consider dangerously radical. It`s their loss, and they`ll probably catch up, even if it takes 20 yearssjust as they did with Gehry, who has finally gained acceptance in his hometown.
The current iteration of the Grand Avenue Project attempts the same lively mix of uses and attractions as proposed by the original developer, the Maguire Partners and their Dream Team in 1980. Defying all the conventions of urban development, they wove together contributions by different architects, including a plaza by Gehry, a highrise residential tower by Barton Myer, an office tower by Cesar Pelli, a hotel-condo block by Ricardo Legorreta, fanciful pavilions by Charles Moore, a modern art museum by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, and landscaping by Lawrence Halprin. The plan included contrasting buildings surrounded by walkways, fountains, and greenery.
The proposal was widely acclaimed by the public and in the architecture press, but the Community Redevelopment Agency, a hapless band of amateurs, preferred Arthur Erickson`s sleek office towers. His scheme was a series of isolated objects with no connective tissue, and which failed to engage the street. The featured public amenity was Arata Isozaki`s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), but this was pushed below the street so as not to block the view of a shopping center on the site beyonddan element that was never built.
Twenty-five years later, Gehry is back, and has released a preliminary design that includes two L-plan towerssone of offices, the other for a hotel and condossthat act as frames for Disney Hall and a 250,000-square-foot retail-restaurant complex. This is the first of three phases in the $1.8 billion project, which will eventually comprise eight towers and a 16-acre park, to be designed by a team including the firms Rios Clementi Hale Studios and Levin & Associates. (Mayne was part of that team but was dropped by the developer, New Yorkkbased The Related Companies, in April 2005 for artistic differences. He was later replaced by Gehry, one of the initial competitors.)
Gehry`s May presentation at Disney Hall consisted of little more than a massing diagram. As it stands, there are no expressive gestures, and he offered few hints of how the scheme would be fleshed out. Skeptics wondered how great an influence The Related Companies would have on the design, and the extent to which it would be driven by retail imperatives. The ongoing fiasco at Ground Zero has undoubtedly reinforced a widespread cynicism about the contest between architecture and profit. (Gehry famously refused to submit a proposal for the original planning competition for the World Trade Center site, a decision that now looks incredibly prescient.) There is also the issue of whether one architect, however brilliant, can achieve unity and diversity through such an ambitious development, or whether parts should be delegated to other designers as in the old Maguire scheme.
The largest question, and one that will not be answered for at least a decade, is whether the Grand Avenue Project will animate the neighborhood as most downtown improvements have failed to do. In the wake of its loss on Bunker Hill, the developer, now called Maguire-Thomas Partners, spurred a redesign of Pershing Square, which had become as blighted as New York`s Tompkins Square Park. Legorreta understood how Mexican plazas work and landscape designer Laurie Olin drew on Rittenhouse Square, a lively oasis in his native Philadelphia. The block-sized park was opened to the street, colorful structures beckon pedestrians, but few enter except to retrieve their cars from the underground garage. As Robert Venturi once observed, Americans are reluctant to sit in outdoor public places except to eat and be entertained, and the city authorities failed to provide concession stands or programming. Even the crowds of shoppers a block east on Broadway ignored this one patch of greenery in east-central L.A. What does that say for the chances of the new park included in Gehry`s scheme?
Grand Avenue links some of the city`s most cherished public buildings, including the classic Central Library, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Disney Hall, as well as the Colburn Music School and the aloof citadels of the Music Center and Rafael Moneo`s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Even Disney Hall, everyone`s favorite new civic icon, hasn`t noticeably boosted foot traffic on the street, and most concertgoers arrive by escalator from the underground parking garage. The residential population of downtown has boomed over the last decade, and there has been a flurry of loft conversions and new apartment blocks. Urban homesteaders need shopping and services, but will they find those in the new retail center? For the newly crowned Gehry, this may be the toughest challenge of his 50-year career.
Michael Webb is a Los Angeles-based architecture critic whose most recent book is Adventurous Wine Architecture (Images Publishing, 2005).
IF YOU ADAPT IT, WILL THEY COME?
For more than 20 years, downtown Los Angeles has been the exclusive playground of bohemian artist-types who perferred cheap rents to Trauslen refrigerators and anonymity to swank eateries. not anymore. Downtown L.A. is slowly evolving into a collection of distinct neighborhoods each touting new high-end condominium and apartment conversion projects complete with rooftop swimming pools and fitness centers. You can even find an occassional cup of concrete-floored, skylit loft to your glass-enclosed office tower.
Newly minted lawyers, businessmen, and accountants, raking in mega starting salaries, think downtown will be a hot real estate market for years to come. Maybe it`s a chicken-and-egg situation, but they`re signing on to long waiting lists or pre-purchasing units before construction has even started. When the historic Douglas Building Lofts, renovated by Rockefeller Partners Architects, went on the market in 20044nearly 18 months before the Spring Street property was completeddall 50 units sold within a week. At the Flower Street Lofts, one of the first residential developments in the South Park district, several of the original buyers took advantage of the appreciating market and flipped their units within a year of purchase.
Emboldened by what appears to be an insatiable appetite for urban living, developers continue to increase unit prices, even as the rest of the L.A. market begins to flatten out. According to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID), in the first quarter of 2006 the average cost per square foot was $547.80, an astonishing 18.8 percent increase from last year at the same time. The market, in other words, is booming. Since 1999 nearly 7,000 new condominiums and apartments have been created in downtown Los Angeles. If all goes as projected by the DCBID, there will be nearly 20,000 more by 2015.
But, as the residents and workers in downtown Vancouver have learned, a thriving community won`t necessarily emerge just because you`ve built and occupied thousands of new units. Although one is in the works, up to now, there hasn`t been a grocery store downtown for decadessand Citarella or Whole Foods are far from the drawing boards. And no such thing as Sarabeth`s Kitchen or Frette is even imagined. Add to this a lack of community and no green space and downtown had little more to offer than lofty spaces with skyline views. Developers have worked to remedy this by enticing cafes and small businesses to open in the ground floors of residential developments, while others are creating courtyards and rooftop recreation areas. The uncertain promise is that there`s more to comeeenough to lure buyers out of the suburbs and into the core.
Clearly, an influx of new homeowners and businesses in downtown will be an economic boon for the city, but for the thousands of poor and homeless living in the area`s shelters and low-cost residential hotels, gentrification means one thing: eviction. Already, developers have converted several of the 240 hotels (many of them functioning as SROs) into market-rate apartments and condominiums. Fearful that more of the downtown poor will be displaced, the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a one-year moratorium on the conversion or demolition of low-cost hotels citywide, with the option for an extension. In an effort to further help the transient poor, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a $1 billion bond measure to pay for subsidized apartments. The funds would cover housing as well as social services. And other plans to bring improvements downtown are in the works. In March, L.A. County officials unveiled a $100 million campaign that would house the estimated 14,000 homeless concentrated on downtown`s Skid Row by expanding much needed countywide programs and providing more emergency and transitional housing, and health services. The campaign is part of a $12 billion investment plan to build 50,000 housing units countywide over a ten-year span.
Ten years ago nobody would have believed any of this was possible. And had it not been for the new public icons, Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Staples Center, it might not have been. And while major cultural and entertainment projects are no doubt paramount in a successful urban environment, the most important ingredient of all is the local population, be they new condo owners, low-income transients, factory workers, or artists. Finding a way for all income levels to thrive in the new downtown will be the challenge of city officials and developers.
Allison Milionis is a freelance writer living and working in Downtown Los Angeles.
mill street lofts
1820 Industrial Street
The Los Angeles office of German firm Behnisch Architects has designed one of the first ground-up, loft-style buildings in an area filled with adaptive re-use projects. We realized early on that because of the low scale of the surrounding buildings, if you built up you could offer amazing views of downtown,, said project architect Christof Jantzen. The building, developed by local firm LinearCity, stands 16 stories high and contains what Jantzen describes as eight different unit types,, ranging from 650 to 2,100 square feet and including single-, double-, and triple-story condos, some following the inverted L-shaped configurations that Le Corbusier used in his L`Unitt d`habitation in Marseilles.
In keeping with the spirit of the industrial loft conversions that surround the project, the project has a concrete structure with exposed concrete floors, tall ceilings, and large windows. The materials and fixtures used throughout will be sheet metal, fiber cement, and pre-cast concrete panelssall sustainable materials. In addition, operable windows, indirect sun-orientation, a gray-water treatment system, and a passive-cooling ventilation system might just earn the developer the LEED-rating it seeks. Adjacent to the 16-story highrise, a smaller set of townhousess shares the same material vocabulary as the loft building, though with more privacy.
I think the developers need to be highly praised for what they`re doing,, said Jantzen. They have a vision for the area that will transform it into a great neighborhood.. In 2004, LinearCity also developed and sold lofts in an adjacent building, the ToY Factory, and is engaged in another adaptive reuse project across the street, the Biscuit Company Lofts by Aleks Istanbullu Architects.
Biscuit company lofts
673 Mateo Street
When Paul Solomon, founder of the development group LinearCity, called Los Angeles- based Aleks Istanbullu Architects to transform a pre-existing factory into residential condos, the architect knew immediately that he wanted to do something different from a standard conversion. He wanted to design loft spaces that vary in size, plan, and character throughout the boxy building, a 1925 biscuit-baking factory formerly owned by the manufacturer Nabisco.
courtesy aleks istanbullu architects
The site comprises the 110,000 square-foot, seven-story main structure and a single-story annex; Istanbullu will add an additional floor to each, increasing the total square footage to 153,000 square feet. On the main building, Istanbullu created a large penthouse with extensive outdoor space. He transformed the existing annex into a set of three-story row houses by carving out a mezzanine and adding a floor.
According to Istanbullu, the architects decided to use the contrast approachh on the additions, by which he means making clear the distinction between old and new. The penthouse and the top floor of the annex are constructed out of steel, stone, and glass, though the colors were chosen to complement the brick building below. It will remain largely intact, though Istanbullu adjusted the circulation to create irregular interior spaces. I really wanted variety, to find and create unique units,, said Istanbullu. Although the building is a box, by shaping the hallways in an odd configuration, I could get a lot of plan varieties.. New structural walls in the core of the building were installed to bring it up to building code, while some pre-existing, non-load-bearing walls were removed to keep a feeling of openness.
The interiors will be minimally outfitteddmost won`t even include a refrigeratorrdominated by the pre-existing inch-thick maple floors, brick walls, and copper details. Like luxury loft-style condominiumns in New York City, prices will likely attract a wealthy clientele.
114 East 2nd Street
In 1996, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles initiated demolition of the 17,000-square-foot St. Vibiana Cathedral, its home since 1876, sparking a heated preservation battle that ultimately left it untouched and now the cornerstone of a major $120 million, 468,000 square-foot mixed-use development project by Los Angeles developer Tom Gilmore.
Courtesy Tom Gilmore
According to Gilmore, the Los Angeles Conservancy, a local preservation organization, approached him in 1997 and asked for assistance in purchasing the property, which includes a 2.5-acre lotta full city block. With money lent (somewhat ironically) by the Archdiocese itself, Gilmore bought the property for $4.6 million, pledging to restore the cathedral and ensure an active future for it.
Gilmore came to an agreement with the California State University to convert the cathedral into a performing arts space downtown, a plan that earned $4 million from the state toward the cost of restoration and seismic retrofitting.
I am an adamant urbanist,, said Gilmore, adding, I`m not a fan of little disconnected venues; I am all for density.. By transferring air rights from the cathedral and its connected refectory, Gilmore could plan a series of small mixed-use buildings and a 41-story residential highrise spread out throughout the site. We`re staggering the buildings and utilizing setbacks in order to create a pedestrian-friendly environment,, said Gilmore. Gilmore and his partner, Richard Weintraub, hired local architecture firm Nadel Architects to design the project, who began with massing diagrams to plan the site. The bottom line is that the skin and profile are less important than massing in a project of this scale,, Gilmore pointed out.
The $8 million restoration of the cathedral was completed last year, overseen by local preservation experts Levin & Associates Architects. The rest of the project is still in designnGilmore notes that the preliminary renderings are more flashy than I`d like to see themm?as the project goes through planning and zoning. Gilmore hopes the tower, which will have 2,200 square feet of ground-level retail fronting a parking garage, will break ground in the beginning of 2007 and be completed in 2009.
210 North San Fernando Road
One of the more notable adaptive-reuse conversions downtown is Santa Monicaabased Pugh + Scarpa Architects` restoration of the 1927 Fuller Pink Company, a former office building and a relic of L.A.`s art deco moment. Though not an official landmark, it sports stunning details, including pilasters, sculpted floral bas reliefs, and according to principal architect Gwen Pugh, a wonderfully preserved lobby..
courtesy pugh + scarpa architect
Pugh + Scarpa has restored the five-floor, 151,000-square-foot building and added two additional floors, creating a total of 102 units. The architects cored out the center of the concrete building in order to create a 40-foot-wide lightwell and room for a small interior courtyard. The rooftop addition has its own identity, clad in glass and corrugated metal. On the building`s north side, the metal cladding undulates in plan, contrasting with the cube on which it is perchedda gesture that, according to Pugh, is intended to divorce the skin from the boxx and make the original building`s undecorated north facade more interesting.. On all sides, irregularly placed balconies, resembling constructivist boxes, further disrupt the original building`s simple planarity.
The Lincoln Heights district is roughly 2 miles from downtown, in an area that`s still largely undeveloped (parking lots and empty plots far outnumber supermarkets). According to Pugh, the Fuller Lofts is the only project in the immediate vicinity that has been motivated by the city`s new Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which the city adopted in 1999 (and greatly expanded in 2003) in order to lure businesses downtown.
Frank Gehry`s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Rafael Moneo`s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Thom Mayne`s Caltrans headquarters have changed the way Angelenos understand their downtown. Spectacular, freewheeling, and deeply moving, these buildings have drawn crowds and made architecture relevant, and perhaps essential. So why haven`t more of the new public buildings followed suit? In the preceding decades, John Portman`s Bonaventure Hotel epitomized L.A.`s style, which typically meant being walled off from the street, virtually impenetrable, and wrapped in a one-way mirror. Now public buildings are increasingly incorporating plazas, street-level portals, and transparent facades. Though many public buildings still embrace the bunker mentality, it might reflect bad planning and site selection as much as architectural design: The city still has the habit of plopping security-conscious buildings cheek-by-jowl to public-conscious ones. Whole street elevations are permitted to go unarticulated and turn a barren carapace to neighbors. Several new public projects reveal how far L.A. has come, and how far it has to go.
central los angeles area
High School #9
450 North Grand Avenue
armin heiss / isochrom / courtesy coop himmelb(l)au
After the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Coop Himmelb(l)au`s High School for the Visual and Performing Arts may be one of the most dramatic structures to be completed in downtown L.A. The new structure, which began construction in March and is scheduled to openin 2008, will feature a dramatic glass and steel lobby and house 1,728 music, dance, visual and performing arts students. Estimated to cost $208 million, the signature feature of the school will be a 140-foot-tall tower that will give students a clear view of the adjacent Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
los angeles united states
First Street and Broadway
courtesy perkins and will
In 2001, Perkins + Will won a commission from the General Services Administration to design a 1,000,000-square-foot couthouse in downtown L.A. The 16-story building features approximately 40 courtrooms with floor-to-floor heights of 19 feet, along with some administrative office space and an expansive ground-floor atrium. Sustainability was crucial for the client and designers: Photovoltaic panels comprise about 50 percent of the large curving glass facade, under-floor circulation systems minimize heating and cooling costs, and clerestory windows throughout the courtrooms bring in natural daylight. The building is in still in design and construction should begin in mid to late 2007.
Los angeles police department headquarters
First and Main Streets
Filling most of the block across from City Hall, the L.A.P.D.`s new headquarters went through an extensive public review process while it was under design, and ultimately incorporated the lessons of over 30 community meetings. The architects, DMJM/Roth-Shepard Design, incorporated necessarily strong security requirements such as 75-foot setbacks to surround the building with public spaces. The 500,000-square-foot building`s two above-ground volumes form an L-shape around a large plaza along First Street. The budget is set for $303 million, and construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2008.