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If you find most new restaurants too sleek and cold, you need to visit the Oinkster, a new meat-centric Hollywood eatery from LA firm Design, Bitches. Among other things the duo was inspired by LA’s prolific burger joints, but wanted to create a space where diners would linger a little longer. The Oinkster’s original location is in Eagle Rock.
Inside what the designers call a “wonderfully strange” building that had been enlarged in piecemeal fashion over the years they uncovered existing wood rafters, brick walls, steel beams, and large windows. They inserted a colorful, eclectic arrangement of colors, textures, and spatial arrangements. Both the restaurant and its banquette-lined patio have been opened up significantly and connected to the surrounding area. The firm’s own graphics include red and white checkerboard patterns inspired by classic burger joints; blue and white checks inspired by Vans shoes, and a giant road sign easily seen from Vine Street.
If the political junkie’s current preoccupation is prematurely sizing up the 2016 presidential race, the architectural game of the moment is speculating where Barack Obama’s library will land once the 44th president has left office. Of course, here in Chicago we’re all but certain Obama will locate the physical manifestation of his legacy in his adopted hometown, where he taught law, launched his career in public service, and delivered victory speeches in 2008 and 2012. That’s still up in the air—New York, where he attended Columbia University, and Hawaii, his birth state, are both vying for the attention of a foundation tasked with establishing the library.
Why all the clamor? Conventional wisdom holds that a presidential library is an economic shot in the arm, a tourist boost and a longstanding attraction that wins its host city a burst of international attention. They’re usually privately funded and then handed over to the National Archive, so they’re bound to be a net positive to the area.
But how certain is this economic boost? A few years ago Illinois Institute of Technology Professor Marshall Brown corralled undergraduate and graduate architecture students in two different studios to examine the impact of presidential libraries past. Their research on 13 existing libraries did not resoundingly confirm the “build it and they will come” suspicions.
“It was interesting to find out, as far as we could find, no one had publicly compiled all that information before,” Brown told me in early June. It’s hard to draw blanket conclusions about economic impact—the size and location of the libraries vary greatly—but they’re generally not the boon they’re made out to be, at least in terms of raw numbers. Brown thinks the success of some libraries has to do with what they bring to the urban character of the neighborhood they end up calling home.
“They don’t attract that much energy on their own,” he said, “but if they’re sited correctly they can kind of add to what’s going on and act as a catalyst.”
Take Bill Clinton’s library in Little Rock, Arkansas. Situated between downtown and the airport, it fell on the decidedly urban end of the spectrum versus, say, Ronald Reagan’s library in suburban Simi Valley, California. Even JFK’s Boston site was in relatively remote Columbia Point. The Chicago locations proposed so far have mostly been around Hyde Park, so it seems, even at this early date, Obama’s should vie to be the first truly urban presidential library.
So let’s remember a few things as the conversation picks up. First, let’s look beyond the almighty dollar when we imagine what the footprint of this development might look like. Will it make room for public space, community programs, transit improvements? Will it announce its architectural significance in context, or land like a spaceship? (Or worse yet, compromise for conference center blandness.) Obama started his career in public service here as a community organizer. If Chicagoans want this library, let’s see communities from the North Shore to Northwest Indiana organize around great design. Tourist dollars chase great places, not the other way around.
In the 12 ½ years since the Twin Towers were destroyed in a ghastly act of international terrorism, the 16 acres known as Ground Zero have stood largely apart from the city. Now, the fences are down on the South and West sides of the site, and the Memorial Plaza is beginning to function as a public space. While Michael Arad’s pools are effective in reminding visitors of the scale and magnitude of the destruction, Peter Walker’s unfolding sequence of trees, benches, lawn, ivy, and pavers softens the plaza and allows visitors to experience it in a variety of ways. Some may not think of 9/11 at all.
The just opened 9/11 Memorial Museum ensures that the horror of that single day will never be scrubbed from the site, even as much of the acreage returns to commercial purposes. Given the subject matter, the architecture of the museum is almost beside the point, which is to say that it effectively frames and backgrounds the artifacts, images, and sounds that viscerally evoke the experience of that day and its wrenching aftermath.
Visitors enter Snøhetta’s iceberg-like visitor’s pavilion, which is light and airy, but marred by a TSA-style security screening station. Large angled windows look out on to the plaza leading to escalators that begin the descent into the below-grade museum designed by Davis Brody Bond.
The descent is a long one. The architects created a deliberate sequence of ramps, stairs, and escalators that take visitors 70 feet below ground, a process that takes between 10 and 20 minutes, creating significant physical and psychological distance from the city above. The effect is purposefully somber. It is hard not to think about death.
A handful of artifacts—like a massive steel beam from the World Trade Center and the so-called “survivors’ stair”—and a few panels of text and discreet video projections are integrated into the 600-foot-long ramp, which the architects call “the ribbon.” The ramps are wide, offering plenty of room for visitors to move at their own paces, either alone or with fellow visitors. “We tried to strike a balance between a contemplative and a communal experience,” said Carl Krebs, the project’s lead architect with Steven Davis, both of Davis Brody Bond.
Wenge hardwood lines the ramp that terminates in a switchback that overlooks a vast space with an expanse of the exposed slurry wall and the steel beam known as the “last column.” As the procession continues, the visitor becomes increasingly acclimated to the experience. Where the ribbon reaches bedrock there is a vast wall covered in a large installation by artist Spencer Finch, comprising nearly 3,000 blue panels in different shades, each representing one of the victims. The panels frame the controversial quote from Virgil, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” A private space for the families is located behind the wall, containing the unidentified remains of victims. Flanking the wall are two galleries, one dedicated to an exhibition about 9/11 (which could change over time) and a permanent exhibition dedicated to memorializing the victims themselves. The bedrock level also includes several other artifacts, such as a half destroyed fire truck and a fragment of an elevator mechanism.
The two galleries sit on the exact footprints of the towers and visitors cross over the line of the original foundations to enter them. The exterior of each gallery, which rises to the ceiling, is clad in foamed aluminum panels. The surfaces are carefully lit (lighting design was by Fisher Marantz Stone), giving them a slightly ethereal, shimmering quality. While following the exact outline of the towers, the design does not attempt to replicate their appearance. The nearly 100,000-square-foot museum is largely devoid of scenographic elements. “Memory, authenticity, scale, and emotion were the guiding principles of the design,” said Davis.
Compared to the expansive spaces outside, the galleries are heavily programmed, filled with thousands of images, videos, and objects. They are overwhelming in both general and highly personal terms. The experience is immersive. The exhibitions largely stick to the facts of that day. Didactic or interpretive narratives are largely absent. There is little to debate or to divide viewers. One possible objection may come in the relatively small amount of space devoted to the Pentagon Attack and the crash of United 93 in Shankesville, Pennsylvania.
As a New Yorker who was in the city on 9/11 and watched the towers fall from the East Village, I can attest that the exhibitions (designed by a team including Thinc, Local Projects, and Layman Design) effectively capture the confusion of that day. The museum is a powerful project of documentation for future generations.
While the museum smartly allows for a variety of responses, many visitors will walk away saddened, disgusted by the senselessness of the attacks, and moved by stories of lives lost. The museum shows humanity at its most depraved and its most noble. Some may be unsure of the purpose of evoking such horror, but few will forget what they have seen.
In April, when the 10 finalists in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild By Design competition presented their plans for a more resilient Northeast, the underlying question behind the initiative was: What’s Next? What—if anything—would actually come out of Rebuild By Design? Today, that question was answered.
At the Jacob Riis Houses, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Chuck Schumer, Governor Andrew Cuomo, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation announced that hundreds of millions of dollars are in place to implement BIG’s berm for Lower Manhattan, Scape’s living breakwaters off Staten Island, Penn Design/OLIN’s resiliency upgrades for the South Bronx, and Interboro’s strategies to protect Nassau County.
Later in the day, in Little Field, New Jersey, Secretary Donovan and Governor Chris Christie revealed that MIT’s plans for new parkland in the Meadowlands and OMA’s comprehensive flood protection system for Hoboken would also receive federal funds.
These six winning teams are out of an initial 148 who entered the competition last summer.
“Implementing these proposals is morally the right thing to do because they will save lives,” said Secretary Donovan at the day's first announcement. “But it also makes economic sense because for every dollar that we spend today on hazard mitigation, we save at least four dollars the next time disaster strikes.”
While the design and implementation specifics of each plan have not been finalized, the investment in these proposals is significant: $355 million for New York City, $185 million for New York State, and $380 million for New Jersey. The money comes out of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program and is in addition to the billions of dollars already being spent on resiliency projects led by the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA.
Courtesy OLIN/PENN DESIGN
At the announcement, Mayor de Blasio said that within the next four or five years, New Yorkers are going to see “a hugely different physical reality in this city.” And that is because these plans do more than protect against the water, they reimagine and reopen the city’s connection to it.
About 95 percent of New York City’s money goes toward realizing a section of BIG’s “Big U” proposal to wrap Lower Manhattan in a berm and green space. The new “bridging berm” along the Lower East Side will provide waterfront space for the neighborhood and protect 29,000 public housing units from the next storm. The city will also receive $20 million for continued study and planning as part of PennDesign/OLIN’s proposal for Hunts Point in the South Bronx, which is a regional hub for food distribution.
For New York State, $125 million will help fund Interboro’s proposal for Nassau County, which transforms the Mill River into a blue-green corridor. And another $60 million is set for SCAPE’s oyster reefs—or “living breakwaters”—to protect Staten Island’s South Shore.
In New Jersey, Hoboken will receive $230 million for OMA’s plan to flood-proof the city with a mix of hard and soft infrastructure. There is also $150 million set for the “New Meadowlands”—a public park designed by MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism.
Secretary Donovan said that the winning projects were chosen not just for their feasibility, but because they could best serve as models of resiliency for other vulnerable parts other country.
The Full List of Participants:
Team BIG: One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments.
Team Interboro: Apex, Bosch Slabbers, Center for Urban Pedagogy, David Rusk, Deltars, H+N+S Landscape Architects, IMG Rebel, NJIT Infrastructure Planning Program, Palmbout Urban Landscapes, Project Projects, and TU Delft.
Team OMA: Royal HaskoningDHV; Balmori Associates; and HR&A Advisors.
Team MIT CAU: ZUS + URBANISTEN with Deltares; 75B; and Volker Infra Design.
Team PennDesign/OLIN: R&A Advisors, eDesign Dynamics, Level Infrastructure, Barretto Bay Strategies, McLaren Engineering Group, Philip Habib & Associates, Buro Happold.
Team SCAPE: Parsons Brinckerhoff, Dr. Philip Orton / Stevens Institute of Technology, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, SeArc Ecological Consulting, LOT-EK, MTWTF, The Harbor School and Paul Greenberg.
At the dawn of the twentieth century Texas was a poor and rural state. Over the course of the next 100 years, the discovery of vast petroleum deposits hidden beneath its expansive landscape fueled the growth of the state’s economy and transformed it into the modern home of three of the nation’s ten largest cities. Wealth from the oil industry has bankrolled the skylines, cultural institutions, and politicians that have come to define the state.
Texas has experienced its fair share of oil booms over the past century and it is currently in the midst of what may prove to be one of the largest. Although oil and natural gas have been known to exist in shale formations for some time, until recently these deposits were too difficult to profitably extract.
Induced hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” as it has come to be called—is the process by which a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals is injected underground at high pressures, creating a network of small fractures that allows the embedded oil or natural gas to be removed. The technique itself is not new but the advent of directional drilling technologies made thin shale strata accessible to a degree never before possible.
The infrastructure required for these operations is large, complex, and proprietary. In order to shield the undertaking from prying eyes, many of the early drilling operations that tapped the Barnett Shale deposit in the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area attempted to conceal themselves behind large privacy screens that resembled the abstract land-art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
If the Barnett Shale acted as a proving ground for induced hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, the Eagle Ford Shale demonstrated that the technique could be adapted for the extraction of oil on a vast scale. The formation itself is a 400-mile-long subterranean rock stratum that has proven to be one of the largest plays in recent memory. Although there is no obvious visible surface delineation of this particular underground formation, the activity occurring above it has made the region clearly visible from space. NASA imagery shows the lights and gas flares associated with drilling operations illuminating a wide swath of land between San Antonio and Laredo.
Even if the mobile drilling rigs and pump jacks directly associated with oil extraction are perhaps the most obvious relics of an oil boom, they are not the most significant. The true architecture of fracking is much more banal.
In just a few short years, small towns such as Pleasanton, Three Rivers, and Cotulla have seen their populations explode as drilling operations expanded in the region. Undeveloped tracts of land on the once deserted highways leading into these and other towns are now home to a myriad of structures hastily built to support the wells and those drilling them. In addition to vast quantities of water, sand, and chemicals, drilling for oil requires steel pipe as well as welders to connect it and trucks to transport it. Towns that once had a single stoplight now sport multiple hotels and restaurants that constantly operate at capacity. Billboards now display advertisements for trucking services as well as for attorneys representing those injured in trucking accidents. In just a few short years these small towns have developed sprawling edges of suburban development.
Even if most of this pattern of development is familiar, the boom has given rise to at least one new building typology—the man camp. Filling a need for housing in between a hotel and an apartment, these camps exist as arrays of RVs or low-end mobile home trailers and offer minimal accommodations for subcontractors working far from home. These temporary villages sit empty for most of the day until a shift change occurs and the parking lots fill with dusty pickup trucks returning from the oil field. Rents at these Spartan villages might run as high as $1,200 for a 400-square-foot cabin although this can be reduced if a single bed is shared between a day and night shift worker.
Inflated prices burden local residents and transient workers alike. Gasoline, groceries, and rent have become more expensive and traffic has become considerably worse than it ever was before the boom. Some local residents might benefit by selling land, its mineral rights, or by entering the service industry, but those who rent or are on fixed incomes have a much harder time.
The Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio has conducted research on the impact of the Eagle Ford Shale. In 2013, it released a study that reported that drilling in the Eagle Ford added more than $61 billion to the economy of a 20-county region in Central and South Texas in the previous year. The study forecasted that drilling operations would directly or indirectly generate 127,000 jobs in the coming years.
Of course, this prediction is predicated on the notion that the demand for oil remains high and the price of oil remains constant. The profitability of a drilling operation in the Eagle Ford play or anywhere else ends as soon as the price of a barrel of oil drops below the cost of its extraction. And when it falls below that level, companies will begin to pull out of the region. It is thus a race against time to extract as much oil or natural gas as possible before the price drops.
The challenge for towns such as Pleasanton, Three Rivers, and Cotulla is to ride the wave of the boom while building a sustainable community that will survive after it has subsided. While these communities now have the funds to invest in schools, parks, and other public amenities, they also are facing infrastructure demands unlike anything they have seen before. Managing this sort of rapid growth is difficult, but planning for a post-boom future is harder still. Making matters worse, the kinds of structures currently going up are not easily repurposed. When the boom ends these small towns will have little need for all the hotels, restaurants, and big box retail stores that are now proliferating across the landscape, and the long-term environmental effects of the chemicals associated with induced hydraulic fracturing are as yet unknown.
Located in the Permian Basin in west Texas, much of Midland’s surprisingly well-developed skyline sat empty through the oil busts of the 1980s. The recent tapping of the shale deposits of the region has reignited its economy and, in what promises to be one of the more obvious symbols of the manic optimism of a boom mentality, developers have proposed building a 58-story mixed-use tower in this city of 111,000 (“Boom Town” ANSW 01_11.26.2013). Designed by Edmonds International and dubbed the “Energy Tower at City Center,” this structure would be more than twice the height of its tallest neighbor, not to mention the sixth-tallest tower in the state.
Needless to say, this monument to the most recent oil boom would radically transform the skyline of a city that is itself a product of an earlier boom. But the real architecture of fracking is much more mundane. It is the Chili’s restaurant built on what a year ago was an open pasture. It is a cheaply built man camp where oil workers spend their evening alone in their rooms. It is the small south Texas town whose population has ballooned with the boom and, in the process, become unrecognizable to the people who once called it home.
The appointment with Oscar Niemeyer on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. was confirmed on Tuesday and I decided to fly early Wednesday morning to Brasilia. The day in Brasilia was spent moving constantly from one place to the next with some architecture students from the University arranged by Marcia Kubitschek (governor of Brasilia at this time and a personal friend of mine from her New York days). My only break was a peaceful and intimate lunch with Marcia at home in the gated community reserved for ambassadors. After a late night flight back to Rio on Thursday morning, a bit exhausted, I walked around the center of old Rio and in the afternoon headed to Copacabana beach for my appointment. Oscar greeted me at the door and introduced his nephew and assistant and led me to the double bay window looking east across to the islands just off the bay coast. From the tenth floor, the street and beach were part of the vast panorama. We sat on the window seat with Oscar perched at the corner softly sizing me up as he spoke in Portuguese and me in Spanish. His soft and deliberate voice included some hard looks and emphasis from time to time. What was I doing and thinking in architecture and politics? For him there wasn’t any difference—they are intertwined. After these preliminaries he took me into his small office, asked me to sit down across from a desk against the wall with a chair on either side. Where the table met the wall a Weston photograph of two naked women was hung: one lying up and the other down without legs or heads. This was a conversation piece and as he lighted a little cigar he said that this is the landscape, the source, and the raison d’etre of his life and work. I enjoyed the smell of the fine tobacco and we talked about my work. I showed him just one building recently completed on the littoral side of greater Caracas. He commented on the round balconies on each end. He asked if the red brick was load bearing or rather a skin hung on a reinforced concrete structure.
He had recently completed the Memorial for Latin America campus in Sao Paulo and these buildings were on his mind when discussing architecture and, at the same time, the world disaster of capitalism and how the Brazilian state was uselessly corrupt. I asked about certain buildings and he answered succinctly about some ideas of structure and space. Suddenly he got up and took out a sheet of tracing paper. He asked his nephew to tape it on the wall and began to draw standing with a magic marker a linear synthesis of the conversation we just had.
The sketch (above) includes eleven images and addresses seven or eight buildings in plan, section, and axonometric views. Each sketch is a narrative and answers some questions raised in our discussion. This sheet of tracing paper shows his thinking but also his creative process at this point in his life. It is reductive shorthand—a Matisse-like line against the void.
On the upper left we find Niemeyer’s section drawing of the Museum of Modern Art Caracas, 1954–55, in Bello Monte, which was to have been built on the edge of a promontory and to have formed part of a new urbanization developed by Innocente Palacios, his client. The building has only one foundation. Niemeyer claimed that this would not disturb the hill on which it would sit and from this one point grows an inverted pyramid, making a glorious roof garden for sculpture and plants. Even unbuilt, it remains the key project in his career from the early Corbu inspired and extraordinary work in Bello Horizonte towards the generic and schematic envelope building so prevalent today. His Museo do Arte Contemporanea built in 1991 in is a smaller circular version of this idea.
The drawings near the center are of the theater building in the campus of The Memorial de Latino America in Sao Paolo. The focus is the singular horizontal, rather than vertical support. The drawings reveal just one mega beam holding the shell of the curved roof for the theater pavilion. Just below is a generic pavilion differentiated by the use of a typical exterior, a structural frame from which to hang the interior elevated spaces. This leitmotif of separating the structure from the interior space is prevalent in many of his projects. Moreover, the independence of structure and space gives us the sensation when seen from the outside that the space is a container held in the air. One of Niemeyer’s last buildings for the municipal government of Bello Horizonte hangs the public rooms from the super structure, or you might say that the container of the use/space is groundless. On the center right is an elevation and section where he drew a box-like structural frame sitting on short pyramidal foundations. The elevation is organically inflected, almost as if cast by a dinosaur bone. Below this is an arched elevation transforming the Miesian, or Brasilia-type model to one that is discontinuous—a module of arched frames that are non-repetitive—related to the Milan project or perhaps to the Algeria project. The bottom right is a site plan with a curved building in the center and he underlines the lower left side indicating the problem of a rectangular building and its four facades. An arrow points to the lower left drawing an organic fetus-like building with the entrance expressed by a slight fold. Could we take this polemic one step further? Luis Barragan said to Louis I. Kahn when he was working on the Salk Institute that a building has five facades. The fifth faces the sky.
When Niemeyer came to New York for the 1939 world’s fair, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia awarded him the key to the city, honoring Brazil’s pavilion (Lucio Costa and Paul Lester Wiener did the interiors.) Next time Niemeyer came to New York, in 1949, was to participate in the UN design competition, organized by Wallace Harrison. The world’s institution was to be built on the Rockefeller’s land. But because of Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of the far-left, before Eisenhower’s election, Niemeyer was becoming persona non grata in the USA. His membership in the communist party became a problem for the CIA and, as a result, Niemeyer refused to ever step foot in the country again or to speak English. When exiled by a military coup in Brazil, he chose to go to Paris. His work in Paris began with the commission for the communist party headquarters. He became an international figure, with projects in France, Algiers, Italy, Libya, and Nicaragua. His furniture design is interesting, comfortable but awkward, looking perhaps intentionally so against normal “design” criteria.
His communism was deeply rooted and he celebrated the birth and death dates of Stalin. Ironically, at the very end of his life, he gave the Venezuelan military regime a gift of a memorial project in the shape of an inclined missile. Even in his “senile” period Oscar Niemeyer fought against nature through the poiesis of architecture.
To his last breath he fought for architecture.
When the plan to build Louis I. Kahn’s memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt on the south point of Roosevelt Island in New York City was reinvigorated in 2006, the idea was understandably met with a high degree of skepticism: “Roosevelt’s dead, who cares?” “An architect’s work should never be built posthumously.” “You’ll never be able to achieve what Kahn would have wanted.” “It’s an outdated relic from the 1970s.”
So it begs the question, why build it at all? First off, the project never lay dormant for long. The memorial was part of the plan to reinvent Welfare Island in the late 1960s, and was first publically presented when the island was renamed for Roosevelt in 1973. It stopped briefly after Kahn’s untimely death in March 1974, but was more decisively derailed by the city’s fiscal crisis in 1975. However, the effort to build it never really ceased; it just fell out of the public eye. Fortunately, Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, who had been part of the initial efforts in the 1970s, remained its champion throughout the succeeding decades tenaciously fighting off one alternate use after another to keep the site open for its promised purpose.
By the mid 2000s, funding to construct a park without the FDR Memorial created a “now-or-never” moment. The Reed Foundation initiated an exhibition on the Kahn project that brought it to the public’s attention and started a wider dialogue. It was as co-curator of that show, mounted in January 2005 at The Cooper Union, that I first became involved with Kahn’s design. Subsequently, I established the project office in 2006 with seed money from Alphawood Foundation Chicago and with no absolute certainty the project would be built. And yet, by all portents it seemed the stars were coming into alignment; perhaps the project had not been completed before simply because it wasn’t the right time.
The skepticism that greeted the renewal of the project was certainly justified. There were many practical decisions to be made such as how to address the rising sea level and how to design the foundations to account for the seismic code that did not exist in the 1970s were overwhelming. Most difficult was how to make all the required changes yet keep the Kahn design intact—all without Kahn’s input. Kahn was known to be intensely involved in the building process and frequently redesigned projects as they were being built. We couldn’t go to him for advice.
There were more elusive issues, questions that hit on the intangibles: Can a posthumous work be an authentic work of its author? What makes a Kahn, a Kahn? Several of his most famous works (Yale Center for British Art and the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh, among them) had been completed posthumously, so at least there was precedent. Ultimately, the majority of these concerns were overcome.
From the start, a mandate was set to build the memorial exactly as dictated by the 1975 set of construction documents, with whatever changes had to be made for current code compliance. It was clear from the drawings that construction would be challenging. Kahn had specified large solid granite blocks, some weighing up to 36 tons apiece, and the tolerances for fabrication and installation were exceedingly tight: the design was dimensioned to 1/32nd of an inch. The finish of the granite was to be “saw cut,” an unforgiving method of production which yields a matte surface engraved with the marks of the saw and allows little room for error.
There were logistical and delivery complexities as well. The site is situated on the tip of an island in the middle of a tidal strait that boasts some of the swiftest currents in North America and one of the shortest slack tides in the world. The 36-ton blocks had to be barged to the site and off-loaded using a floating crane brought in and out on a tight schedule driven by a very narrow window between changing tidal currents. On top of all this, Roosevelt Island is city-owned land that was leased to New York State, which makes even the most basic jurisdictional questions difficult to answer and complicates the regulatory, permitting, and approvals process.
Whenever there was a tough choice that had to be made, what drove the outcome was respect for Kahn’s intent as far as it could be divined through the archival record and his known methods and attitudes towards his architecture and its making. There were some who thought it a ridiculous expense to build with solid granite, arguing instead those elements could be constructed out of concrete with a granite veneer and achieve the same appearance. “No one will ever know the difference” was the rationale. But Kahn was never superficial. A material’s surface should express its substance and the story of its fabrication. What one cannot see does indeed matter. A wall made of plaster on lathe may not appear to the untrained eye to be markedly different from one of sheetrock over metal studs, but there is a difference, and a perceptible one at that. A plaster wall has a different aural quality, a different density, a different warmth.
Throughout the entire construction process, the fight to retain the integrity of Kahn’s design remained uppermost. Sometimes outrageous, yet well-meaning, suggestions were made. Kahn had specified that the 36-ton blocks that make up the walls of what he called the “Room” be polished on the two faces that oppose the open one-inch joint between them. One misguided architect maintained that it would be cheaper to fabricate and easier to install if those same elements were flame finished on all four sides, arguing that the homogeneity would ensure the contractors could not get it wrong. But Kahn was not about what was easy or cheap or expedient. And, though I wondered as to the purpose of that detail, it was not mine to change. It took completion of construction to supply the answer: the shimmer of light off the polished inner surface is what allows the visitor to see through the 6-foot deep dimension of the joint and, if that person’s view is aligned perfectly with the joint, produces the illusion that a solid 36-ton mass of granite is a thin plane of material. These nuances are what make Kahn’s work such genius. Needless to say, if the contrast of the saw-cut finish versus the polished surface had been changed, this little bit of magic would have been lost.
The kind of magic evoked by the phrase “coming to light” suggests a latent form that emerges slowly through some preordained process without much external human input or effort, like a photograph that appears by way of a chemical reaction. It was an apt title for the 2005 exhibition, and, in retrospect, an ironic one.
Kahn’s architecture is simultaneously immediate and timeless. It seems inevitable, as though it somehow appeared without effort and has always been there. Kahn famously said, “…what was, has always been, what is, has always been, and what will be, has always been…” The memorial now seems as though it has always been part of the landscape of the island and the city. This sense belies a grueling process of creation. There is something in the DNA of a Kahn work that makes it particularly challenging to execute. His insistence on perfection, his attention to the smallest detail, his demand for the highest quality work, and his exacting tolerances, were exhausting to replicate. And yet, all that was the source of his genius and the reason why nearly every single built work of his is a masterpiece. It is also likely the reason why so few works were actually completed and what was built took such a toll on Kahn’s life.
In the end, it was the sum total of every individual, hard-won, excruciating detail and decision that made the completed project as precise as Kahn would have demanded. Through the long and arduous process, I often thought of a line from Beckett’s play, Endgame: “Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap…”
Oklahoma is a state that just keeps going. From the evacuated mining towns of Tar Creek, to the historic Dust Bowl departures on the Panhandle, to the oil and gas pipelines coursing under its rolling terrain, Oklahoma is a state of transition. From east to west, it is the third widest state in the lower 48, after Texas and Montana. Looking at a map of the USA, Oklahoma looks like a failed attempt to keep Texas from being simply too damn big. The Red River is the wiggly line along the bottom, separating it from Texas, but the rest is straight lines of longitude and latitude.
1 Initial Point
A close inspection of the state lines at the western edge Oklahoma’s panhandle shows that the 35 miles of its boundary shared with New Mexico do not line up with the otherwise straight 300 mile line dividing New Mexico from Texas. This is because the boundary between New Mexico and Texas was set along the 103rd Meridian, as located by a Spanish survey in 1819. When Oklahoma Territory’s panhandle was surveyed in 1890, using more modern and accurate methods, it was discovered that the 103rd Meridian was actually more than 2 miles east of where the early Spanish survey had it. New Mexico was quite upset about this discovery, as it meant that it had lost more than 600,000 acres to Texas. Over the years the state legislature has made demands for reparations, including monetary compensation, even as recently as 1991, though no action has been taken.
The west side of the state is that curious cartographic appendage, a 165 mile-long, 35 mile-wide panhandle sitting atop Texas’ panhandle (which, being square, looks alot less like a panhandle). These overlapping panhandles are similar terrain, blanketed by cattle, cotton, and wheat, irrigated by the Ogallala aquifer, below which is gas extracted and circulated in a subterranean highway of pipelines. Oklahoma’s panhandle is a remnant, and the last piece of federal land in the contiguous United States to be surveyed by the federal government. Texas would have covered it, joining Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, all lined up along the 37th parallel of latitude, but when Texas joined the Union in 1845, a federal statute known as the Missouri Compromise was in effect, outlawing slavery north of 36½ degrees. Texas, wanting to stay a slave state, ceded its terrain north of that line to the federal government in 1850. Half a degree of latitude is 35 miles. By 1861, the boundaries of New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and the Oklahoma Territory were established along the 37th parallel. That left this rectangle, the former top of Texas’s panhandle, a no man’s land, a state without a state, a hole near the middle of the nation. A federal survey was finally made of this area in 1890, and the unassigned Public Land Strip, as it was known, was officially added to Oklahoma Territory, which joined the Union in 1907 as the 46th state.
3 Kerr McGee Cimarron Plant
This plant, located in north central Oklahoma, once made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. It is famous as the site where Karen Silkwood worked and was exposed to radiation that threatened her life. She gathered what she said was evidence of corporate wrong-doing at the plant, including the possibility that she, an outspoken activist for workers at the plant, was being intentionally poisoned with radiation. In November 1974, she was on her way to a meeting with a reporter from the New York Times when her car veered off the road and crashed into a culvert, killing her. Suspicions of foul play abounded, and Silkwood, a film made in 1983 about her, supported them. Kerr-McGee closed its nuclear fuel plants in 1975, and this one was officially decontaminated and shuttered in 1994. Some of the buildings remain, but nobody works on-site.
4 Oklahoma Salt Works
Just after the panhandle connects to the pan of Oklahoma, near the town of Freedom, is Cargill Salt’s solar production plant. It is one of only a few places in the country where salt is produced in large quantities by solar evaporation (most salt that is consumed is mined from large deposits underground). Solar evaporation requires a large amount of surface area and water to make shallow ponds, a dry and sunny atmosphere, as well as a source of salt to extract. Cargill, the largest salt company in the country, only operates in this manner at two other locations in the country: in the San Francisco Bay and at the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where the source of salt is the naturally salty water. Here, in high and dry western Oklahoma, the salt in the groundwater along the Cimarron River is high enough to be used to make salt by evaporation.
5 Lone Mountain Waste
Remoteness from anything but the local is a quality of northwestern Oklahoma, and an attraction for things that support the industries of away. It is not surprising then to find the Lone Mountain Landfill there, a hazardous waste site operating on a national scale. Operated by Clean Harbors LLC, the nation’s largest hazardous waste company, Lone Mountain treats materials on-site, including liquids and PCBs, to help stabilize them before they are buried in the expansive mounds on the property. The site, near Little Sahara State Park and Wayonka, is one of seven commercial chemical waste landfill sites operated around the country by the company. Two are in California, one each in Colorado, Texas, Utah, and North Dakota.
6 Southard Gypsum Mine and Plant
Oklahoma is sometimes ranked as the largest domestic producer of gypsum, and this facility in the northwestern part of the state is one of a few major mines and plants for the material in the state. It is operated by U.S. Gypsum, the largest manufacturer of gypsum products in the country, which includes wallboard, joint compound, and ceiling panels, some of the most common materials used in building construction. Despite the nationwide reach of the company, it operates only eight mines and quarries in the USA.
7 Fort Sill
Fort Sill is a major artillery test and training center for the Army, located on 94,220 acres (147 square miles) in southwestern Oklahoma. It was originally established in 1869, as an outpost to fight the local Plains Indians. The legendary Apache Geronimo was among the hundreds of Native Americans imprisoned here, and he is buried on the base. During World War II Japanese Americans were held here, as well as German POWs. Today at least 20,000 military and civilians work and train here every year.
8 Will Rogers Airport
Will Rogers Airport, the main airport for Oklahoma City, is the location for the Federal Aviation Administration’s training site for air traffic controllers. The FAA campus, called the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, is on the west side of the airport, and has other training and technology programs as well, employing up to 5,500 people. The airport is named after the famous entertainer, who was from Oklahoma. The city also operates the Wiley Post Airport north of town, named after the celebrated pilot and aviation pioneer. Wiley Post and Will Rogers died together in 1935, in a plane crash.
9 Oklahoma City Memorial
The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was destroyed in the 1995 bombing that took 168 lives. A memorial was dedicated in 2000, and includes a reflecting pool on what was once the street where the Ryder truck full of explosives was parked, and the Field of Empty Chairs, one for each of the people killed, on the ground where the damaged building once stood.
10 Tulsa Aircraft Maintenance Center
Tulsa’s Airport is a major maintenance center for civilian aircraft. It is the site of American Airlines’ aircraft maintenance and engineering center, likely the largest aviation maintenance facility in the country. It is the principal facility for the airline’s global operations, and employs 6,400, including 4,700 licensed aircraft mechanics. Next door, Spirit Aerosystems makes wings and other parts for Boeing, in a former Rockwell aircraft plant. Next to that is a ¾-mile-long building once used to make bombers, now mostly used to make school buses.
11 Cushing Tank Farm
Though the refineries from its boom years earlier in the century are gone, the town of Cushing, northeast of Oklahoma City, is a major storage site for crude oil and gas that comes and goes by pipeline. Cushing also became famous as a trading benchmark for the industry, when in 1983 the New York Mercantile Exchange selected the price that a 42-gallon barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude is trading for at Cushing, as an amount reflecting the general price of oil in the global marketplace. Cushing developed as a holding point between supply coming principally from Texas, and demand, the markets of the north and northeast, like Chicago, to which it is connected by transcontinental pipeline. Cushing would be the southern terminus for the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta, should it be built. Several companies operate tank farms south of town, including Magellan, Enbridge, and PXP, with a total capacity of more than 30 million barrels in around 300 above-ground tanks.
12 McAlester Ammunition Plant
An active Army ammunition plant in southeastern Oklahoma, and the principal manufacturing location for the bombs dropped by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines in America’s wars since at least 2002 (McAlester has grown as other federal ammunition plants have moved the work here over the years, such as Illinois’ Savanna Army Depot). It was established in World War II as one of a network of Army Ammunition plants around the USA. During the Vietnam War it produced 6,000 bombs a day. Today, production amounts are classified and fluctuate based on current demands. Most of the bombs made here are outfitted with guidance control systems that are added at contractor facilities elsewhere by Boeing, Raytheon, and other weapons makers. The 45,000-acre installation has over 2,400 explosives magazines, most of which are in use. The facility also has disposal and training functions. Around 3,000 civilian and contractor personnel are employed here.
13 Tar Creek
The northeastern corner of Oklahoma was once the largest lead and zinc mining district in the nation–perhaps half the bullets fired by Americans in World War I were made of lead from here. The mines, shut down in the 1960s, undermine the district, leading to surface collapse. Dusty piles of tailings contaminated with lead cover many square miles. These unsafe conditions, and proven health problems with residents in the area, including a high concentration of children with cognitive disabilities as the result of lead poisoning, eventually led to the evacuation of several towns. The federal government declared the region, the Tar Creek drainage area, a Superfund site in 1983. The EPA started buying out residents in 2006. Homes and businesses were moved and torn down over the following years, a process which still continues. Some refuse to leave.
14 Interstate-Spanning McDonalds
What has been called the largest McDonalds in the world spans an interstate highway in Oklahoma known as the Will Rogers Turnpike. The first restaurant to operate inside the building was the Glass House, an early chain specializing in highway travel plazas. A Howard Johnson’s also operated there for a while. McDonald’s has been the primary tenant occupying the 29,000 square foot space for a few decades, though it shares the space with other tenants, thus possibly disqualifying it from the “largest McDonald’s” claim. A McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida is said to have 25,000 square feet.
15 Totem Pole Park
An unusual park with a dozen brightly painted and sculpted totem poles made of concrete. It is the work of Ed Galloway, a former teacher at a nearby orphanage, who retired to this small farm property in 1937. He began work that year on the largest structure on-site, which he completed 11 years later when it was 90 feet tall. There are chambers inside the concrete tower, which was called “the largest totem pole in the world.” Galloway died in 1962, and much of his work at the site fell into disrepair. Preservationists arrived in the 1990s, and the sculptures were repaired and repainted. It is now an officially recognized historic site. Though Ed Galloway said he made all these things just as something to do, Totem Pole Park is another landmark in the “Cowboys and Indians” identity of Oklahoma.
16 Sequoyah Fuels Gore Plant
A uranium processing plant near the town of Gore, in eastern Oklahoma, originally operated by Kerr McGee. It opened in 1970, as one of only two non-government plants in the nation processing uranium hexafluoride for the nuclear industry. A depleted uranium metal facility operated for seven years on the site as well. It became famous for an industrial accident in 1986, where a cask of material exploded, killing one worker and hospitalizing dozens more. The plant was sold to General Atomics in 1986, and was forced to close in 1992, following another accidental release of radioactive material. Clean-up of the site continues.
17 Port of Catoosa
The Port of Catoosa is an industrial park northeast of Tulsa, at the end of a constructed waterway known as the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The system is a re-engineering of the Arkansas River and portions of other rivers with dams, canals, and locks, completed by the Army Corps in 1971. It extends for 445 miles, from the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa, enabling ocean-going barges to travel more deeply into the interior of the country. The industrial park at the Port of Catoosa has around 60 companies and around 3,500 people working there. It is referred to as the most inland ocean going port in the nation.
San Francisco, CA
At the heart of San Francisco’s Market Street renaissance is a pair of buildings between 9th and 10th streets, former furniture warehouses reborn as creative office space. “I thought, if you really want to do something and leave a mark, the old furniture mart was a great opportunity,” said architect Olle Lundberg. “[When it closed] it created this incredible dead zone on Market. Having nothing in there created an inherent problem. Who would move in there to have enough of an impact to make it work?”
The answer is Twitter, which recently moved its global headquarters to 1355 Market. The Twitter offices, designed by Lundberg Design and IA Interior Architects, breathed new life into a downtown Art Deco landmark. An outstanding example of adaptive reuse, the complex, known as Market Square, is the result of collaboration between real estate investor Shorenstein and multiple design firms.
Market Square comprises two buildings, 1355 Market and 1 TENth (formerly 875 Stevenson), and The Commons, a park built over Stevenson Alley. The centerpiece of the project is 1355 Market, constructed in 1937. Massive floor plates and low ceilings characterize the 800,000-square-foot building’s interior, while its 11-story elevation is clad with terracotta and features a Mayan motif.
With support from historic building specialists Page & Turnbull, RMW Architecture & Interiors renovated 1355 Market’s exterior and public floors. The facade was left largely unchanged, with only the windows and ground-floor storefronts replaced. The interior was a different story. The lobby of 1355 Market Street had been renovated in the 1980s, its Art-Deco fixtures replaced and walls covered with glass mirrors. The designers removed the mirrors and used historic photographs to recreate period lighting fixtures. They also repainted the lobby’s decorative plaster ceiling.
The building’s other defining feature is a series of two-story concrete columns that had been obscured by the furniture showrooms’ walls. RMW cleared these out to create Stevenson Hall. The columns were “a driving force for the interior architecture,” said Terry Kwik, a principal at RMW. “All of the architecture was really designed to emphasize that portion of the building.”
The designers added a second lobby, accented with Douglas fir beams reclaimed from a 1941 addition to the building. Around the new elevators, RMW created a concrete core, which, with the addition of shear walls, satisfied California’s rigorous seismic retrofit requirements. The firm also installed all new MEP infrastructure and doubled the number of bathroom fixtures on each floor. These upgrades helped earn Market Square LEED Gold certification.
At 1 TENth, the design team found less worth saving. Built in the 1980s as a furniture showroom, the concrete building’s small windows made it unsuitable for office space. RMW re-skinned the building in glass. “Literally every bay was cut out,” said Kwik. “It’s a whole new building now. Before you would only look out 3-by-3 windows. Now you have floor to ceiling glass, it’s totally transparent.” The team made few infrastructure upgrades, and instead focused on the building’s connection to 1355 Market.
Anna Bergren Miller is a regular contributor to AN.
Retrofit for resiliency
Sunset Coffee Building
Built in 1910, the Sunset Coffee Building is one of the only remaining industrial structures on Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston. Sited near Allen’s Landing, at the corner of Commerce and Fannin streets, the one-time coffee roasting warehouse has a colorful history that includes a brief stint in the late 1960s as artist David Adickes’ psychedelic rock venue Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine. Because of this link with the past, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) and Houston First (HF) decided to do something almost unheard of in Space City—they decided to preserve and restore the old brick building by turning it into a recreation and cultural center.
“Keeping the historic elements of building and scale is a really great thing in a city like Houston,” said Joseph Benjamin, project manager with Lake|Flato, which designed the project with BNIM. “In San Antonio it’s a given, but in Houston that’s a challenge. There could have been lots of pressure to develop it into a larger, denser site.”
The adaptive ruse project presented several challenges to the architects. BBP applied for historic preservation grants from the National Park Service, requiring the design team to restore and/or replicate the character of the building. The three-story, 12,000-square-foot warehouse’s poured-in-place reinforced concrete structure was in good shape, but the brick veneer wall had crumbled beyond repair. The architects conducted an exhaustive search to find a contemporary brick that matched the color and spotting of the original masonry. The wooden casement windows also had to be restored, where possible, and replaced with newly fabricated windows that matched the originals where necessary.
Another challenge was that the site is 12 feet below street level, solidly within the bayou’s flood plane. The first floor could expect to contend with regular inundations. Consequently, the architects located a canoe, kayak, and bicycle rental station on this level, securing it with permeable gates and garage doors capable of allowing floodwaters to flow into and out of the interior without causing much damage. An elevated rainwater collection tank posted beside the building will serve as a symbol of BBP’s commitment to improving the bayou’s water quality.
The architects located BBP’s offices on the second level. The office floor is linked to the street with a bridge that connects to an elevated veranda, which wraps around to the bayou side of the building. On the third floor is an exhibition space and on the roof a terrace, both of which can be rented out for events. The design team left the interiors open and the structure exposed, creating a flexible, loft-like environment.
While this restored bit of history will offer Houstonians with a connection to the city’s ever more obscured past, perhaps the project’s greatest function for downtown will be the improved access it creates to the revitalized Allen’s Landing and the Buffalo Bayou Greenway.
Aaron Seward is AN’s managing and Southwest editor.
Retrofit Curtain Wall
First Canadian Place
At 978 feet, Toronto’s First Canadian Place is the tallest occupied building in Canada. While that claim to fame has endured since its construction in 1975, the tower’s white Carrara marble cladding has not fared so well. The exterior of the building had not undergone any significant changes beyond general maintenance, said Dan Shannon of Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects (MdeAS).
“Over time, the marble had deteriorated to the point that one piece of stone had fallen from the building,” said Shannon. “The anchoring, the stone itself, was in a place where it could no longer be maintained, and a change had to be made.” But with tenants like BMO Harris, Manulife Financial, and other major Canadian corporations, primary building owner Brookfield was left with little time to renovate. MdeAS and B+H Architects, who worked as the architect of record, had to replace 45,000 pieces of marble in one year—a job Shannon said would easily take two years under typical circumstances.
To accomplish the job the team commissioned a custom suspended rig with three tiers for simultaneous work. The rig was climate controlled, but not airtight. “This was an occupied building,” said Shannon. “You can imagine trying to change that at 800 feet up during the Canadian winter.”
The design goal, he said, was to come up with a new curtain wall assembly that would bolster the building’s integrity while maintaining the stately appearance of the original design by Edward Durell Stone’s office and Bregman + Hamann Architects.
MdeAS had worked on Stone buildings before, notably New York’s General Motors Building. As with that project, the architects were drawn to Stone’s affinity for recurring geometric patterns. On First Canadian Place, they added a ceramic frit to the custom seven-by-ten-foot Viracon glass panels, evoking the texture of the original marble with a series of triangles.
Each of the new opaque spandrel glass panels replace eight marble tiles, extending beyond the corners of the building on all sides. “Rather than just having the white glass fold back into these corners that were important to the original design, we used the contrasting glass color to make spandrel glass, accentuating the corners,” said Shannon.
The subtle sheen and restored brightness of the curtain wall contrast strikingly with those shadowy corners. New solar-reflecting window treatments and repaired air leaks update the insulated glass units that remain from the original assembly. In all, the unitized spandrel panel glass system nests three panes of ¼-inch low-iron glass in an extruded aluminum frame, with three types of PVB interlayers between.
In place of the 45,000 marble panels now sit 5,370 glass panels, reducing the amount of cladding sealant needed by 39.8 miles. The removed marble is being crushed into roof ballast and sand for other projects, and a portion is going to local art programs.
Chris Bentley is AN’s Midwest editor.
1200 New Hampshire Ave
In the resurgent real estate market of Washington D.C., the owners of older buildings are competing for tenants with newer, more dynamic office spaces. And while D.C.’s reputation as a city remains buttoned-up, the city has an increasingly vibrant street life and a young and choosy workforce. This forms the backdrop for Janson Goldstein’s glittering addition to a mundane 1980s brick office building in the Capital, which adds retail space to the streetscape and creates a reflective, eye-catching surface that captures images of trees, passing cars, and pedestrians.
The new angled glass pavilion aligns with the sidewalk to better engage street life and contains two retail spaces set within a subtly prismatic, reflective volume. The mirrored quality is achieved through a silvery metallic frit pattern, which allows a carefully calibrated ratio of transparency to reflectivity. Two bands of massive sheets of glass—the upper of which angles out, the inner bending in—create a dynamic surface. Janson Goldstein worked with German glass manufacturer BGT Bischoff Glastechnik, which was capable of fabricating the pieces, the largest of which is thirteen and a half feet long. No mullions separate the glass, which is hung from above. “It creates one continuous image for the property,” said Hal Goldstein, a principal at Janson Goldstein.
Janson Goldstein also renovated the building’s lobby and entrance, creating a new signature bronze wall that extends from the interior out to the building facade. Allied Development fabricated the panels, which provide a rich, textural contrast to the sleek glass volume outside and the bright white lobby inside. “The developer came to us, looking to rebrand the building, bring in retail, and create a new iconic entrance,” said Goldstein. “Our project was simple enough to appeal to the developer. We were taking advantage of leftover space that hadn’t been designed at all. It’s another step toward making this a 24-hour neighborhood.”
Alan G. Brake is AN’s executive editor.