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Like the cosmos, Los Angeles seems so infinite and contradictory as to defy understanding. That hasn’t stopped such writers as Cary McWilliams, Reyner Banham, Mike Davis, and Charles Jencks from offering ambitious overviews. Everyone has an opinion about LA, sometimes memorable but usually negative. Orson Welles wrote it off as “a loose and sprawling confederation of shopping centers…with a downtown as metropolitan as Des Moines or Schenectady.” In Cities and People Mark Girouard termed it, “a failed Jerusalem, a low-density Babylon." Michael Maltzan has wisely framed his analysis as a symposium, conversing with ten individuals who share his concerns about the state of the metropolis and its future. All came from somewhere else, and this gives them a critical perspective and a stubborn optimism about the potential of this urban agglomeration. Photographer Iwan Baan complements their insights with a quirky collection of images that range from a trailer park in East LA to traffic stalled on the 405.
Maltzan has built SROs on Skid Row, mansions in Beverly Hills, and a park in Playa Vista, so he has first-hand experience of LA’s diversity. He grew up back east in the Long Island suburb of Levittown and remembers, “I was drawn to LA because it seemed real.” Twenty years on, he can still muster enthusiasm for his adopted home. “As inhabitants of a city that is constantly confronting endless change, we possess an inherent creativity and ability to surprise the world with our urban inventiveness,” he writes. “LA is now at a pivotal moment when its new identity is being determined.”
Those themes recur throughout these conversations. There’s consensus that LA is a great laboratory for urban investigation, especially of infrastructure, for in-between spaces, and communities that mutate with each new wave of immigration. There are also disagreements. James Flannigan, a business correspondent, calls LA the new Ellis Island, a portal to opportunity. Edward Soja, a UCLA professor of urban studies, deplores the extremes of wealth, but sees the heterogeneity as an opportunity for grass roots action. He cites the court victory of the Bus Riders’ Alliance over the MTA, which diverted billions of dollars into improving bus service for the city’s poorest inhabitants. Sarah Whiting, an architectural professor at Rice, compares LA to Houston in its lack of a comprehensive plan. “People think the best idea in urbanism is a neighborhood,” she remarks. “I think large-scale juxtapositions are far more interesting and applicable to contemporary cities.”
No More Play is full of provocative insights, and it tries to spur fresh thinking without offering easy answers. We all construct personal maps of the cities we live and work in, focusing on the places we know and often losing sight of the larger whole. Carey McWilliams subtitled his study of Southern California, “An Island on the Land”—it’s easy to relapse into insularity. This symposium offers a corrective. As Qingyun Ma, Dean of the USC School of Architecture observes, “Architects today realize that if they are not part of the urban voice, then…our practice will never sustain itself.”
Yes, we admit it: the car is still king in California. But from LA to San Francisco an impressive list of new transit projects are beginning to change this. LA, known as the archetypal freeway city, has built or is planning more than ten new rail lines and extensions—largely spurred by 2008 ballot measure R, a sales tax hike providing billions to transit projects. In the Bay Area, recently-completed initiatives like San Francisco’s Third Street Light Rail and the San Francisco Airport extension, as well as future extensions into Silicon Valley and the East Bay, are helping connect a sprawling collection of cities. Meanwhile, California has become a test ground for High Speed Rail, with the stage set for lines running the entire length of the state in coming years.
Images Courtesy METRO or BART Unless Otherwise Noted
Thanks to changes in both attitude and development patterns, the growth in transit is bringing with it a lengthy list of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs), projects catering to a combination of mass transit, denser neighborhoods, and mixed-use and pedestrian scale development. And the leaders in TOD are none other than local transit agencies themselves, taking matters into their own hands by making huge investments, often in coordination with the field’s other players: developers, non-profits, and redevelopment agencies. In addition to several transit authorities along the path of California’s high speed rail, the leading agencies are LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). “The public sector creates infrastructure, the private sector creates development. That creates harmony,” sums up Ronald Altoon, a partner at architecture firm Altoon + Porter and incoming Executive Director at the Urban Land Institute’s LA Chapter.
TOD projects have proven successful in increasing ridership for Metro and BART, containing sprawl, and earning millions of dollars in income for the agencies. Some have won awards for architecture and urban design. But of course, as with any public endeavor, they’ve got their issues. Many complain that their uses are too limited and that their connections to their communities are weak. Others complain that the focus is on the wrong D-word: Development, not Design. As developers, not architects, become TOD point people, originality and innovation often takes a back seat to the profit and practical concerns of developers and bureaucrats. Given this, combined with the high cost of TOD development and the lower incomes in many transit-oriented districts, it’s impressive when thoughtful designs emerge.
Agencies On Board
Metro’s Joint Development TOD program, founded about five years ago, has completed eight projects and is working on close to 30 more. Most are mixed-use projects dominated by multi-family residential buildings either near transit or containing their own transit stations (about a quarter of the units are affordable). Roger Moliere, Metro’s Chief of Real Property and Economic Development, calls Metro’s TOD program the biggest of any transit agency in the country. In the first five years of its existence it has brought in about $14 to $15 million a year for the agency, said Moliere.
“People want to live in cities,” said Moliere, who insists that the best way to add density in cities is with mixed-use development near transit. “I would not want to be a single family homebuilder right now.”
[ 01 ] Del Mar Transit Village
Architect: Moule & Polyzoides
Perhaps the most recognized of the completed projects is Hollywood and Vine, a mixed-use complex that contains the W Hotel as well as condos by HKS architects with elements by Daly Genik and Sussman Prejza and a glassy subway entrance by Rios Clementi Hale. Another is Wilshire/Vermont, by Arquitectonica, a mixed-use building lined with retail on its ground floor with a giant mural by artist April Greiman. Other standouts include Michael Maltzan’s One Santa Fe, a sinuous project near SCI-Arc and the Metro Red Line that will include over 400 apartments and over 750,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space, as well as Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists’ Del Mar station on the Gold Line, a New Urbanist-style mixed-use compilation of buildings around a central plaza.
The projects are generally located on land that Metro already owns, often adjacent to existing right of ways or on Metro surface parking lots, which are being converted into parking structures. Projects generally wait until rail lines are completed to begin, and Metro prefers leasing land to selling it, so it can collaborate closely on the types of buildings planned, maintain the character of development over the long haul, and ensure a steady stream of funds.
BART, meanwhile, is involved with 18 TOD projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment. Five have been completed and 13 are either approved or in negotiation. The agency adopted its TOD policy in 2005, hoping to increase ridership and make money. Other benefits, according to BART, include connecting with communities, creating tax revenues for cities, and increasing mixed-use and infill development instead of single use sprawl.
[ 04 ] NoHo Art Wave
Architect: A.C. Martin
According to Jeff Ordway, Manager of Real Estate and Property Development at BART, TOD’s were part of the agency’s original mandate in the 1960s, but that idea fell apart when land use patterns couldn’t keep up. Starting with a modest project in Castro Valley in the late ‘90s, the agency finally got its program underway.
As opposed to Metro’s joint development, BART has no pre-determined model. “Each community is unique,” said Ordway, who points to projects that are direct leases to developers, direct sales, land swaps with jurisdictions, and joint-powers authorities for land that is split between the county and the agency. One of the more complicated land deals came about when BART and the city of Berkeley swapped air and land rights to clear the way for Leddy Maytum Stacy’s Ed Roberts Campus, a dynamic facility for non-profits that includes spiraling internal ramps, large skylights, and a memorable glass facade. Ed Roberts got the ground, BART got the air (and subsequent station and parking areas) and the development was on its way.
Ordway also notes that the agency tries to promote transit “villages,” such as the MacArthur Transit Village, a mixed-use collection of buildings located at the MacArthur stop of the Pittsburgh/ Bay Point line. “We’re trying to create something that’s sustainable, not just a building,” he said, noting that the agency will try to phase in projects with local cities and landowners, which can be a financing and zoning headache. But to Ordway, “It’s a superior product.”
[ 07 ] Hollywood & Vine
Pros and Cons
While there’s no arguing with agencies’ success at creating new TODs and their subsequent spikes in ridership and profits, some questions have arisen, like how these developments fit into their communities and whether their designs are up to par.
“TODs are not focusing enough on putting employment directly on top of transit stations,” said Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), who argues that the focus on residential and retail should spread to office buildings and other employment centers. A good example, he notes, is San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal’s 1,200 foot office tower. “You want offices because that’s where transit riders are going to,” he said.
“Where are the real jobs? Not just the retail jobs but the jobs that can employ the people that live in the area?” agreed Will Wright, AIA/LA Director of Government and Public Affairs. AIA/LA is trying to promote passage of the Community Plan Implementation Overview (CPIO), a local ordinance that would force new developments like TODs to “start to thinking about their integration into the community” by coordinating more closely with city planning. Wright is critical of Metro’s existing TODs, noting “almost every one has been compromised extensively because Metro wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.” He points to Wilshire/Vermont and Wilshire/Beverly on the Red Line, both with gas stations on opposite corners, which he notes are not exactly pedestrian or mass transit friendly establishments.
[ 01 ] Armstrong Place
Architect: David Baker
Meanwhile unlike the fairly consistent praise thrown at high-profile, mega-budget high speed rail hubs, local TODs’ architectural quality, according to some, is improving but still not where it needs to be. ULI’s Altoon, who praised Metro’s Moliere for turning around that agency’s TOD efforts, says that TODs have taken huge steps from their early days when designs were very “utilitarian.” But he added that design still suffers, often as a result of the high cost of developing TODs, due to many infrastructure-related burdens, lower income neighborhoods, and density. He recommends more interaction with the community for feedback as well as new financing methods to provide more design funding, like lowering rents, increasing entitlements, providing more tax incentives, or setting up business improvement districts.
[ 02 ] Walnut Creek
Architect: MVE & Partners
Metro has shown an ability to add more uses than residential and retail with upcoming projects like A.C. Martin’s NOHO Art Wave in North Hollywood, which combines a city’s worth of uses (the project is still up in the air, however), and Mariachi Plaza in East LA, which is anticipated to include not only apartments and retail but also community and office space.
Meanwhile the agency has design standards for each of its projects, said Moliere, and chooses architects through an RFQ/RFP process and a panel of four or five experts, one of those being an architect/planner. The results“are not cookie cutter by any means. We make sure they work in the context of the neighborhood,” said Moliere.
[ 03 ] MacArthur Transit Village
Architect: MVE & Partners and Van Meter Williams Pollack
But is design dominant? When asked for the names of the architects on their TOD projects the agency replied, “Architects are a subcontractor to the developer and we do not have that information.” One would hope these names would be at Metro’s fingertips if they had control over their developers’ designs.
After the ULI’s recent TOD summit in Hollywood, LA community activist Stephen Box complained that TODs, often built at a formidable scale, ignore the human experience. “The unique and personal perspective of the individual must never be lost in the awesomeness and hugeness of TOD. Unfortunately, losing that human touch is the norm, not the exception.”
[ 04 ] Ed Roberts Campus
Architect: Leddy Maytum Stacy
When asked where design fell in the mix at BART, Ordway admitted it wasn’t the top priority on the list. “We look at capability, experience, concept. An understanding of what the local jurisdiction is doing.” But he said that both design and practicalities have to be right. “It’s got to work physically. It has to relate to the street. It has to relate to the transit function. But it also has to work financially, so it’s a mixture.” Sometimes, like in Pleasant Hill, BART invited the community in for a charette.
Many of BART’s TODs are being designed by the same firm, McLaren Vasquez Emsiek & Partners, which belies a lack of architectural variety. And some in the Bay Area have criticized the agency’s TODs for not being on the cutting edge design-wise. Still the agency has pulled off some triumphs, like Leddy Maytum Stacy’s Ed Roberts Campus, and has created some livable new places, especially with its transit villages. Metro’s ability (with their developers) to draw top architectural talent like Maltzan, Arquitectonica, A.C. Martin and others has been a good step on their path from “utilitarian” structures to top notch architecture and urbanism.
Bill Leddy, a principal at Leddy Maytum Stacy, admitted to the challenges of working with BART, from meeting the agency’s many bureaucratic criteria to “making sure the right people were at the table.” The process took ten years. But in the end it was “made manageable by the key folks, like Ordway, who wanted to see this project succeed.”
High Speed Rail Joins The Party
The newest player in the TOD game is high speed rail. Because it’s still early, the only developments that have been fleshed out are a few hub stations, produced through public private partnerships— the ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) Station in Anaheim and the Transbay Center in San Francisco.
Transbay, led by a team that includes Pelli Clarke Pelli and developer Hines along with the Transbay Joint Powers Authority—a collaboration of several Bay Area government and transportation agencies— is a multi modal hub that will include facilities for Cal Train, high speed rail, bus ramps, and a major office building. The station itself includes an undulating glass facade, a glassy atrium full of public art, and a 5.4-acre working park on the roof.
Courtesy Transbay Joint Powers Authority
Architect: Pelli Clarke Pelli
Artic, produced by HOK, the city of Anaheim, and the Orange County Transportation Authority, consists of a multi-modal link of high speed rail, commuter lines, Amtrak, and local and regional bus lines. The new station’s vaulted steel design will be inset with a pillow-like ETFE membrane. A lofty, wide-open hall—with a ceiling measuring over 150 feet high—will be surrounded by shops and ticket booths and bordered on its southern end by train platforms and tracks.
The areas around both developments are zoned for Transit Oriented Development. For instance Artic will contain retail space inside and out while the zoning around it calls for commercial, residential office, and institutional uses. Meanwhile the Transbay Redevelopment Plan will facilitate the development of nearly 2,600 residential units, 3 million square feet of new office and commercial space, and 100,000 square feet of retail.
John Gautrey is a partner and principal at IBE Consulting Engineers, who have worked with many of the west coast’s—and the world’s—top architects, including Gehry Partners, Morphosis, Hodgetts + Fung, Michael Maltzan, Daly Genik, Randall Stout, Tighe Architects, Rios Clementi Hale, Richard Meier, and Coop Himmelb(l)au, among many others. AN’s Sam Lubell sat down with Gautrey to discuss MEP, sustainability, and the future of construction.
The Architect’s Newspaper: You seem to be the architect’s choice for MEP (mechanical, engineering, plumbing) on the west coast. How did you develop such a list of architects to collaborate with? What are you doing right?
John Gautrey: I think some of it is historical. Alan [Locke, the company founder] and I have been in LA for 25 years. I was trained at Arup and learned that engineering is there to facilitate the architect’s vision. We wanted to get back to those roots. We’re there to help them in any way we can to achieve their architecture. It’s not about imposing on it but helping shape it from an engineering perspective to make it better. You never get the perfect solution, but we can investigate it until we see that it will work. Anything is possible if you want to pay for it—not in terms of fees, but in terms of construction costs.
With sustainability being such a priority, MEP has all of a sudden become sexy. What are some of the innovations in MEP that get you the most excited?
The buzz seems to be about stacked devices, radiant systems, and chilled beams—things that are hydronic based not air based. The tradition has been to blow a lot of air at things, but to use water rather than air is a lot more efficient. You have less big things running around the building—big ducts and big fans. The challenge, as always, is that it’s new. It’s not usually a challenge with the architects, but the owners. Sometimes they’re reticent to do something new. The responsibility is on us to explain the pros and cons. There are people out there that are prepared to take that leap. There are people out there who want to take the leap not to follow some proscribed system.
What is the biggest mistake people are still making with regards to MEP? How can you change it?
LEED—anybody can walk down a checklist and include this and that. But if it makes no sense for the building, does that make the building more sustainable? No. For us, sustainability is doing the right thing for the owner of the building and for the environment the building is in. Following a prescribed checklist doesn’t necessarily lead to that. Still, LEED is fantastic in creating awareness about what sustainability is. It’s phenomenal what the USGBC has accomplished. When I talked about sustainability ten or twelve years ago, people were laughing me out of the room.
How do you see things changing in MEP in the next few years?
The rest of the world is getting rid of air conditioning completely. Just open the window. Wear a t-shirt. You have the ability to control your own environment. You get used to it. I never had air conditioning in a building until I moved to the U.S. Ultimately, I don’t think you’ll have a choice.
What are the future alternative energy sources?
You need to implement the right systems for the right locale and not just force something on it. Geothermal, while great, is a difficult one because it’s very climate driven. And there’s an assumption that PV panels are great, but I think a lot of people implement them just to say “I’m green.” I don’t think you should look at sustainability like that. Is it right for the building? Is it sustainable to put materials into a building even if they don’t achieve anything?
Solar hot water is underutilized. It’s 100 percent efficient. PV, on the other hand, is 14 percent efficient. We’re going to realize that we’ve got to invest in making PVs better, and they’re going to get better all the time. Wind is great in the right location. We’re looking at wind power for High School 15 in Los Angeles with CO Architects. It’s a perfect site for wind in San Pedro. It’s got a constant nine mile per hour wind. You need a big site as well because of safety concerns.
What about self-generation?
Carbon neutrality is the next thing we’re all going to get into. That comes down to regulation, which is very hard to change. So initially it’s going to have to be building by building. To make any building energy efficient, you need to start with the building form. If you’re not prepared to do that, you’re not going to make an energy efficient building.
Let’s talk more about that. How can engineering change architecture?
We can all throw energy at a building to make it more efficient. But to maximize it, the form and materials and site have to be taken into account. Then you look at your systems. Lighting, mechanical, how the building works, how you layer the building. Can you organize your building to allow the transitory spaces, which you’re not in for very long, to be at the perimeter? Can you create buffer zones? You can start letting the internal layout inform your energy in the building. With the Morphosis Federal building in San Francisco [IBE did the feasibility study], the air conditioning is in the middle and the outside is naturally ventilated. The ventilation informs the design of the building.
What is the biggest mistake architects make?
Not involving us early enough. By the time we’re involved it’s too late to inform how the building is going to be set up. By the time you’ve got an architectural concept and the others have signed off on the site, there’s not a lot you can do. Maybe you can add some shading devices. But if we had been there earlier we could say you should have turned it like this or we could get more daylight inside the building. We like to be there on day one. I think most of the architects we work with appreciate that.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
Personally, I like doing museums. I’m very exited that BAM (The Berkeley Art Museum) came back, even as a different design. They’re using the print works [building] now: changing it and adding to it. That presents a whole new set of challenges. Trying to control a museum environment within an existing building is tough. I’m also excited about Michael Maltzan’s performing arts center for San Francisco State. No two planes run in the same direction. To understand the balconies and shapes, you can’t figure it out from a 2D plan. You don’t have a choice but to work in 3D.
I like to be challenged by my architects. I need someone to question what I’m doing. It makes it more interesting. I get bored if there’s a simple solution right away. Ultimately, it should be a solution that you implement with the architect. I would have loved to have finished the BAM project with Toyo Ito. That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It was so intricate that just to route a duct took a long time to figure out.
Is there sometimes tension between you and your architects?
Sometimes you can’t avoid it. You just need to be willing to be involved and be available to discuss issues. If you communicate bad news it keeps things smooth. Communication is king.
Six years after Hurricane Katrina leveled much of New Orleans, the still-struggling city is beginning to show signs of rebirth. Projects underway amounting to billions of wide-ranging investment include new and renovated schools, hospitals, libraries, commercial corridors, boulevards, waterways, parks, and even entire development zones. Efforts like the Claiborne Avenue Corridor will link sections of the cities that have been divided by an interstate for decades.
Construction that began a few years ago is now starting to finish up, while the city’s new Mayor Mitch Landrieu has launched a program to instigate 100 city-initiated projects that will begin or even be completed in the next three years. In total, according to William Gilchrist, the city’s Director of Place-Based Planning, over $13 billion in federal, state and local investments will go into effect. In many ways, said Gilchrist, the city has become a laboratory for new ideas in architecture and urban planning.
Architects and landscape architects are playing a major role here, and creating designs that are in some cases shockingly contemporary.
One of the largest, and most architecturally ambitious, city plans now underway is called Reinventing the Crescent, a $300 million riverfront redevelopment plan, with contributions by a star-filled team including Eskew Dumez Ripple working on a master plan with Chan Krieger Sieniewicz and Ten Arquitectos; Michael Maltzan Architecture; David Adjaye; and Hargreaves Associates.
The Crescent, coordinated by the public-private New Orleans Building Corporation, calls for six miles of redevelopment along the banks of the Mississippi, including a continuous linear path, iconic landmarks, mixed use development, and parks and gathering spaces.
Stretching from Jackson Avenue to the Holy Cross site near the Industrial Canal, the project takes on the river’s crescent shape. It doesn’t just revitalize the riverbanks, but it reconnects these banks to the rest of the city—a connection that has deteriorated over the years with barriers like freight train tracks and floodwalls.
The first phase of the project, the 1.3 mile-long Crescent Park, is being paid for by a $30 million federal Community Development Block Grant. It started construction about five months ago and should be completed by 2012. Further phases should move forward when funding is secured, said Alan Eskew, principal at Eskew Dumez Ripple, who hopes that much will be ready by the city’s tri-centennial in 2018. Already, said Eskew, the area is already seeing new adaptive reuse and development projects. “Once construction started, suddenly there’s a lot “of activity in those neighborhoods,” he said.
Maltzan jumped into the challenge of overcoming the infrastructural segmentation of the area by literally creating a bridge between the waterfront and the rest of the city. Maltzan’s long, serpentine Mandeville Crossing, which stretches high over the railroad and the floodwall all the way to the city’s famous French Market, is what he calls “an elongated signpost for the community,” made of a series of vertical gold-colored anodized aluminum tubes that, as you move along, create a shimmering effect of light and color.
At the end of the pedestrian bridge, the firm is leading the revitalization of the city’s historic Mandeville Wharf for events and markets, maintaining the entire steel structure with its long span steel trusses and installing a new roof with a series of skylights to inject light into the building. The firm will also install a new indoor/outdoor platform for performances, new benches, and a new wall for movie screenings, all merging with the landscape outside and becoming the center for the Crescent’s performances.
The other major element of the Crescent Park will be Piety Wharf, featuring a grassy park and Adjaye Associates’ timber pavilion, a structure—still awaiting funding— that lies flush with the water, and appears to float. Adjaye is also designing a bridge, the Piety Crossing, which spans over floodwalls and rail tracks leading to a visitor parking lot along Chartres Street.
For Maltzan, who spent a lot of time in New Orleans when he was a young architecture student, the project is a homecoming of sorts, and a chance to give back to a city that has long inspired him. “I think the park has the opportunity to be a very important step in not only moving beyond Katrina, but creating an image of what the city can be and its future.”
Make It Right
Alexei Lebedev, Make it Right
Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation has already gotten a lot of attention for building contemporary-style, highly sustainable (from solar powered to rainwater harvesting) homes in the Lower Ninth Ward— the hardest hit of all of New Orleans’ neighborhoods. So far 80 of the 150 homes have been completed, including ambitious designs by LA firms Morphosis and Pugh + Scarpa as well as others by Adjaye Associates, MVRDV, Gehry Partners, Shigeru Ban Architects, Graft, Hitoshi Abe, Kieran Timberake, and Trahan Architects. Participant Larry Scarpa equates it to a modern-day Case Study program: “There was an idea to give people an opportunity to have a new and different way to live—to provide normal people with quality design.”
“Most visitors to the neighborhood love it, a few hate it,” said Make It Right spokesperson Taylor Royle. “But the most important thing to us is that each homeowner says that their design is the best one and can give you ten reasons why they're right.”
Planters Peanuts has launched a program in which noted landscape architect Ken Smith is designing Planters Groves in New York, San Francisco, D.C., and New Orleans. The parks—described by the company as “part urban revitalization, part art”—use locally reclaimed materials and native trees and plants to turn vacant lots into valuable urban spaces. New Orleans’ park, the first of the bunch, just opened.
New Orleans Grove appears on the site of a once trash-littered lot in the struggling Central City neighborhood. Elements of the 80 by 80 foot park include recycled concrete pavers, an open trellis wall made of recycled windows from homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, 16 bald cypress trees, solar-powered lights, common planting areas, and a bog garden made up of local plants. The garden's main spaces—the bog garden, the community gathering spot, known as Legume Plaza, and the space enclosed by the trellis—are shaped in plan, not surprisingly, like peanuts.
"It's not a playground, it's not a community garden, and it's not a conventional park,” said Smith. “The community can use it however they choose."
This project aims to turn a former railroad right of way into a public park, pedestrian, and bike path, similar to New York’s High Line. The three-mile-long Greenway would extend from Basin Street, at the back of the French Quarter, all the way to Canal Boulevard in Lakeview, near Lake Ponchartrain. While recently held up by a lack of funds, the city has gotten the project back on track thanks to an $11.6 million Community Development Block Grant. If completed it would become the city’s first continuous urban greenway.
For New Orleans, many questions remain—including how the city’s neighborhoods will—or won’t—continue to be planned and developed, an effort that will include a myriad of agencies, from the Department of Capital Projects to the Department of Public Works. But the results are vital, and there’s no doubt that the city is committed. As Gilchrist put it: “From public housing to health care to education to infrastructure planning, New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts are setting the stage for American renewal.”
One of the prevailing trends in the design of cultural buildings is to provide a look at how the sausage is made: showing off the work that goes on at the back of the house. This idea is particularly potent when it comes to arts education. Michael Maltzan’s just-unveiled Mashouf Performing Arts Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU), which features not one but five performance spaces knitted together with transparent classrooms, is a good example. It’s a dream project where theories about fostering creativity, interdisciplinary collaboration, and public engagement all come to the fore.
SFSU offers the largest program for arts training in Northern California; its better-known alumni include Annette Bening and Danny Glover, as well several producers and directors. The school’s programs in drama, dance, music, and broadcast journalism have been grouped together in a 1956 building that suffers from poor flow and lack of universal access.
“We knew we needed to build a new classroom space, but we also wanted a calling card to solicit partnerships with public arts institutions,” said Kurt Daw, Dean of the College of Creative Arts. “It needed to be an iconic building, and we had a real mandate to look for someone very forward-thinking about the arts and nonprofits in general.”
Maltzan prevailed in an RFQ process that narrowed down the competition to a shortlist of six, including Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who are designing the nearby Berkeley Art Museum as well as Eli Broad’s new museum in Downtown LA.
The $250 million performance and education center, which will comprise a total of 242,000 square feet, has no obvious precedent at a public university. The first phase of construction will include a 1,200-seat opera-style theater and an undulating circulation level running the length of the complex. Four smaller theaters, to accommodate all sorts of performances, will follow in two more phases.
“The building is almost like a city. It is meant to act like a small campus with those spaces and connective elements,” said Maltzan. “There’s one continuous horizontal layer, which connects across the entire project and many different disciplines. With informal as well as formal spots, in the choreography of that mix, you create the culture of the college.”
The triangular site will inform the complex layout of the building, which will emphasize slanted lines, from the sloping balconies in the main performance hall to the zigzagging framework over the ramps. Triangular shapes will be repeated in large outdoor courtyards interspersed among the major performance. At the corner of the site pointing to the center of campus, the horizontal circulation band, raised elsewhere, will dip down to earth to provide an easy path for artistically inclined students. The precise façade material had not been determined at press time.
The entire building will be wired to capture performances and rehearsals, and broadcast studios will let students do live editing of performances. The team of subcontractors includes Nagata Acoustics and Sonitus, who both worked on Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony Hall.
The arts center will not be visible from the main approach to the university on 19th Street; it will give SFSU a new visual identity on its west side along Lake Merced Boulevard. The LEED-Gold project will be funded by a $200 million state bond measure, which has yet to be submitted to voters, along with $50 million from private donors. The school has raised $12 million of the $18.5 million needed to kick off the first phase. It hopes to break ground by 2013 and finish all phases of construction in nine years.
In case you didn’t notice, the architecture world is embracing all things green with an enthusiasm not seen since the 1970s. But this time around, the movement has expanded far beyond the grass-roots level to a broader merging of architecture and landscape. This soil-meets-steel trend, precipitated largely by our limited space resources, by the crossover in design fields, and by our desire to return to our roots, has forced architects and landscape architects to collaborate more closely, and occasionally, even to reverse roles.
“The boundary between landscape and architecture barely exists anymore,” said architect Michael Maltzan, who this summer opened the Playa Vista park on LA’s West Side, a composition broken up into a series of “urban rooms,” as the architect calls them, including floating recreation areas, large angular planted mounds, carved granite bridges, and a tensile fabric band shell. Combining valuable techniques learned from landscape architect James Burnett with his own architectural expertise, Maltzan used materials to reinforce the separation of space and employed shapes and textures to lead people through the park. In the end, the park is as much architecture as it is landscape.
“The concerns and investigations are the same,” said Maltzan. “If you remove the traditional distinctions between what disciplines are supposed to be doing and imagine what needs to be done, then you can create real innovation,” he added. Several of Maltzan’s upcoming projects merge architecture and the land, including the Cornfields Park in LA, the Piggyback Yard near the LA River, and the Art Park, next to the Geffen Contemporary in Downtown LA.
And Maltzan’s work is no aberration. Building green and stretching creative boundaries are just two reasons that “earth-itecture” is taking off. As we run out of buildable land, and as our sprawling lifestyle stretches our resources, it seems inevitable that we must learn how to better overlap architecture and green space in smart ways.
“It’s about adding public space in a tight environment,” said Curtis Fentress, whose firm is designing the San Diego convention center expansion, which will provide five acres of green park space on top of the convention center’s roof. Such projects are more than standard green roofs, which often overflow with plants but are not intended for people as with Renzo Piano’s instantly iconic green roof on top of the California Academy of Sciences.
In more extreme examples, the difference between architecture and landscape is almost impossible to discern. One struggles to tell landscape and structure apart when looking at Hagy Belzberg’s Museum of the Holocaust in LA’s Pan Pacific Park. Here, sharp, undulating, planted forms are built into the park’s existing sloped hillside. In this case, building underground had the added ability to create a powerful architectural experience inside counterbalanced by a lighter experience outside.
Courtesy Freeland Buck
Another project in which landscape and building are often indistinguishable is Morphosis’ and SWA’s new headquarters for Giant Interactive Group outside Shanghai, which is completely covered in green; a “prairie blend” of 15 plants that undulates and twists at extreme angles, and slopes down to the surrounding waterscape. While all green roofs provide thermal protection, this project is an entire eco-system, filtering water for the nearby canal and feeding several life forms. The green space has become an attraction for workers and locals alike.
Courtesy Belzberg Architects
“We’re all interested in the same things these days,” said SWA principal Ying Yu Hung. “Energy efficiency, natural materials, the healing power of nature.” Of course, making landscapes fit into the schemes of an adventurous architecture firm was often challenging. In some places, the building slopes as much as 53 degrees, forcing the firm to come up with inventive measures to keep the soil clinging to the surface. “We were like, ‘Are you sure’?” said Hung.
Hung’s LA office has two architects to complement its 13 landscape architects, an increasingly common admixture. With “earth-itecture” becoming so common, it makes sense for an architecture firm to have landscape expertise on board. San Francisco firm Interstice Architects’ principles are Andrew Dunbar, an architect, and Zoee Astrakhan, a licensed landscape architect who studied landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Several of their projects combine the disciplines, including the upcoming Center For Science and Innovation at the University of San Francisco. That project includes a new green plaza made of native plants built on top of an expansion to the school’s Harney Hall. In order to provide more light inside, the firm included benches that double as skylights and a side-facing “storefront window wall” that cuts into the earth. They worked to constantly communicate with the architects, NBBJ, and the project engineers to make sure that “all the players were in the room and decisions were not relegated to one discipline,” said Astrakhan. That meant that meetings addressed storm water, mechanical decisions, interfaces, ventilation ducts, and so on. “It was a constant give and take,” added Astrakhan. “When you begin documenting things, the lines are difficult to draw. There was definitely a lot of time spent figuring out what made sense; figuring out what was architecture and what was landscape. It wasn’t always that clear to us.”
Small LA firm Freeland Buck includes an architect, David Freeland, and a landscape architect, Brennan Buck, who studied landscape architecture at Cornell. Their proposed Hunters Stand Cabin in Maine wedges itself into a hillside, lifting out of the ground plane, clad with shingled wood planks and cut with sharp windows. The earth has proven an inspiration for the firm in several ways: the bottom of the house is fitted with a soil medium so plants and trees can grow in the middle of the house; the coloring of the rooms change in response to the changing landscape; and triangulated spaces are carved out of the earth to maximize light and landscape interaction. Floors are partially above grade and partially below, emphasizing this divide, and giving the house an “embedded quality,” explained Freeland. A thin green roof on top gives the building a feeling of “immateriality,” adds Freeland. “Landscape gives you a variety of readings and experiences and feelings. That’s why it’s interesting to us,” he said.
Nic Lehoux and Fentress Architects respectively
Of course, the ways that landscape is being incorporated into architecture are not all new. San Diego architect Kevin Defreitas recently completed the St. Bartholomew Chapel, a Catholic church on the Rincon Indian reservation outside of San Diego. The rammed earth project incorporated 120 tons of local soil to form the building’s walls, and also used natural elements like a Live Oak Tree, which was harvested for the altar, and a three-ton boulder which was turned into the building’s baptismal font.
In this case, the use of natural materials—the rammed earth walls are several feet thick—help prevent the building from burning down in a wildfire, as its predecessor did a few years ago. And its incorporation of local materials was vital for the Indian tribe, which considers land on its reservation sacrosanct. Defreitas found working with the local soil a transformative experience, and hopes to continue, despite San Diego’s insistence on not classifying rammed earth as a usable building material. “It’s just dirt, but it’s an incredible material,” said Defreitas. “It’s hard to go wrong with natural materials. They seem to age in a way that others don’t. And there’s an honesty to the material; you immediately understand what it is. It’s as renewable as you can get, and when the building is done, it can go back to where it came from. It’s like they say: when God created Adam, he made him out of mud.” For some, the back-to-roots movement can be quite literal.
Despite constant public and private efforts, homelessness remains one of the LA’s most intractable issues. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were over 42,000 homeless people in LA County last year. That was down from previous years, but the city still has one of the largest populations in the country.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation last week announced that it was significantly stepping up its efforts to change that, announcing $13 million in grants to help house and aid the city’s homeless. Prior to this push the foundation had given about $20 million in grants and loans over the last six years combined. The efforts will mean more chances for architects to get involved in providing new and renovated lodgings for the homeless; a field that has already yielded work in a time where there’s little to go around.
“We’re ramping things up,” said Bill Pitkin, Director of Domestic Programs for the Hilton Foundation, which was created in 1944 and has handed out close to a billion dollars in grants in total. “LA is ground zero for long-term homelessness. If we can do it here we can do it anywhere,” he said.
The bulk of the funds —$9 million—will go to the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), a community development financial institution that helps banks and governments invest in residences for the homeless. The money will help spur the creation of 2,500 new permanent supportive housing units in LA County, including dwellings for youth leaving foster care, veterans, and the frequently sick. CSH also provides zero interest loans (called Project Initiation Loans) to developers to hire architects and other consultants to evaluate the feasibility of a potential housing site. “Often times architects are asked to front these costs themselves on the strength that they may get a contract at some point. This eliminates the risk for architects,” explains CSH LA Director Ruth Teague.
Other supportive housing non-profits receiving money include national organization Common Ground, which will take $600,000; while Mental Health America in Long Beach, St. Joseph Center in Venice, Skid Row Housing Trust in Downtown LA, and Step Up on Second in Hollywood will each receive $750,000. The Downtown Women’s Center in LA will receive $330,000 over two years to implement a program to help 80 chronically homeless women make the move into permanent housing.
“We really believe permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless is the key. The best way to help people achieve a healthy and fruitful life is to get a home,” said Pitkin, who added that once residents achieve stable living situations they can more effectively receive mental health, job preparation and other services. Several of California’s top architects have been involved with these organizations. Brooks + Scarpa (formerly Pugh + Scarpa) has designed housing for Step Up on Second; Michael Maltzan and Koning Eizenberg have worked with Skid Row Housing Trust; and Pica + Sullivan have just completed a renovation project of a European revival building in Los Angeles for the Downtown Women’s Shelter. The project includes a large rooftop garden, a library, fitness room, spa tubs and quiet lounge. Interiors were crafted by a group of forty volunteer designers.
Pitkin stresses that these efforts are only a “catalyst” to help the organizations get back to work and seek aid, which comes predominantly through public grants and tax incentives. “Our numbers are just a drop in the bucket” compared to such public funds, he notes. Those public dollars, he adds, have been down because of the economic situation, but “things are getting a little better, and we’re hopeful that things are going to pick up.”
“We’re at a tipping point in LA,” added Teague, who says that the supportive housing model has only recently become the blueprint for ending homelessness. In years past services had come before stable housing. “This is an opportunity to really turn the corner,” she said.
Over 25 years of work have culminated in a transformative blueprint for 150 acres of land in the heart of LA abutting the famously barren Los Angeles River. However, funding and approval for the Piggyback Yard (PBy) conceptual masterplan, as the project is called, are still nonexistent, while the land’s owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, is still hesitant to part with it.
In 2009, the nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River found four architecture and landscape firms—Michael Maltzan Architecture, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Perkins + Will, and Chee Salette Architecture Office—to work pro bono on the Piggyback plan, targeting the railroad yards located at the critical junction of downtown Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights. The firms, known as the PBy Collaboration, met biweekly until late May 2010. Now the group is initiating a dialogue with city leaders, public and private agencies, and the community.
Although the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization masterplan, which was started in 2005, has moved forward with bike lanes and small park projects along the river’s length, the PBy masterplan is the first sizable effort, said Mia Lehrer + Associates designer Hong Joo Kim. The plan includes 125 acres of land and 25 acres of riverbed. The Piggyback Yard, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Transfer Container Facility, is the largest single-owner property adjacent to the river, and hence, the yard’s proponents suggest, the only place a single, large-scale project could work.
The PBy Collaboration proposes to replace the river’s concrete bottom with a soft riverbed, reintroduce plants and wildlife, and set the stage for educational, cultural, commercial, health care, and minor industrial buildings. The midsize structures would include green roofs and photovoltaic panel arrays. Building vertically means more space for the proposed 130-acre public park, which would include soccer fields, sports amenities, walking and biking paths, and a botanical garden.
The plan is to build an area where mixed-income residents would live, work, and play, increasing vitality and decreasing crime. The project would “bridge, through architecture and landscape design, the gap between isolated neighborhoods and districts,” said Jessica Varner, an architect from Michael Maltzan Architecture.
Mia Lehrer emphasized that the PBy plan is “an ongoing investigation” of the yard, with several private and public agencies involved. Some of these include the county, city, and California High Speed Rail. But even with such backing, the collaboration’s hands are still tied, since Union Pacific (UP) owns almost all of the land in the masterplan. It uses the Piggyback Yard to transfer containers to and from trains and trucks.
Union Pacific acknowledged the yard is operating below capacity, but Lupe Valdez, the company’s director of public policy and community affairs, partially blamed the economy, adding that UP was worried about giving up the valuable property. “It is the last yard UP has in the city of Los Angeles, and we realize we could never get it back once gone because of cost and current environmental requirements,” Valdez said. She added that the yard is being used night and day by 50 to 100 workers at a time, not including truck drivers.
Others note that while retaining jobs in this recession is important, more jobs would be created than lost if this working blueprint—which would take about 20 years to complete—were implemented. Architect Leigh Christy from Perkins + Will said work could be realized piecemeal through “capitalizing on efforts already in place.” The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has funding to complete the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by 2012. Part of the area being studied for restoration and flood control is a stretch of river adjacent to the PBy. Meanwhile, the city’s Clean Tech and BioMed Tech Corridors and California High Speed Rail all have funding to perform work on or around the PBy area. The PBy Collaboration needs to sway these organizations to work in tune with its masterplan, which cannot be realized without eventually purchasing the yard from Union Pacific.
A small piece of the plan, the Mission Road corridor, is almost free of UP ownership. This portion of Mission Road, which lies between Cesar Chavez Avenue and Main Street, is about one mile of arterial roadway lined by commercial or industrial buildings. The PBy Collaboration has been talking to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and various city council and city planning members to start work on this area, said Christy. The project could become a “new model for the densification of the city,” said Marc Salette of Chee and Salette Architecture Office, and could jumpstart the rest of the PBy masterplan.
Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects is designing the new property management offices for Skid Row Housing Trust, a major developer of affordable and transitional housing in Los Angeles. The nonprofit is a big design client: It has hired architects like Michael Maltzan, O’Herlihy, and Koning Eizenberg for new buildings. The current project entails the renovation of a 4,200-square-foot structure located on 7th Street and Central Avenue, including 16 office spaces. The design creates an airy new workspace, letting light in through a wall of glass blocks and opening the space up further with large sliding doors. Textured metal screens will provide intricacy. The project also highlights what O’Herlihy calls the “forest of columns,” an effect created by taking the building’s abundance of structural columns and skinning them with long, thin LED lights that peel out toward the top. In contrast to many raw office and arts spaces downtown, O’Herlihy said he was trying to give employees a break from the bleakness of Skid Row with a design that is more “artful, playful, and uplifting.” The project, unsurprisingly, will be built on a very modest budget of about $55 per square foot.
Architect: Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects
Client: Skid Row Housing Trust
Location: 7th Street and Central Avenue, Los Angeles
Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, New York
Through January 3, 2011
Timing is everything in the exhibition world. With the October 2 opening of MoMA’s Small Scale, Big Change show, the curators got it right. In the past, this hallowed institution has been chastised by the art world’s cutting edge for its too little/too late endorsement of emerging trends. As evidence, MoMA’s sometimes imperious cultural arbiters have tended to remain on safer ground by repeatedly staging epochal art and design surveys, primarily gleaned from the stellar permanent collections for which the museum is globally famous. This propensity for prudence has been a rather embarrassing confirmation of Gertrude Stein’s prophetic assessment of MoMA’s mission, when she turned down founding director Alfred Barr’s request for her art collection: “You can be a museum, or you can be modern, but you can’t be both.”
Stein’s critique was challenged during the museum’s heady years under American Art curator Dorothy Miller, who from the 1940s through the 1960s was acclaimed for her passionate progressivism and advocacy of seminal new talent. Since then, unfortunately, there has been a discernible aura of detachment from the untidy turbulence of the avant-garde. As a consequence, MoMA’s curatorial elite has often been content to mine the past for aesthetic content and avoid controversy by cautiously back-peddling its way through the contemporary art scene. This has resulted in the showcasing of a peculiar “if-you-please” brand of new work, which circuitously (but often too feebly) reflects the museum’s modernist foundations. The tendency has been particularly characteristic of architecture and design shows, which have continued to confirm a formalist bias and MoMA’s unwavering commitment to its modernist, Cubist, and Constructivist origins.
In terms of social/environmental principles and theoretical relevance, curators Andres Lepik and Margot Weller have pulled together a brilliant exhibition that contributively folds into the current flow of advanced architectural thinking. Any overview of student drafting tables and computer desktops in leading design schools over the past five years reveals a highly motivated generation, with a strong commitment to more socially, economically, and ecologically aware building agendas. In fact, for a vast and growing number of young designers, the preceding generation’s proclivity for sculptural bombast, exaltation of toxic materials, waste of fossil fuels, and break-the-bank budgets is pure anathema. At the same time—and citing an even more reviled chapter of recent history—this new generation rejects the fading postmodernist tradition, as embodied in those rather cloying pastiches of regional/ historical style. In particular, their targets of disdain include Disneyland main streets and travelogue Vegas casinos, as well as New Urbanism’s decorous offspring in Celebration and Seaside, Florida.
While the Small Scale, Big Change exhibition reveals its fair share of design clichés and modernist-derived formal strategies, the fundamental dedication to economy of means and social concern is commendable in the extreme. This being said, the most difficult task in designing for politically oppressed, racially segregated, and economically challenged communities is understanding the inhabitants’ day-to-day realities. For example, when disenfranchised people at the poverty level create their own habitat—especially that highly inventive garbage housing so often cited for praise by the design world—their gut-level vitality and enterprising invention is based on a radical state of urgency. It is a condition of basic survival and expediency that, in all probability, is rarely understood by those “socially responsible” architects who have been conditioned by the comfort zones of economic security and haute conception sensibilities. While expressing compassion and understanding, their imported solutions for destitute neighborhoods are too often conceived from a combination of Harvard/Yale aesthetic, alien social sensibility, and naïve idealism.
The best works in Small Scale, Big Change have confronted and worked successfully with these complex problems of contextual response. The METI/Anna Heringer Handmade School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh demonstrates a sensitive awareness of regional scale, materials, and construction processes. The architect knew and deeply understood the community’s standards and aspirations from her long-term residence. Also, by choosing a school environment, she enabled a building type that everyone could enthusiastically endorse from the outset as a necessary, unifying force in the township. Furthermore, by engaging local labor and materials, her final work achieves that rare integration of high aesthetic, appropriate technology, and communicative imagery. Masterfully conceived, the completed structure seems like it has always been there.
The main virtues of Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Primary School in the West African village of Gando are its careful attention to sustainable values and regionally available materials. Over nine years, the structure has proven to be not only a successful educational institution in terms of spatial organization and air circulation, but also extraordinarily durable in spite of consistent and punishing occupancy. At the same time, the highly formalized design resolution seems to have come more from the architect’s education in Berlin than from his inherent sensitivity to local ambience and the more imaginative ideas that might have been extracted from West Africa’s richly varied psychological and cultural sources.
Moving on through the exhibition, Hashim Sarkis’ Housing for Fishermen in Lebanon demonstrates a great deal of sympathy for inside/ outside living accommodations and response to climate and efficient planning issues. The final resolution, however, in terms of form and color, seems to have popped out of some academic institution’s regional design manual, as opposed to being a deeply researched and creatively orchestrated extension of Middle Eastern housing over the centuries. Michael Maltzan’s Inner City Arts complex in Los Angeles ended up a little too sanitized for the constituency it is intended to serve. Given the idiosyncratic character of this Skid Row community, it would seem that rather than pristine white walls, the surroundings should offer myriad surfaces for spontaneous wall paintings, stages for nascent rap groups, automobile enhancement shops, and meeting places full of neighborhood-related artifacts. It is always a mistake for critical writers to offer design input; but in this case, it does seem that a rough and tumble collage of local participation might have been the better choice.
Dave’s House by Rural Studio, consistent with the imaginative productions of this Alabama-based educational ensemble, is admirably simple, economical, and green. It also possesses a faintly perverse character, because it seems like the exact replica of a dumb habitat, elevated to art status by its subtle interventions. Reminiscent of numerable regional house styles ranging from New Orleans to the Southwest, this archetypal dwelling achieves a special brand of aesthetic nobility, which becomes simultaneously acceptable to any local user and applauded by a MoMA curator. The only regrettable legacy of Rural Studio’s founder, Sam Mockbee, is his widespread influence on architectural education across the U.S. What has emerged is a kind of “frugal ideal” kit of parts—now endlessly appropriated by any faculty member or student who aspires to socially conscious design. The frugality part is great, but the assimilation of Sam’s stylistic influence is fast becoming an academy in itself.
Courtesy Druot, Lacaton & Vassal
Some of the projects included in the exhibition are well-designed solutions for less-than-urgent situations. The compelling community need, culturally responsive habitat, and minimum cost exigencies that seem to have shaped the primary objective of the exhibit also tend to marginalize certain endeavors. In this context, some structures seem more passively contributive to the collective ambitions of the show. The works include Elemental’s Quinta Monroy Housing in Iquique, Chile, where the issues of density and low-cost dwelling space have been very successfully resolved within a previously depressed area of the city. Similarly, the Druot/ Lacaton/Vassal transformation of Tour Bois-le-Prêtre in Paris represents the reinvention of a dreary housing block into a masterfully orchestrated symphony of delicately wrought balconies and spatially enhanced apartment extensions.
The work of Estudio Teddy Cruz has long been admired in the design world for its social conscience and edgy imagination. The firm’s Casa Familiar housing in San Ysidro, California contains all of the deft formal means identified with Cruz. Still, the project seems to lack the insouciant wit, cultural absorption, and social advocacy characteristic of his best work. There is a satisfying choice of formal interaction among the collective “Living Rooms,” yet the ensemble effect is somehow too proper and politically correct to reinforce Cruz’s oft-stated anti-establishment mission.
One of the more frustrating contributions to the show is the Urban-Think Tank’s Metro Cable in Caracas. Here was the pinnacle opportunity to bring mass transport to a previously isolated, garbage-housed section of the city, capping off the whole endeavor with a truly site-specific architectural response. Regrettably, the architects chose to ignore the veritable mountain of imaginative collage construction directly underneath the metro station, and instead impose a high-tech, starship-like facility on top of this wealth of gritty source material. In some ways, a number of the projects in this show suffer from a similar lack of “pushing the envelope,” in terms of contextual inclusion.
Any nitpicking is not intended to diminish the vast importance of the show. The bottom line here is the fact that the MoMA team of Lepik and Weller has assembled a cohesive and beautifully mounted exhibition, while contributing significantly to the ultimate 21st-century discourse on human habitat. Smaller scale, economic imperatives, environmental initiatives, and the ability to transform frugality itself into art, are the new raw materials of progressive design. In the end, this soul-searching challenge is just as much about aesthetic innovation as it is about socially responsible action.
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