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Designed by Renzo Piano, the Jerome L. Green Science Center at the new Columbia University Manhattanville Campus along 125th street and Broadway is basically a square and less expressive version of the Whitney Museum. The Columbia University Medical Center and Graduate Education building at 104 Haven Avenue between 171st and 172nd streets was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It epitomizes the architectural expression of continuity that was characteristic of the late 1990s and early 2000s and is intended to “foster connection and collaboration” among students, faculty and the medical community.
However, it’s Columbia’s 3595 Broadway, a massive, twelve-story concrete structure on the southwest corner of 148th street, that can help us ask questions about the role of the university and its expansion plans. This building is designed by a “specialized” local architectural firm to create “sustainable communities” through “well-designed and high-performance architecture” projects. These designations are highly questionable.
3595 Broadway is not named after a patron or an academic figure, it is only a series of numbers. The numbers are the product of a lot of parcel consolidation, programmatic swapping, development air rights, easement acquisition, and a site strategy that included the demolition of a townhouse built in 1901. 3581-87 Broadway, 3595 Broadway, 3591-3599 Broadway and 600 W 148th Street are all numbers involved in the real estate and architectural operations.
The new building will host the Meeting with God Church Inc., currently next door (occupying 3581-87 Broadway since 2007), formalizing the vacating and lot consolidation with 147th street for a future numbered project (also owned by the university). It proposes to construct and manufacture affordable housing 20 blocks north of the Manhattanville Campus as a measure to supply housing to “some residents” who were displaced by the larger operation on 125th street.
3595 Broadway is a massive opaque structure broken in two main volumes with a distinct brick cladding: Red terra cotta and sand-cream are the agents of contextualism. A third color of brick—black—is used to articulate the space between the two main volumes toward Broadway to formally give the impression that there are two buildings instead of one. A third, setback volume atop is fully clad in sand-cream color with black-brick details. A dark-brown cast-stone base fixes the building to the ground.
3595 Broadway followed its legal capacities to build to the very edge of the plot line, permanently blocking two windows per floor of the adjacent 100-year-old brownstone on the west, condemning those units to gloomy interiors. The site’s previous retail building—built around 1969—had a typical eight-to-ten foot easement space for light and ventilation to the building next door. That space gained adds roughly 3,000 square feet to the first four floors, a drop in 3595’s 150,000-square-foot bucket. It seems that the domestic living environment of at least four units with three to five people each (12 to 20 total) was not enough of a reason to keep the light and ventilation patio for the mental sanity of all; it was not enough of a community.
The building is said to have three green roofs. I have seen one from my building rooftop and it’s adorned with mechanical air handling units and exhausts. There is already a surveillance system in place, as well as exterior lighting that produces yellow light typical of the 1990s, most importantly, it is vandal-proof.
I am glad Columbia University will divest from for-profit prison companies (they should eliminate all their ties with them), but perhaps they should also revise the legibility and legality frameworks for their expansion plans. They could re-evaluate what their architecture can be: provocative, controversial, agonistic, or radical. They could at least clarify what “high-performance” means for the new building, and which “sustainable community” they are sustaining. Unfortunately, they fall into the “well-designed” project rhetoric that lacks a proposition. I believe a research university at the highest level should also have highest design ambitions and competencies.
To what “community” does this building serve by implementing these architectural strategies characteristic of the neoliberal propositions of the 1980s? 3595 Broadway’s apparent non-confrontational formal language visualizes critical conditions about how the university positions itself when speaking to their ivy-league-educated audience in their Manhattanville and Medical Center buildings in comparison to the public around their 3595 Broadway building at 148th street. The building in Hamilton Heights is evidence of how architecture is manipulated and treated with different standards (nothing new here) and how their formal, material, visual, programmatic, and even legal strategies (this is the only project where there is no executive architect separated from the design architect) are a concrete infrastructure for impressing and perpetuating what this seemingly innocuous building is doing: patronizing, marginalizing, and stigmatizing a neighborhood with the this-is-what-you-deserve-community-building proposition. Here, both the legible and legal framework clarify the role of architecture as a media for formulating ambitions, or lack thereof.
What is being manufactured is probably something different—something that will not speak to two-tone bricks compositions or legal compliance of construction codes. It makes legible some of the hard realities of the local and global expanding American university, where the school is both a real estate developer and an educational facility. Can or should the university aim for less apparent legibility in order to truly embrace progressive modes of building the future following its academic mandate? Can or should the university stop contributing as an inane city developer with their apparent mundane buildings? 3595 Broadway should not be a bland and insipid sample of physical reality. I am sure the university aims for an improved future for all, but it cannot fail in communities where it may be needed more.
The selection of the architect as designer and the executive architect also supports the problematic legibility all these projects are communicating willfully or not. The hiring of a “specialist” firm to work on 3595 Broadway reaffirms both the lack of “specificity” that a project may require (and questions the idea of specialization itself) and the problem of disciplinary knowledge in an architectural commission.
All the university’s expansions will for sure score the “green points” needed for institutional validation including that of the Enterprise Green Communities, although I am still struggling to find the “high” and the ‘”performance” in 3595 Broadway. Perhaps it is only in the less apparent numbers that no one in the neighborhood will see or experience with exception of rent hikes. There is much to discuss about the Manhattanville Campus and the Medical Center, their content, and the role of the university in them. Unfortunately, 3595 Broadway is a mute conversation.
For AN’s third annual design awards, seven jurors gathered in New York to review nearly 500 projects submitted by architects and designers.
The jury included Amale Andraos, dean of Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation; Nicholas Koster, project manager at Snøhetta; Chee Perlman, editor and curator of Chee Company; Ana Garcia Puyol, computational designer at Thornton Tomasetti; Ali Tayar; founder of Parallel Design Partnership, Terence Riley, founding partner at Keenan/Riley, and Mimi Zeiger, AN’s west coast editor.
In each category, a winner and an honorable mention were selected, although there were a couple of ties. Over the coming days, we will be posting their selections in the 21 categories.
Building of the Year Winner
Whitney Museum of American Art
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners
Location: New York
Located on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, the new Whitney Museum of American Art is at the epicenter of New York’s newest cultural district. Clad in pale blue-gray steel panels, the nine-story, powerfully asymmetric building responds to its low-rise neighbors with a series of linked terraces that step back from the adjacent High Line. Next to the Hudson River, the design anticipates the effects of climate change and protects the museum from storm surges and rising water levels with a combination of integrated flood gates, protection at all possible infiltration points, and temporary deployable barricades.
Building of the Year: East
Project: Field Public Elementary School
Architect: Jonathan Levi Architects
Location: Weston, Massachusetts
The history of landscape architecture in America goes back to the writings and activism of Andrew Jackson Downing and, of course, Frederick Law Olmsted. While there has always been a segment of the profession that focuses on estate gardening and horticulture, there are other firms who have a more socially engaged and expansive view of the profession. One thinks, for example, of Thomas Church, Dan Kiley, Lawrence Halprin, and Garret Eckbo, who all brought new ways of thinking and transforming the built landscape but primarily focused on the public nature of their practice and commissions.
Perhaps the most famous of these figures was Ian McHarg, a Scotsman who founded the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but who more importantly brought a renewed emphasis on urban planning and what he called “natural systems” (with his 1969 book Design with Nature) into the profession. Today, landscape architecture combines McHarg-influenced environmental awareness, city planning, storm water management, and aesthetic concerns of the in-between spaces we inhabit in the city. This public nature of the profession is the focus of many firms today—no more than at the New York office of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, who work almost exclusively on public, state, and institutional projects. More than nearly any other firm, they have transformed the postindustrial landscape of New York. It is very important, Signe Nielsen said, “that our work is publicly accessible and as a result we don’t generally do private residential projects or we don’t do green field sites, i.e. commissions to transform farmland into housing or forests to shopping centers.” Improving the life of everyone in the city is important, and if there is a social justice component, then all the better.
The 30-member firm (approximately 60 percent are licensed landscape architects) believes that “designers are public intellectuals” and as such they teach, are engaged in professional societies, and lecture around the country on their profession—one that Kim Mathews writes, “embodies hope and requires a longer, larger vision.”
Signe Nielsen has also served as president of the New York Public Design Commission for four years and claims that “we don’t just work in challenged neighborhoods, but our work has to be publicly accessible and leave the city better than before we were engaged.”
Food Center Drive
South Bronx, NY
This transformation of Food Center Drive takes one of the least pedestrian-friendly and polluted boulevards in the South Bronx and makes it a public amenity. This mile-long route serves as an entry into the city’s Food Distribution Center for its 16,000 employees and those who live around the center. The design evolved out of Mathews Nielsen’s earlier South Bronx Greenway Master Plan and creates a shared pedestrian vehicle path by reconfiguring the traffic pattern to a one-way loop, thereby reducing the road from six to five lanes. But even more it incorporates innovative storm-water capture and biofiltration strategies to contribute a significant new biomass. Within the median and new greenway buffer, there are over 700 trees in addition to understory grasses and shrubs. The project is scheduled for completion in October.
Industry City Courtyard
The redesign of Brooklyn’s long-derelict Industry City courtyard is a model of how to take an impressive, but slightly oppressive interior open area and make it desirable. The space divides two 600-foot-long buildings (and a shorter third side connecting structure) with 33,000-square-feet of courtyard space open toward Gowanus Bay, the sunset, and a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. To complement the large mass and immensity of the overall space, they used a plant palette of ferns and various monotone greens laid out in large directional swaths. Further, the form of the columnar maple trees plays off of the repetition of the building columns as well as the industrial smoke stacks and ventilation pipe remnants. Trees were chosen for the beautiful red fall color that will inevitably complement the weathering steel forms in the courtyard. The schedule of the project from concept to construction was condensed into just ten months.
New York City
In 1993, the firm began designing what would become the most complete (and badly maintained) contemporary park and infrastructure in Manhattan—Hudson River Park. Now, they have been chosen to add to the park with the creation of a new freestanding Pier 55 that sits off the shoreline just north of the new Whitney Museum. The Pier, which they are designing with the English Heatherwick Studio, is meant to be a 2.4-acre public park and performance space on the Hudson River. The form is conceived as a “leaf floating in the water,” and contains “an unexpected topography” of four lifted corners, each manifesting a landscape typology derived from their solar aspect, slope, and relationship to paths and performance venues. A variety of paths and stairs create circuits throughout the pier to maximize engagement and convenience for event-goers. The project is largely funded through a private donation of the Diller–von Furstenberg Foundation and is scheduled to begin construction in May 2016.
Randall’s Island Connector
South Bronx, NY
Mathews Nielsen seems to be single-handedly transforming the South Bronx into a borough of green boulevards, parks, and pathways. Taking off from their South Bronx Greenway Master Plan, they have created a brilliant connecter from the area to the recreational facilities on Randall’s Island. It not only creates access to badly needed recreational facilities, but also increases the area’s green infrastructure by treating all storm water on site and using native, drought-tolerant plants to avoid irrigation.
The quarter-mile connector runs from 132nd Street in the Bronx, underneath the Hell Gate Bridge viaduct piers, through a historic railway facility still in use, and over the Bronx Kill waterway to Randall’s Island. It includes a sustainable landscape, an at-grade rail crossing, pedestrian-bicycle improvements, and a pedestrian-bicycle bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists have a powerful landscape experience as they pass through the massive Hell Gate Bridge viaduct piers. The project will be open to the public fall 2015.
Shrouded in scaffolding for three years, St. Patrick's Cathedral’s renovation is nearly complete. Initiated in 2006, renovations stalled due to the 2007 economic recession, but began again in earnest in 2012.
Why now? The Archdiocese of New York was concerned about stone falling off the aging structure. They commissioned New York’s Murphy Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) to spearhead the renovation with a mandate to repair, stabilize, and preserve.
Built in 1879, the original structure was designed by James Renwick Jr., one of 19th century America's preeminent architects. MBB’s Jeffery Murphy, the renovation's lead architect, stresses that the St. Patrick's Cathedral project is "conservation, not restoration. "While restoration brings a building back to a specific style or time, conservation incorporates features from multiple time periods to display a full history of the space. There are features of the building that are now integral to its appearance but were not part of Renwick’s original design. In the 1940s, for example, archways made of Georgia marble were added to the Fifth Avenue entrances, lending a different character to the building’s exterior.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is beloved locally and protected nationally: The cathedral, as well as the rectory, Lady Chapel, and Cardinal’s residence on the same block, are National Historic Landmarks, a designation reserved for iconic structures with national historical significance. Uncovering Renwick’s original style with only fragmentary visual evidence of the original structure was the project’s overarching challenge.
Commenting on the renovations, Monsignor Robert Ritchie referenced Cardinal Dolan's opinion that "the conservation of St. Patrick's Cathedral is about spiritual renewal." During renovations, the church continued to welcome tourists and worshippers. Priests held the usual seven masses per day, calibrating their voices over the construction noise. The project is also a financial commitment for the Archdiocese, which estimates that interior and exterior renovations have cost $177 million so far.
Over nine years, approximately 140 designers and consultants, along with a team of 20 engineers, oversaw more than 30,000 interior and exterior repairs and modifications to the structure. Sustainability plays a major, and visible, role in the conservation process. The Archdiocese has invested in green energy, with ten geothermal wells planned for the site. The wells extend 2,200 feet underground, and will provide a 30 percent reduction in energy.
Raymond Pepi, founder and president of New York’s Building Conservation Associates (BCA), led the forensic analysis of the site. The team took an archival, rather than a decorative, approach to the conservation, matching current conditions as closely as possible to their historic origins. The team conducted materials analysis on hundreds of paint samples, scrutinizing each under a microscope to reveal the original color. Once determined, historic paint colors were calibrated again to be seen accurately under (much brighter) modern-day lighting. That level of analysis was applied to every piece of woodwork, plaster, stone, and glass. So far, around 150 masons, painters, carpenters, and other builders have labored on the project.
At times, there were over 100 people working at once on the cathedral. To coordinate the activity, MBB partner Mary Burnham said the team used Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field, an app that enables each team member to identify problems, flag repairs, suggest conservation methods, and allows the design team to follow up on the work as it was completed.
Transparency, inside and out, is a salient feature of new design elements. Monsignor Ritchie is emphatic that the Cathedral keep its doors open to all. New programmatic elements include sliding glass doors at the main entrance on Fifth Avenue so that, even in winter, the 9,000-pound double bronze doors flanking the entrance may remain open without letting in the cold.
Pollution, particularly candle soot, turned the ceiling and parts of the walls army green (low smoke candles are the norm going forward).
Pepi pointed out some of the quirks of the structure that the renovations highlight. St. Patrick’s, unlike textbook Gothic cathedrals, lacks flying buttresses. Renwick intended to create the ceiling in stone, but, when construction resumed post Civil War, stone was too expensive. The ceiling was done in plaster, instead. Lighter than stone, the concrete ceiling no longer required structural support from the flying buttresses. The renovations reveal the original tri-colored ceiling that Renwick cleverly designed to look like stone.
The interiors were curated to increase the space's comfort and reduce visual clutter. Signs and statuary were repositioned to harmonize with the space. Preservationists restored the glass and glazing on 3,200–3,300 stained glass panels in situ. MBB vented the bottom of the windows to improve air circulation, and maintain a more even temperature around the delicate glass. While most of the glass would have been severely damaged by removal, approximately five to six percent of panels in need of intensive repair were removed and shipped to master glass restorer Ettore Christopher Botti of Botti Studios (Chicago).
The exterior received the same level of scrutiny and care. The renovation team scrubbed the facade with Rotec, a gentle (25 PSI) spray of glass and water, to reveal any damage to the building. The original structure, said Murphy, was supposed to look as if it was "poured into a mold and deposited on the sidewalk." Uneven aging of the stone and grout caused the exterior to appear more variegated than intended. The current, cleaned facade recaptures the 1879 look of the building.
BCA catalogued each repair and is in the process of preparing a maintenance manual so that today’s conservation will last well into tomorrow. As Pepi noted, “the day after you’ve finished the building, it starts to deteriorate immediately.”
The Menil Collection. Parco della Musica Auditorium. The new Whitney Museum. The Art Institute of Chicago. And, now, Kum & Go Headquarters.
Renzo Piano’s latest client is the family-owned, Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain Kum & Go. His contribution to Des Moines will further move one of the region’s most prominent businesses from a suburban campus choked by cars and cul-de-sacs into a redeveloping district featuring a public library by David Chipperfield and a sculpture park by New York-based architects Mario Gandelsonas and Diana Agrest.
Piano’s design packages all the features that an ever-widening base of clients come to him for. Its strong, terraced horizontal lines hint at the indigenous Prairie Style, lightened with span after span of floor-to-ceiling glass. The five-story building (complete with rooftop garden) is suspended over a glass-walled entrance pavilion via a series of thin steel columns, offering Piano’s best chance in this project for his hallmark structural poetry.
Project manager Danielle Hermann of OPN Architects (the local architects of record) says the plan is intended to have the “building floating over the landscape.” The approximately $100 million project will begin construction late this fall, and is expected to be complete by 2018.
“Lightness, simplicity, and openness are the main concepts expressed in the design,” said Piano in a press release. “The four vast planes flying over the site will emphasize the lightness and the transparency of the building, and will dialogue with the sculpture park nearby.”
A third of the four-acre site will be taken up by Piano’s building, leaving ample room for a landscaped, privately-owned public park space that will serve as an extension to Gandelsonas and Agrest’s Pappajohn Sculpture Park across the street. Piano’s plan is designed to defer to the sculpture garden, while offering cool, shady outdoor space that complement the topography next door.
The Kum & Go building “should serve as a community connector and really fit well in the site—to serve as a natural, artful extension of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park,” said Kum & Go CEO Kyle Krause.
The neighborhood, called Gateway West, is a master-planned area of redevelopment, and a building by a Pritzker Prize–winning architect could be its crown jewel. Beyond Kum & Go and the sculpture park, it hosts the Chipperfield library, several other corporate headquarters, and a raft of new restaurants, several of which have been installed into adaptively reused buildings. Previously an undefined edge-zone abutting the corporate, modernist highrises of downtown, “It’s creating a new place in the city of Des Moines,” said Erin Olson-Douglas, an architect with the city who works on economic development and urban planning.
Krause’s family will own the building, with Kum & Go (who operate 100 LEED-certified gas stations) as a tenant. Krause proffered the vision for moving the company into the city center from the suburban campus they were rapidly outgrowing. Inspired by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (who moved his company from the suburban fringe of Las Vegas to its downtown), Krause wanted to harness the same urban energy that comes through chance encounters in active, vibrant places, according to the company’s senior vice president of store development Nikki DePhillips.
The attention Piano has focused on the city is reason to be proud, said Olson-Douglas, but it is also an opportunity to exorcise some fly-over-country anxiety. When Piano was selected, Olson-Douglas wondered, “Are we really good enough for that?” But, with an art museum by Eliel Saarinen, IM Pei, and Richard Meier, and Drake University’s Eliel and Eero Saarinen master plan, “There’s always been a culture of high architecture,” she said. “The decision the Krauses made ups that ante, and reinforces that history.”
Pictorial> Conservation work at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral is finally (almost) complete
Remember the Battery Park City wheatfield? Conceptual artist is back with a horticultural pyramid in Queens
A long time ago, in the wake of World War II, Los Angeles appeared as a welcoming paradise for returning veterans and footloose others in search of new beginnings.
Jobs beckoned and commuting by car or transit was manageable. There was not yet heavy traffic or smog; there was only sunny days and the promise of suburbia—the good life.
The only thing missing was affordable housing. People slept in makeshift Quonset huts and tents in city parks, while lines to purchase new makeshift houses formed over night and snaked for blocks. Then, as now, city government expressed concern and did little.
Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia by Cory Buckner tells the story of an optimistic approach to housing from the period, when four returning veterans who bonded as studio musicians decided to build a cluster of neighboring homes for themselves, sharing some common play space and a swimming pool. Other musicians became interested, and the group, christened as the Mutual Housing Association (MHA), grew to 25, then 100, and after some publicity, to 500. People eagerly signed up, and by the end of 1946, with some bickering and conservative diatribes, Los Angeles had its first large-scale cooperative housing development.
As author—and not incidentally architect—Buckner astutely writes, the goal of the MHA was not to build tacky houses, but rather “innovative structures that could be erected simply and cheaply and that reflected the politically progressive visions of the founding members.” A design team consisting of Whitney R. Smith, A. Quincy Jones, and Edgardo Contini was selected, and plans grew to include—in addition to the community swimming pool—tennis courts, nursery schools, and a cooperative market. In time, other architects became involved, retained by individual cooperative members with designated sites.
A hilly, raw 1,800-acre tract above then-rural Brentwood was purchased, and 350 lots were bulldozed. Construction began by 1950, despite a recalcitrant Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and its insistence on discriminatory race restrictions—supposedly meant to protect their investment, but eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Several members resigned from the MHA over this issue, which also undermined several similar efforts at the time in northern California.
The FHA also initially opposed the cooperative’s modernist design guidelines, which were based in part on LA’s famed Case Study Houses. Only a delegation of architects and others lobbying in Washington D.C. reversed that restriction, and today, despite the ravages of fires and insensitive owners, 47 remaining designs distinguish Crestwood Hills as a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
Buckner, who with her late architect husband Nick Roberts restored three of the landmark homes, details the community’s architecture, aided by a wealth of photos and illustrations. The total is a rich history of a unique community that distinguishes Southern California’s oft-overlooked social and architectural heritage.