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Life Support?

According to White House projections, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday is expected to add or save 396,000 jobs in California over the next two years. While the Golden State is expected to benefit more than any other from the stimulus effort, the effect the bill will have on California architects and designers remains relatively unclear.

It is not known how much of the $787 billion will eventually make its way to California, nor how the funds will be distributed, although the original House plan had tentatively allocated $37 billion to the state. Some clearer national estimates have emerged.

According to a congressional summary, $48 billion will likely be divided among the states for transportation-related infrastructure projects, including $27.5 billion to build and maintain roads and bridges, with another $8.4 billion going to mass transit projects.

In the housing sector, $4 billion will be allocated for energy efficient improvements and repairs for public housing. In addition, $2 billion is to be set aside to redevelop foreclosed and abandoned homes and $1.5 billion will be directed toward homeless shelters. Another $2 billion will be used to pay off a shortfall in public housing accounts.

In an effort to revitalize the troubled building sector and deliver an immediate jolt to the economy, the bill requires half of the funded projects to be “shovel-ready,” or set to begin work within 90 to 120 days. As a result, the architecture and design sector may not feel the full restorative effects of the stimulus package as early as some have hoped. 

According to the nonprofit tracking site, California has 1,971 shovel-ready projects for which mayors throughout the state have requested federal funding, totaling over $23 billion. Most are infrastructure-related, but millions have been requested for residential, school, and transportation-related (airport, mass transit, etc.) buildings.

The AIA’s Rebuild and Renew Plan, by contrast, suggests funding projects that could commence over 24 months to sustain recovery over a longer period of time. It also suggests funding a wider variety of projects, including livable communities and preservation.

So how will the provisions in the package impact California architects? “The answer is not much,” said Christopher Thornberg, principal of Beacon Economics, a California-based research and consulting firm. “Nothing in the stimulus package is going to bring construction back anytime in the near future,” he added, pointing out that the financial turmoil caused by unsustainable building costs falling back to earth has significantly diminished incentives for new construction.

“It’s not really aimed at rescuing the real estate markets, because there’s not much you can do about the real estate markets,” he said, adding, “that’s not to say that stimulating the economy, or shortening the length of the downturn won’t help the architecture community; of course it will. But it won’t help the architecture community any more or less than any other part of the economy.”

Complicating matters is California’s projected $41 billion deficit. As much as $10 billion from the state’s as yet unknown portion of the stimulus package could be used to offset that gap.

“These are gloomy times and we’ve got to work through this,” Thornberg concluded, “but I think the economy is going to emerge in a healthier place when this thing finally ends.”

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CCTV Hotel Ablaze (UPDATE)
Images and reports are spiraling out across the Web of a fire taking hold at the hotel adjacent OMA's CCTV Tower. (Building calls it the TVCC tower.) Details, at least in English, remain slim, but a translation of Chinese reports suggest the fire broke out at 9:21 p.m. local time, or just after eight o'clock this morning in New York. A call to OMA's New York office did confirm that the fire was in their building, which is still under construction, though all further inquiries were directed to the Rotterdam HQ. According to the translated reports, the site is swarmed with fire trucks and emergency responders who are struggling to keep the blaze at bay due to a shortage of water. The Times is reporting that Beijing had been full of fireworks throughout the night as part of lunar New Year celebrations, suggesting a probable cause for a fire that, the Times says, took all of 20 minutes to race from the ground floor to the top of the building. No official word anywhere yet as to the cause of the fire, if anyone was in the building, or if there have been any casualties. The BBC has some video of what can truly be described as an inferno (via Archinect). When we saw the fire, two things immediately came to minde: the tragic fire in August 2007 at 130 Liberty Street (could smoking construction workers be to blame?), as well as the demise of another Dutch master's work, Ben van Berkel's Villa NM, which burned down last year in a mysterious fire. We'll keep you updated as we learn more. Hopefully China correspondent Andrew Yang, who kept stumbling upon the CCTV tower and building paranoia over the last year, can shed some light. UPDATE: So far, only a rote release from OMA HQ, though they are presumably flooded right now, and probably as confused as the rest of us:
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture has learned that there has been a serious fire at the Television Cultural Centre (TVCC), the building adjacent to the headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV). The TVCC building was due to open in mid-May and contained a hotel, a theatre, and several studios. As we learn more about this tragedy, we will advise the public further.
In a podcast on the Times's website, reporter Andrew Jacobs essentially ruled out the fireworks thesis he initially posited on the paper's website, as well as surmising that the building was almost certainly damaged beyond repair. He also said the fire was creating quite a psychic stir in the city:
I think it’s very symbolic for Beijingers as an architectural pair. And then the other kind of layer that is the fact that it’s happened on the last day of the New Year. The fire’s still burning, and it’s just about midnight here, so ringing in the new year with this kind of disaster is very inauspicious, at least in the view of many Chinese. A lot of people in the crowd couldn’t help note that and this was just not a good omen for the new year.
He also questioned the Beijing fire department's ability to fight high-rise fires, though as we've noted above, that is even a difficult proposition here in New York. The Times is also reporting now that the fire is believed to have started around 8:30 p.m. local time, though possibly as early as 7:45 p.m. Bloomberg is reporting a representative for Mandarin Oriental--the operator of the 241-room, 522-foot tall hotel--saying that no one was injured. The AP quotes a gloomy OMAer at the site:
Erik Amir a senior architect at building designers OMA said the fire had destroyed years of hard work. "It really has been a rough 6-7 years for architects who worked on this project," said Amir, who rushed to the site after hearing of the fire. "I think it's really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public," he said.
UPDATE 2: AN contributer Aric Chen reports. UPDATE 3: Little new news thus far, though people continue to push the fireworks allegations, including the Washington Post. Its report does include a good deal of news from the state news agency,, including that there are still no confirmed casualties, though seven firefighters have been hospitalized. The Post also reports that while fireworks are normally illegal in downtown Beijing, a reprieve was given for this year's New Years celebrations, though no explanation is given as to why this year was any different than those in the past. The Post also carried this rather poetic firsthand account:
"The building was like an oven, red inside," said Hu Jing, a 26-year-old paralegal who works in a building opposite the CCTV tower and noticed it burning just after 8:30. "In less than twenty minutes, the fire had engulfed half the building. Within half an hour, all of it was on fire. I thought, there goes billions of dollars, just burning."
Jeff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG airs an idea we'd been thinking of for much of the day, as well, that this was the rather literal pop of the construction bubble that has patronized architects, for better or worse, over the past few years:
Amongst many, many signs that the building boom has come to an end, from gridlocks of cars abandoned at the Dubai airport by fleeing workers to massive holes in the urban surface of Chicago, to entire architectural firms going out of business, to delayed towers and theme parks on pause, none seem quite as explicitly apocalyptic as the sight of OMA's CCTV complex – that is, the part of it known as TVCC, containing a luxury hotel – roaring with flames.
We still think it was the crane accidents last year that signalled the end, but this certainly comes in a close second. And LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne makes two interesting points on the paper's arts blog:
The architectural composition of the complex as a whole -- which I toured with Scheeren over the summer, and which I argued in a year-end piece "already ranks as the most significant piece of architecture of our young century" -- depends on the shorter hotel tower, which is known as TVCC. It is the hotel, in fact, that helps give the main tower its strange, shifting sense of scale. From certain angles the smaller section -- no shrimp itself at 34 stories tall -- looks like the tail of the big tower's dragon, from others like a fleeing creature about to be devoured by the CCTV's gaping mouth. [...] Potent symbolism aside, though, I'd be very surprised if the hotel weren't instantly rebuilt. The Chinese leadership has understood the graphic power of the CCTV complex -- the way it suggests a modern, ambitious and innovative new China -- from the earliest stages, and it seems highly unlikely it would allow the charred remains of the hotel to stand for any extended period. This is particularly true given Chinese sensitivity around the idea that its economy is rapidly losing steam. So there's likely to be no drawn-out, painstaking investigation of the wreckage by some Chinese version of the FBI or ATF. As soon as the last ember is out, I'd guess, the bulldozers will be clearing the site to begin again. Even in a global slowdown -- perhaps especially in one -- construction in China can operate at lightning speed.
UPDATE 4: Agence France Presse is reporting that one of the seven injured firefighters died in the hospital tonight: "Zhang Jianyong died early on Tuesday morning at a hospital in Beijing from toxic gases he inhaled while fighting the fire, Xinhua said, citing the city's fire control authorities." The Chinese authorities are now also suggesting fireworks, and not workers, may be to blame for the fire:
The official news agency quoted a city government spokesman as saying initial reports indicated firecrackers set off to celebrate the Lunar New Year, China's most important annual festival, has caused the fire. Firefighters found remnants of firecrackers on the roof of the burning building, Xinhua said. The agency had earlier quoted a witness saying the blaze appeared to have been sparked after fireworks landed on top of the hotel building.
According to the AP, the fire was put out "early Tuesday morning. And with the sad and happy news that the fire has been extinguished, it is hopefully time to build again. I can't help but think about a conversation I had earlier today with Alan. I asked if this was really as big of news as it seemed, or if we were simply particularly attuned to it because some big-name architect was involved. Would this still be making all the front pages were it just some regular old building, one in which almost no one was hurt? Of course not, Alan replied. Just look at The Huffington Post, he said, where the headline screams, "Rem Koolhaas Tower In Beijing Goes Up In Flames." Design hasn't been so notable since Philip Johnson was on the cover of Time. Just look at some of the 225 (225!) comments on HuffPo:
  • This is terrible for the people injured and Rem Koolhaas who is the consummate professional architect.
  • Holy balls that looks insane.
  • Notice how it did not collapse like WTC #7 which was the same size. Thats because it was brought down with demolitions. On BBC and CNN they said it had collapsed but it was still standing and not 'pulled' yet. More proof 9-11 was an inside job and that demolitions had been set up in the towers for weeks. Unbelievable the media establishment is afraid to tackle this...or is it?
  • this must be a testament to the extremely high building standards they have in china, just like the high standards they maintain for food, drugs, manufacturing, environmental and agriculture.and to think that's where some are planning to send the last american manufacturing jobs while the 'brainier' jobs go to india.
Okay. So half the comments were about the fire itself, and the other half were 7 WTC related, or jokes about Chinese construction standards. Still, whether it is a product of the building boom or some other design phenomenon, there is no denying that architecture has indeed entered--and hopefully not exited--a golden age, where the work of Gehry and Nouvel and Herzog & de Meuron are celebrated worldwide. An age where good architecture by-and-large triumphs over the bland and banal. An age where people look up. Far from being a symbolic end, look to this as a new begining, a time for more reasonable, even-handed, well-meaning buildings. Not to say this and others weren't. On the contrary. It's just that, in these harder times, we can only hope the cream will continue to rise, from the ashes, with the phoenix, etc, etc. And that, somewhere, Rem Koolhaas is, if not smiling, at least smirking. Keep fighting the good fight. UPDATE 5: Perhaps we've spoken too hopefully too soon. Our man in China Andrew Yang sends along a portentous message:
It was really gut-wrenching to see TVCC burn like that, itself like a firecracker. I woke up to read that one firefighter was killed in the blaze and several others injured. The Chinese media are so far not even reporting it. According to, a notice was sent to all major organizations by the government to stop reporting the fire last night. As to the cause, a lot of people are speculating that it was caused by fireworks. There are three major firework nights during the Chinese New Year--one on the eve of Chinese New Year, one five days in, and the third was just last night, on the first full moon of the cycle. During the festival, people can buy July 4th-grade fireworks all over China, and fire them off, literally next to buildings, on roads, on sidewalks--they light them up just about anywhere. Of course the cause of the fire is still not known, and may not ever ascertained, since this matter is something that the Chinese government is going to be controlling very closely.
UPDATE 6: Day Two round-up, including an apology from CCTV, whose fireworks celebration--rather ironically celebrating the new buildings--caused the fire; reports of a local media blackout on the issue; and some critical takes on the fire.

Hard Times

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Room Service in Gowanus?
At Williamsburg's Hotel Le Jolie, rates for a night can hit $300, but they come with a BQE view.
Aaron Seward

New York is a hotel town. Glamorous haunts like the Plaza and the Carlyle are etched into the city’s lore, while boutique newcomers—the Mercers, Maritimes, and Grands—have transformed its social life. The newest category to make its mark is not doing so through cachet, however. More likely to overlook scrapyards and warehouses than Broadway theaters and four-star restaurants, these hotels are the strange progeny of a boom economy and an anomaly in the zoning code. They are, to coin a phrase, the industrial hotels.

“Here’s what you’re looking at—Manhattan Mini-Storage on one side, the Holland Tunnel on the other, and a waste transfer station over there,” said Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, expressing his dismay over the most famous such hotel, the Trump Soho, now nearing completion at 246 Spring Street.

Trump and his partners at the Bayrock/Sapir Organization could just as easily have built to the east of 6th Avenue in Soho proper. But then they would not have been able to create what at 44 stories will be the tallest building between 34th Street and the World Trade Center when it opens this fall. The area, known as Hudson Square, is zoned for high-density light manufacturing, and is full of the mid-rise loft buildings that were once at the heart of the city’s printing industry. But like manufacturing districts citywide, it allows developments such as Trump’s, thanks to a quirk in the 1961 Zoning Resolution that permits hotel construction as of right.

Both industrial buildings and hotels require high-density sites, though for precisely opposite reasons. A manufacturer typically builds out to the edge of the lot to get wide-open floors conducive to machinery and storage. An hotelier, on the other hand, is more likely to choose a taller building with a narrow floor plate so that each room has a window. Any given warehouse and hotel may have identical floor area ratios, but their form and the kinds of jobs they provide could not be further apart.

But beyond the physical advantages of developing hotels in manufacturing districts, there is also substantial demand. According to NYC & Co., the city’s tourism arm, lodgings in the five boroughs averaged an 86 percent occupancy rate since 2004, while the average room rate rose from $210 to $312. And as the city continues to rezone industrial areas like Dutch Kills in Queens, which saw more than a dozen hotels built within an eight-block area in three years, it’s best to get in while land is still cheap.

“We’ve been losing manufacturing at an alarming rate,” said Eve Baron, director of the Planning Center at the Municipal Art Society (MAS). In 2001, she completed an inventory of the city’s manufacturing zones with the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN) and the Pratt Center for Community Development. While the resulting study found a number of development pressures threatening industrial areas, Barron said that hotels never came up. But now they are a serious issue, she argues, because unlike big-box retailers or illegal conversions, hotels tend to be physically out of scale with the buildings in manufacturing areas: “It changes the character of a neighborhood.”

Look no further than Hotel Le Bleu. Opened in November 2007 during the peak of the hotel boom, it briefly charged more than $300 a night, despite being within a block of the famously polluted Gowanus Canal. And yet it’s the first of eight hotels going up nearby. Like its Williamsburg sister Hotel Le Jolie, which charges similar rates for views of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Le Bleu’s style is more Best Western than Biltmore. Still, next to its low-slung neighbors, the eight-story Le Bleu has unrivaled views, albeit of the canal, but also of Manhattan off in the distance. 

Despite cries from manufacturers and groups like MAS and NYIRN, the city sees no problem. “Transient hotels are compatible with commercial and light industrial businesses, and important to the overall economic health of the city,” said Jennifer Torres, spokesperson for the Department of City Planning. “Hotels need to be able to locate where business is conducted, as well as where they can serve demand generated by nearby residential neighborhoods.”

Adam Friedman, director of NYIRN, did acknowledge the Bloomberg administration’s work on industrial retention with the creation in 2005 of Industrial Business Zones (IBZ) that provide protections to companies located therein. But they do not preclude hotels. Friedman points to one NYIRN study that found that of the 23 hotels built in manufacturing districts in the last five years, 12 were built in IBZs.

He would like to see the creation of Industrial Employment Centers, which would require any non-manufacturing use to go through environmental review and approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council. The council voted in support of such a measure in 2006, but has taken no action since.

Some might argue that with the recession in full swing, the market will move away from such development. According to NYC & Co.’s numbers, occupancy since October has fallen an average of eight percent despite a record-breaking August, when it was at 92.4 percent.

But according to numbers from hotel consultancy PKF, the city has enjoyed 80-plus percent occupancy rates since the late 1970s, meaning the recent boom in hotels is not a fad but the new reality, at least once the city climbs back out of the current recession. In essence, it is the entire city that is encroaching on its few remaining manufacturing zones, and the hotels were just first to get there.

“Of course they’ll be back,” Friedman admitted. “Within a year or two, the market will be strong again, and the underlying issues will still be there—how do you have a manufacturing district like Long Island City so close to somewhere like Midtown Manhattan?”

Eavesdrop: Editors

The state of the economy has supplanted real estate as the thing New Yorkers never stop talking about. Witness Murray Moss’ recent screed on Design Observer, “Design Hates a Depression,” a riff on Michael Cannell’s “Design Loves a Depression” from the January 3 Sunday Times. To our eyes, Cannell’s point that design “could stand to come down a notch or two” was well taken. Moss was having none of it. “I deeply resent the tone of comeuppance in Mr. Cannell’s article, his condescending, parochial-school-matronly, Calvinistic reproach,” he wrote. Other notable names jumped into the fray, including I.D. magazine’s Julie Lasky, designers Constantin Boym and Gong Szeto, and curator Aaron Betsky, who offered a silk cushion for Moss’ weary head: “The work you have shown has been infinitely more critical, important and interesting than most of the bland reductions that passed as correct design in previous eras,” Betsky commented. We’ve always loved $41,000 Maarten Baas dining tables for their criticality.

McGraw-Hill’s new title HQ might have seemed like a good idea when it was launched last fall, but how quickly things change! The magazine, subtitled “Good Design is Good Business,” goes to 65,000 executives and 10,000 architects, according to executive editor Cathleen McGuigan. Much as we agree that good design is good for business, it’s certainly a claim that’s hard to build an entire magazine around. We wish them the best of luck. But the real issue, of course, is: Did you make the cut? 

Oh, and Allison Arieff knows how to fix the suburbs! The woman who pays someone to grow organic food in her backyard understands the plight of those facing foreclosure in the exurbs. In her recent online column for the Times, the former Dwell editor wrote, “And after decades of renovation-obsession that has simply gotten out of hand, it seems a prudent time to swap Viking ranges for double-paned windows and high-efficiency furnaces.” That’s sure to fix it. Thanks, Al!

Send straw bales and micro-turbines to

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Nervi’s New Look
Upgrades to the terminal are likely to leave Nervi's famed rooftop silhouette intact.

The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is Italian maestro Pier Luigi Nervi’s sole New York building, and though thousands pass beneath it every day, it’s familiar to only a few. The Port Authority station sits astride the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, where it slips below grade between 178th and 179th streets, just east of the bridge’s Manhattan landing. With buses serving northern New Jersey and beyond, it is a transit hub whose commercial potential has never quite been met, and whose architectural character is easy to miss beneath 45 years of accumulated grunge.

The Port Authority is trying to change all that. In October they released a proposal for a major overhaul aimed at giving the terminal improved services and a lot more retail space. More recently, local political leaders, current retail tenants, and members of the preservation community have sought to influence the redesign, even as the Port Authority plans to begin construction late this year.

“Our aim is to provide a better retail experience for people who live in the Washington Heights area,” said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. The plan as originally announced called for the relocation of several of the small retailers presently on site; after a mid-November meeting with community leaders, the Port Authority revised and clarified that plan, stating that rather than a single big box anchor, a number of new stores would occupy the renovated facility.

The Port Authority will fund a third of the $150 million budget, with developers P/A Associates and Arcadia Realty Trust responsible for the remainder. The developers have selected Robert Davidson of design/build firm STV as project architect, and the choice would appear to be a significant one: Davidson planned the new transit hub for Ground Zero, and he helped select Santiago Calatrava to build the PATH station there. Calatrava has cited the Nervi bus terminal as a major inspiration for his design.

That connection, however, offers no certain measure of how deferential the redevelopment will be towards Nervi’s structure. And P/A’s Carolyn Malinsky gave a qualified assessment of the building, saying that “the Nervi roof is not actually a historical structure,” while insisting the redevelopment would leave the award-winning concrete coffers intact.

That much appears confirmed by the renderings: Save for a realignment of the arrival concourse to provide for more buses, the upper portion, with its winged silhouette, is unchanged. The lower level, meanwhile, will be glassed in, with all buses arriving on the deck above. The Modern Architecture Working Group, a preservation advocacy organization, has been lobbying both city and state landmarks agencies to insure that the building remains true, in its entirety, to the original 1963 design. But as Group co-chair Michael Gotkin observed, “we’ve been pushing for them to landmark the building for ten years. It’s only since the reconstruction was announced that we got a real response.”

Nervi fans may be interested to know that the architect designed one other major public work on the East Coast, an arena in Norfolk, Virginia known as the Norfolk Scope. A near-replica of Nervi's arena for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the structure, designed with local architects Williams and Tazewell, opened in 1971 and was awarded the 2003 Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects' "Test of Time" award.

The terminal's overhaul will feature glassed-in retail space at street level.
STV/Courtesy PANYNJ 
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Unveiled: Portland South Terminus
Courtesy Ambient Light for Hennebery Eddy Architects

Bus, light rail, and streetcar lines crisscross Portland’s streets. But only so much. Until now, thanks to a complicated plan by transit agency TriMet to add another light rail line, extend current lines, and revitalize an aging downtown transit mall.  Scheduled to open in September, the South Terminus, a new station designed by Hennebery Eddy Architects, will span the length of a city block and anchor the whole project near its end point at Portland State University.

Inspired by "solar wind diagrams and particle movements in physics," explained principal Tim Eddy, the architects created a crescent-shaped sculpture that soars 40 feet high to obscure the station’s power traction substation and signal communications building. Pedestrians will see only shadowy forms through the cladding of semi-transparent photovoltaic panels draped over the steel framed structure. Together with 22 pole-mounted vertical axis wind turbines, the panels will produce almost all of the onsite power needs.  Passers-by can monitor generated energy through a series of LED lights and markings within the reclaimed granite bench wall along its south end. A series of swales will handle on-site storm water collection and double as irrigation for the various native flora such as Oregon Iris, Wild Strawberries, and Oregon Ash trees that will be part of the landscaping.

"We wanted to create a sculptural object that breaks free from conventional form," said Eddy. Indeed, the project promises to be as much a sustainable art piece as a practical transit structure.

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Protest: Sam Hall Kaplan
Courtesy Palazzo Westwood Village

After two decades of contentious community debate and fierce parochial politics, a major mixed-use development, Palazzo, has opened its doors in Westwood Village. Let the debates continue, for if nothing else, the project points to a disturbing drift in the design world, where heralded mixed-use projects do not necessarily translate into accessible urbanity as promised, but rather into economically isolating banality—at least in this less than inspiring instance.

Woe to Westwood, now promoting as its new heart the Palazzo’s 350 luxury apartments, an array of gilt-edge amenities, a cavernous 1,252-space garage, and 50,000 square feet of mostly high-end retail and restaurants. Shoe-horned onto the four-plus acre site and shrouded in a nauseating canary yellow, the heavily hyped development has all the charm of an extended-stay mid-city hotel residence. It is more citadel than community.

A Casden Properties conceit, it was designed with an experienced if predictable hand by the venerable firm of Van Tilburg Banvard & Soderburgh in the all-too-familiar Spanish colonial style that has carpeted swaths of sprawling Southern California over the last quarter century.

To be sure, the apartments seem to work, deftly maximizing light and air in limited interiors in no fewer than 17 different floor plans. The now-standard gourmet kitchens replete with granite countertops and spacious closets are attractive. But the attempt to clad the exterior in an Andalusian mode of bygone Westwood is more boorish than Moorish. The detailing that distinguishes the style is just not there, no doubt a budget consideration by the infamously cost-conscious CEO Alan Casden, with whom Van Tilburg has worked before.

The project’s aggressive sales pitch may play off of the cultural attractions and conveniences of the adjacent UCLA megacosm, but with rents in the $4 per square foot per month range—one bedrooms are listed starting at $2,940, two bedrooms at $3,875—the Palazzo is more in tune with NYU and New York real estate prices than LA’s. And let us not forget the rock climbing wall and concierge service. We are talking here of “a secluded five-star resort with the advantages of stepping out your door into a vibrant and dynamic cityscape,” in the words of Casden that hint at [Grove developer Rick] Caruso envy.

How “dynamic” that cityscape will be is questionable. Clearly, neither Palazzo’s residences and retail nor its streetscaping are designed to serve the penny-pinching, poor-tipping college crowd that in the past so animated Westwood and made it particularly attractive to that forever-18 crowd. Especially fun were the weekend nights when the village’s array of first-run landmark movie theaters existed. For a while, it was LA’s premier pedestrian scene.

But that scene has long languished, following several nasty incidents over the past few decades that prompted a security-concerned UCLA to try to keep its students on campus by providing more on-site housing and diversions. Meanwhile, the obtrusive wannabe Bruin teenagers from the Valley who used to hang out in the village flocked to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and elsewhere to act out.

Casden was quite direct in his remarks at the opening, declaring that the hope of the Palazzo is that it will attract deep-pocketed residents and visitors to the faded village, and spur its revitalization and property values, even in these tough times. Echoing this hope for a new community in Westwood of “new people and new top-tier retailers” was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ever alert to both old and new campaign contributors.

Conversely, that heralded revitalization was the paramount fear of those objecting to the project during its protracted planning stage, as they quixotically clung to a nostalgic vision of the area’s past as a comfortable college town catering to both students and the surrounding community of postgraduates and professionals. In addition, the feeling was that Westwood did not need to become a regional attraction to pump up its real estate, and in fact was potentially more valuable as a modest yet distinctive development.

Westwood Village was indeed once a village, designed in a fanciful Spanish style and in a suburban spirit to serve a burgeoning Los Angeles in the Roaring '20s. Planned by one of the more acclaimed land use designers of the time, Harland Bartholomew, the village was the focal point of a high-end housing tract developed by the Janss Corporation, adjacent to a new campus for UCLA that had outgrown its downtown location. Nevertheless, the hyped development dollars and anticipated local taxes that an ambitious high-end mixed-use project would divert from the adjacent wealthy municipal enclaves of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica was too much for the city of Los Angeles to ignore, even if it meant enduring some raucous public hearings and nasty press and turning its backs on UCLA’s fast-food and fast-forward crowd.

The politically-connected Casden persevered, cheered on by local real estate interests and city economists, who see the village’s future and their profits pinned to high-end development. And if the mixed-use Palazzo doesn’t quite work as hoped, and Westwood slips further into somnolence, perhaps a streetcar going up and down Glendon Avenue would help, just like at the Grove and the Americana. They are all beginning to look the same, anyway.

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Van Valkenburgh Takes the Boulevard
Looking north toward 42nd Street, MVVA's design, with Toshiko Mori Architect, envisions fluvial forms culminating in a cable-stayed bridge.
Courtesy HYDC

Many New Yorkers are wondering how the Related Companies will muster the wherewithal for its multi-billion Hudson Yards mega-development, but plans are moving ahead for Hudson Park and Boulevard, the newly mapped thoroughfare angling north from the West Side railyards to 42nd Street.

Bringing this linear swath of neighborhood one step closer to reality, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected as lead designer for the project, which will run west of 10th Avenue and include a 4-acre system of parks linking to the core of Hudson Yards.

Related’s executives let news of the decision slip during a presentation of updated railyard designs at a Community Board 4 meeting on December 1, although the Hudson Yards Development Corporation (HYDC) remains officially mum on the matter. “We’re still negotiating to select the design team, so we really can’t comment,” said Wendy Leventer, the HYDC’s senior vice president of planning and design.

The choice of Van Valkenburgh was perhaps no surprise, as the landscape architect is already on Related’s design team for Hudson Yards. The other finalists for the project were Gustafson Guthrie Nichol with Allied Works Architecture, West 8 with Mathews Nielsen, Work AC with Balmori Associates, and Hargreaves Associates with TEN Arquitectos.

Van Valkenburgh’s office, which will design the boulevard with Toshiko Mori Architect, adds the project to a busy New York portfolio, which includes Brooklyn Bridge Park, a stretch of Hudson River Park, and the revamp of the north end of Union Square Park. The office deemed the dynamic public spaces of this last project a prototype for their Hudson Boulevard scheme. 

“Our idea was to take the elements of Union Square and redeploy them so they would work on a long, linear site,” Matthew Urbanski, principal at MVVA, told AN. “It’s got a civic quality and a grand quality, and the plazas end up being these fantastic places that can support farmers’ markets and impromptu gatherings." 

In some ways, the boulevard is a remnant of the city’s quashed 2012 Olympics bid, once destined as a grand urban gesture leading to a stadium atop the railyards. Now, the city envisions residential and commercial towers stretching south from 42nd Street, where the project’s flashiest element would be placed: a cable-stayed pedestrian bridge, designed with Mori’s office and engineers Schlaich Bergermann, spanning the Lincoln Tunnel approach. The public space would then expand into what Urbanski called “fluvially informed shapes,” with grassy areas surrounded by more densely planted, tree-lined sections along the boulevard. Plans also call for an entrance to the No. 7 subway extension between 33rd and 34th streets, with a domed glass canopy designed by Mori. The park would terminate within the Hudson Yards site, focusing on a yet-to-be-determined cultural center.

The park along the center of the boulevard would be modeled after Union Square's multidirectional urban plazas. 

Local residents have questioned how the boulevard would link to the large public space planned for the heart of the 26-acre railyard site, which Related is developing with Goldman Sachs. Asked about the plans at the community board meeting, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Related’s executive vice president of design and planning, described the boulevard as flowing seamlessly into the complex, although details within Hudson Yards remain to be refined.

“We’re still working on exactly how that’s done,” Urbanski told AN. “It flows south to the cultural center, then there’s a movement west to the river. It’s an interesting design challenge to figure out how to create a series of spaces that aren’t all one gesture—that would be kind of boring—but flow naturally from one to another.”

Given the economic meltdown, the full build-out may take a while. But plans are optimistically afoot to begin razing the dozens of structures in the new boulevard’s path, including the 65,000-square-foot former FedEx building on 34th Street, that the city has been busily acquiring. The HYDC aims to complete the project’s first phase, between 33rd and 36th streets, by 2013.

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Swan Song for AR’s Finch
The exact details are still not entirely clear but rumors from the London architecture scene suggest that EMAP, the owner of The Architectural Review, is replacing editor Paul Finch with Kieran Long, who edits the company’s weekly magazine, The Architecture Journal. Finch is only the 8th editor in the magazine’s storied, 112-year history and he is a revered figure on the London architecture scene, where he has long worked as an editor; acting chair of the government’s advisory committee on architecture, urban design and public space; co-editor of the quarterly magazine Planning in London; and has sat on the jury of various architecture awards, including the Stirling Prize. In 2002, Finch was awarded the OBE, the first necessary step toward a potential knighthood. If the rumors are to be believed Long will now edit both AR and AJ with a single design and editorial staff. Finch has been given some kind of emeritus status, with roving editorial responsibilities along with responsibilities for directing EMAP’s World Architecture Festival, which just launched its inaugural event in Barcelona last month (where I was on the scene). And this may be but the first tremor in the world of British design pubs. Peter Murray, ex-editor of the RIBA Journal and a founding editor of Blueprint, painted a bleak picture in response to the news:
The lack of advertising and the lure of the Internet (no print costs!) in our saturated market is forcing a number of publishers to look at restructuring the way they put magazines together. I can't see how this is going to be good for editorial quality or for differentiating the two mags, but I do think that Paul Finch’s gig of a major international event linked to the world wide web is an interesting evolution in publishing.
Stay tuned for more.
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Behnisch Does Baltimore
Courtesy University of Baltimore

A slice of Baltimore’s frayed urban fabric will soon be turned into a new urban gateway with green credentials, courtesy of Behnisch Architekten. Yesterday, the Stuttgart, Germany–based firm was named the winner of an international competition to design the $107 million John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore.

Partner Stefan Behnisch and colleagues bested big-league rivals including Foster + Partners, Dominique Perrault Architecture, Moshe Safdie and Associates, and SmithGroup Companies to win the commission, which is located on a prominent sliver of land near Pennsylvania Station and the Jones Falls Expressway.

“Stefan’s ideas about sustainable design and his creativity in responding to the evolving needs of higher education place him in the forefront of 21st-century architecture,” said UB President Robert Bogomolny in a statement.

The Behnisch team’s winning design presents a series of interlocking volumes around the building’s central vertical slice, which in turn connects to communal gathering spaces. “We wanted to avoid pancaking the program so you had a floor of offices, a floor of classrooms, and a floor of library,” Behnisch partner Matt Noblett told AN from the firm's Boston office. “Instead, we think of these as more vertical volumes that activate the community space. That’s one of the things that drove the whole design.”

Courtesy University of Baltimore

Known for its eco-conscious approach to projects such as the Genzyme Center in Cambridge and Toronto’s Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, Behnisch will bring green thinking to Baltimore as well. Noblett said that while the project is at an early stage, the firm is considering “a fairly glassy building” with multiple planted roofs and other green features. “We see both the inside and the outside as extensively planted, so you have a real experience of the outdoors within the building.”

The university’s decision, announced three days after the finalists presented their designs to a jury that included architects James Polshek and Frances Halsband, as well as critic Robert Campbell, was described as an arduous one. “Our deliberations were daunting,” competition advisor Roger Lewis said in a statement. (The Baltimore Sun reported intense debate over Perrault’s irregularly-massed design, quoting Polshek as being “disturbed by the discrepancy between the arbitrary and the rational.”)

The 190,000-square-foot project, which Behnisch will design in partnership with Baltimore’s Ayers/Saint/Gross, will rise on what is now a parking lot at the corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, making it a key node in the rejuvenation of the city's edge along the expressway. Completion is expected in 2012.

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Street Wise
Rogers Marvel Architects' winning entry Streets for Everyone.
Courtesy Transportation Alternatives

New York’s quixotic quest to turn traffic-choked streets into pedestrian paradise took another step forward today, when Transportation Alternatives released the winning entries in its Designing the 21st Century Street competition.

The contest, which drew more than 100 entries from 13 countries, challenged designers to reimagine sidewalks and avenues that could safely accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, trucks, and cars on the same “complete street”—a notion gaining traction in other nations and cities, but one that has until very recently eluded New York's car-centric transportation planners.

Coming on the heels of the Design Trust for Public Space’s Grand Army Plaza competition, as well as the popular PARK(ing) Day, Transportation Alternatives’ competition focused on the intersection of 4th Avenue and 9th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a wide-street crossroads plagued by speeding and reckless driving.

“We asked entrants to thread the needle of safety and mobility while designing world-class public space,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement. “Given that this intersection is one of the city’s most problematic crossings, each of the winning designs could serve as a template for countless streets across NYC.”

The jury—which included Danish planner-about-town Jan Gehl, New York City chief urban designer Alexandros Washburn, and architect Laurie Hawkinson—selected three winners. Rogers Marvel Architects was recognized for its entry Streets for Everyone, which focused on integrating infrastructure, turning 9th Street into an urban stormwater swale that filters runoff on its way to the Gowanus Canal. The design also places bike lanes in the middle of the street, offers “flex lanes” that can be claimed as neighborhood social space during times of low traffic, and revamps an adjacent overpass as a covered plaza with sheltered bike parking.

Somerville, Massachusetts-based Steven Nutter took honors for Shared Space, an entry that looked at fine-grained boundaries between different user groups. The plan widens 4th Avenue to allow for street trees on each side and a wider, mixed-use median with container-planted trees. Street life is focused on 9th Street, with widened sidewalks, bike paths, lighted bollards, and benches that create a more intimate scale.

Shared Space by Steven Nutter.
all Images courtesy transportation alternatives

Finally, Philadelphia-based team LEVON’s entry boldly resurrects the street as public domain, adding civic space, markets, gardens, leisure zones, and water areas. A heavy dose of green—in the form of street trees, gardens, and other organic elements—cuts down on the heat-island effect while providing new spaces for social use. In a nod to urban efficiency, all of the project’s elements are organized around a single, flexible module—one that is exactly the size of a parking space.

LEVON's entry Streets Come Alive.