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Aural history

“Tower of Voices” memorial will honor those lost on 9/11’s Flight 93
At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, construction will soon begin on a 93-foot tower to commemorate the 40 lives lost in the hijacked plane that crashed into the countryside on September 11, 2001. Dubbed The Tower of Voices and designed by Paul Murdoch Architects,  the tower will feature 40 wind chimes suspended by corbels (one for each individual lost) cast into a concrete tower. Notably, this will be the first major vertical element in an existing, expansive memorial that is almost entirely flat. The rest of the site, a bowl-like earthwork designed by Paul Murdoch Architects and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects in 2005, is nearly three times the size of Central Park and was designed to encourage contemplation through subtle alterations and restoration of the site's existing landscape – an old growth field and adjacent wetland. Arup is providing engineering and design consulting to simulate a 3D soundscape of the acoustic experience. The tower will be situated at the end of the memorial's circular path, and serve as the new entrance and exit to the memorial. Murdoch chose to work with sound, since, in his words, “The last memory that many [family members] have of the people on the plane is through voices on those phone calls,” according to Arup's blog. Of the four flights hijacked on 9/11, Flight 93 was the only one that did not fly into its target, the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Instead, on learning of the hijackers' plan, the flight crew and passengers struggled to regain control, ending in a premature crash into a field near a reclaimed coal strip mine in Pennsylvania, nearly 150 miles from its intended destination. None survived the impact. Set to open in 2018, The Tower of Voices' three-dimensional soundscape will be the final element of the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Buckhead Park Over GA400

Atlanta’s highway-capping park moves forward but seeks new partners and funding

An ambitious plan to build a park over a highway in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood is moving forward after the Buckhead business district voted to create a nonprofit organization that will manage future development, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The nine-acre linear park—proposed last year and planned for a section of Georgia 400—would be designed by the two New York–based firms ROGERS PARTNERS Architects + Urban Designers and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), a public-private organization that invests taxes from commercial property owners within the district into the public realm, released today an updated timeline for the project. The next five months will be dedicated toward the creation of the nonprofit, as well as the planning and design of the park. The CID has also dedicated up to $262,500 in order to sustain its contract with the design team through 2017.  

“The goal would be for us to truly hand this off to the new entity where they could count on some funding from the CID to help stand them up and help attracting additional partners,” Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett said to AJC.

Buckhead Park Over GA400, the park’s current tentative name, is a push from the city to encourage walkable environments and green spaces. The park is located at the confluence of Georgia 400, Peachtree Road, the MARTA red line, and the Path400 Greenway Trail. 

The current design is an open scheme with various public spaces—a Commons, a Plaza, and the Gardens—that aim to create diverse experiences through the park. It will also be built over a MARTA station (acting as a roof, almost) and will be connected to various pedestrian paths. Public engagement is expected to play a role during the design phase, as well as in the formal naming of the park.

The approval was a narrow vote, 4-3, with dissenters citing a lack of key details—including funding sources. The estimated cost of the project is as high as $245 million, with Buckhead CID officials saying they expect funding to come through both public and private sources, including MARTA when the Buckhead MARTA station goes through a redesign.

With this approval to move forward, the Buckhead CID is hopeful that pre-construction work will begin in January 2018, groundbreaking will happen by 2020, and a fully operational park will open by 2023, according to AJC. 

Explore the park in 3D here.

Honors and Merits

ASLA-NY announces its 2017 Design Awards winners
This year the American Society of Landscape Architects, New York (ASLA-NY) has bestowed five Honor awards and ten Merit awards to New York–based firms for their landscape architecture projects located across the U.S. The winners were selected by a multidisciplinary jury featuring members from ASLA chapters in North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia. "From projects that examine a site’s historic and cultural influences to those that explore innovative design approaches, this year’s winning award submissions showcase the full range of the landscape architectural profession," the ASLA-NY said in a statement. "There is a clear theme of resiliency and sustainability with the award winners that show appreciation for the long-term value of landscapes—again embracing changing conditions of climate and urbanization in the urban projects to appreciation of seasonal characteristics of plants, light and weather in the residential projects." Below is a list of the Honor and Merit awards; the awards themselves will be given to the firms at the ASLA-NY Design Awards Ceremony and Reception (Thursday, April 6, at the Center for Architecture in New York City). These projects will also be on display at the Center through April. Honor Awards Battery Perimeter, Bikeway, Oval and Woodland, Quennell Rothschild & Partners / Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners Governors Island Phase 2: The Hills, West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture P.C. / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects Abstract Morphology, Hollander Design Landscape Architects Navy Pier South Dock and Polk Bros. Plaza, James Corner Field Operations - Hudson Highland Cottage, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects Merit Awards Olana Strategic Landscape Design Plan, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects Naval Cemetery, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects Southwest Brooklyn, AECOM St. Patrick’s Island, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture / Civitas, Inc. Resiliency Rocks Garden, Local Office Landscape and Urban Design Croton Water Filtration Plant, Ken Smith Landscape Architect Compass Resiliency, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners Garden Rising Green Infrastructure Feasibility Study, WE Design / eDesign Dynamics Times Square Reconstruction, Snøhetta The Spiral, BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group

Honored

2017 AIANY Design Awards winners announced!
Last night at the Center for Architecture, AIA New York announced the recipients of its 2017 Design Awards. The top winners seemed to be Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with the former earning two Architecture Merit Awards (for the Asia Society Hong Kong Center and Kim and Tritton Residence Halls), and the latter receiving an Architecture Honor Award and Best in Competition Award (for the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center), as well as an Project Honor (for the exhibition Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design at the Jewish Museum). The jury remarked at the international scope of the 378 project entries, which ranged from Iowa to Germany to Korea, though were all designed by New York–based firms. 23 of the 35 winning projects are sited in New York City. Last year, 31 awards were conferred to a wide range of projects, including Manhattan Districts 1/2/5 Garage and Salt Shed (Dattner Architects in association with WXY), The Broad Museum (Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler), and Carmel Place (nARCHITECTS), just to name a few. The winning projects will be on view at the Center for Architecture from April 21 to May 6, with an opening reception on the 21st from 6 to 8pm. An Honors and Awards Luncheon will also be held April 21 at Cipriani Wall Street The announcement included a panel discussion from the jury (composed of educators, practitioners, and academics from outside New York), which included:
  • Barbara Bestor, AIA, Bestor Architecture
  • Hagy Belzberg, FAIA, OAA, Belzberg Architects
  • Tatiana Bilbao, Tatiana Bilbao ESTUDIO
  • Elizabeth P. Gray, FAIA, Gray Organschi Architecture
  • Anne Fougeron, FAIA, Fougeron Architecture
  • V. Mitch McEwen, McEwen Studio
  • Peter Waldman, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
The idea of architecture functioning within a wider social context was an overarching theme of the winners, according to the jury. At the start of the discussion, Waldman described how many of the winning projects were "vehicles for those who function in it... and citizenship." Bestor echoed his statement, saying how "all [had] different visions to create community in their context." Fougeron added these winning projects were "very mission-driven [citing the Diane L. Max Health Center: Planned Parenthood Queens]... architecture that enlightens and enhances program [citing the The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center], you learn from these buildings how people occupy them."

BEST IN COMPETITION

Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Executive Architect: Gensler Landscape Architect: SCAPE Project: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, Columbia University Location: New York, NY ARCHITECTURE HONORS Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Executive Architect: Gensler Landscape Architect: SCAPE Project: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, Columbia University Location: New York, NY Architect: Gluckman Tang Architects Landscape Architect: LaGuardia Design Group Project: De Maria Pavilion Location: Bridgehampton, NY Architect: Steven Holl Architects Associate Architect: BNIM Project: University of Iowa Visual Arts Building Location: Iowa City, IA MERITS Architect: 1100 Architect Project: Main: East Side Lofts Location: Frankfurt, Germany Architect: Andrew Berman Architect Project: SculptureCenter Location: Long Island City, NY Architect: Deborah Berke Partners Architect-of-Record: RATIO Landscape Architect: DAVID RUBIN Land Collective Project: Cummins Indy Distribution Headquarters Location: Indianapolis, IN Preservation Architect: John G. Waite Associates, Architects Landscape Architect: OLIN Project: Restoration and Renovation of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia Location: Charlottesville, VA Architect: Kennedy & Violich Architecture Landscape Architect: Richard Burck Associates Project: Tozzer Anthropology Building, Harvard University Location: Cambridge, MA Architect: nARCHITECTS Project: A/D/O Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Project: Public Safety Answering Center II Location: Bronx, NY Architect: stpmj Architecture Project: Shear House (Environment Sensitive Typology) Location: Kyung Buk (Yecheon), Korea

Architect: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners Associate Architect – Core and Shell: AGD Design Associate Architect – Interiors: Associated Architects Landscape Architect: ADI Limited Project: Asia Society Hong Kong Center Location: Hong Kong, China

Architect: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects Project: Kim and Tritton Residence Halls, Haverford College Location: Haverford, PA Architect: WORK Architecture Company Restoration Architect: CTS Group Architecture/Planning Project: Stealth Building Location: New York, NY INTERIORS HONOR Architect: A+I Project: Squarespace Global Headquarters Location: New York, NY Architect: Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture Project: Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: Stephen Yablon Architecture Project: Diane L. Max Health Center: Planned Parenthood Queens Location: Long Island City, NY MERIT Restoration Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle Architectural Conservator: Cultural Heritage Conservation Landscape Architects: Vogt Landscape Architects with Future Green Studio Project: The Met Breuer Restoration Location: New York, NY Architects: BFDO Architects and 4|MATIV Architect-of-Record: Marvel Architects Project: Maple Street School Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: LEVENBETTS Project: Brooklyn Heights Interim Library Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: Marvel Architects Concept Design and Interior Design: Macro-Sea Project: New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: SPAN Architecture Project: Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club Decorator Show House Installation Location: New York, NY Architect: STUDIOS Architecture Project: One Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Location: New York, NY PROJECTS HONOR Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Project: Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design, The Jewish Museum Location: New York, NY Architect: Practice for Architecture and Urbanism Project: Penn Palimpsest Location: New York, NY Architect: Studio Joseph Media Designer: Local Projects Graphic Designer: Pentagram Project: New York at Its Core, Museum of the City of New York Location: New York, NY MERIT Architect: Andrew Berman Architect Project: Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries Design Study Location: New York, NY Architect: APTUM ARCHITECTURE Project: Isla Rhizolith | Rhizolith Island Location: Isla Grande, Cartagena, Colombia Architect: Efficiency Lab for Architecture Project: The Lima Art Museum New Contemporary Art Wing Location: Lima, Peru Architect: J. Mayer H. und Partner, Architekten Project: XXX Times Square with Love Location: New York, NY Architect: StudioKCA Project: NASA Orbit Pavilion Location: San Marino, CA URBAN DESIGN MERIT Architect: DLANDstudio Architecture + Landscape Architecture Project: The Gowanus Canal Sponge Park Pilot Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: Kohn Pederson Fox Associates Landscape Architect: OLIN Project: New York City Housing Authority Red Hook Houses – Sandy Resiliency & Renewal Program Location: Brooklyn, NY Architect: ROGERS PARTNERS Architects + Urban Designers Landscape Architect: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects Project: Buckhead Park Over GA400 Location: Atlanta, GA Architect: Studio V Architecture Landscape Architect: Ken Smith Workshop Project: Maker Park Location: Brooklyn, NY

Leaving the Big City

Goodbye New York: AN picks the best projects outside the Big Three
The Architect's Newspaper (AN) has editors in New York, Chicago, and L.A., but we're not city snobs. With a network of regional writers from Baltimore to Dallas, Seattle to Phoenix, our mission is to cover projects everywhere in North America—and in 2016, we printed far-flung stories that usually fly under the radar. Check out our 15 favorite projects below. (See the rest of our Year in Review 2016 articles here.) WORKac Arizona House revives the Earthship typology “The desert house typology reached an ending point where it became all about overhangs and metal—a common vocabulary of what a desert house should be,” said Dan Wood, principal of WORKac. “We felt like that needed to be renewed.” The Memphis Movement A slew of new developments suggest Memphis, long plagued by high rates of poverty and unemployment, is on the up-and-up, but is the city really rebounding? Gensler designs a new vision for the unloved Milwaukee Post Office The long, low-slung Milwaukee Post Office is not a popular building, but Gensler's forthcoming revamp will inject much-needed vitality into the more-or-less dead space. Basket builders vacate Ohio’s famous basket building After nearly twenty years, the Longaberger Company, maker of wooden baskets, will be moving out of its trademark Longaberger Medium Market Basket–shaped building in Newark, Ohio. What will happen to the building? $1.9 billion Las Vegas Raiders stadium clears penultimate hurdle The odds for the Oakland Raiders football team’s relocation to Las Vegas are looking very good right about now. Not OKC See what's happening to John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City. Ford begins work on new $1.2 billion campus in Michigan When Ford Motor Company took stock of its current 60-year-old Dearborn, Michigan, facilities, it became clear that the only way forward would be to take a big leap into two new high-tech campuses. Spearheading the master plans is the Detroit office of SmithGroupJJR. When completed, the estimated $1.2 billon, ten-year project will involve moving 30,000 employees from 70 buildings into a Product Campus and a Headquarters Campus. Throughout the project, the entire campus will also have to stay 100 percent operational. New renderings revealed for ambitious, highway-capping park in Atlanta Buckhead Park Over GA400 is a new park typology for the city. Like most great public places, it’s about creating a series of scaled experiences” for visitors, explained Rob Rogers, principal at Rogers Partners and one of the park's lead designers. The Mexico City designers forging a new path beyond modernism By combining high-design references with homespun folk art, the city's designers are able to create works that are contemporary, but also contextual and artisanal, and that speak to the contested and refined realities of their home city. With a grab bag of contemporary stylistic influences coupled with the methodical pedagogy of their elders, the current generation of designers is quickly moving past the orthodoxy of the city’s Modernismo traditions toward new enterprises that blend design, architecture, and furniture. This year the city hosted Design Week Mexico, and it will be the WorldDesign Capital in 2018—the sixth in the program and the first North American city to be named as such. Shelburne Farms Old Dairy Barn, a Vermont landmark, destroyed by fire Sadly, Vermont lost one of its agrarian and architectural landmarks in September when the historic Old Dairy Barn at Shelburne Farms was destroyed by fire. Saving the Columbus Occupational Health Association Columbus, Indiana is small Midwestern city filled with buildings designed by Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Robert Venturi, Robert Stern, and many others. Now, its 1973 health center, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) is for sale. Despite its wealth of modern architecture and a forthcoming biennale, the town has no formal preservation laws, so a sale could mean the destruction or thoughtless modification of this important building. Jean Nouvel eyeing North Adams The home of MassMoCA and the future home of Gluckman Tang's Extreme Model Railroad Museum may be getting a master plan by none other than Jean Nouvel. Residents say Celebration, FL is ruined by mold and shoddy construction Although the Walt Disney Company hired a cadre of leading architects to design Celebration, Florida, the sloppy construction of homes in the theme town is driving residents to grief and financial trouble.
Dallas–Fort Worth Branch Waters Network dovetails with rapid development Architect Kevin Sloan thinks American conceptions of planning and notions of “nature” need to be challenged. His Branch Waters Network project in Dallas aims to do just that. 
A torrent of new projects are reshaping Staten Island Okay, okay—Staten Island is part of New York City, but even in a city of islands, the borough gets no love. Islanders voted to secede in 1993, and city officials say it's too far for nice things like bikeshares. Nevertheless, AN visited this spring to check out some new developments shaping the Forgotten Borough.

Yard Bird's Eye View

Building of the Day: Hudson Yards
This is the twenty-fifth in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours! When approaching Hudson Yards from Pennsylvania Station, seeing parked buses and queues of travelers along 31st Street, it’s difficult to imagine that this 28-acre campus could shed its transitory reputation to become a final destination point for more than just Long Island Railroad cars. But by reclaiming square-footage currently lost to train exhaust, the architects and developers believe Hudson Yards will quickly emerge as a major retail and cultural hub in Manhattan. Today’s tour started on the 41st floor of 10 Hudson Yards (also known as the Coach Building for its primary tenant) and was led by Mark Boekenheide, AIA, and Sherry Tobak of Related Companies, Marianne Kwok of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), and Serena Nelson of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. Designed by KPF, the 895 foot-tall reinforced concrete tower boasts 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space and is currently home to a number of high-profile tenants. According to Boekenheide, concrete was an unusual material to use for a project of this size in New York City, but was chosen in order to meet Coach’s timeline for move-in. He also noted that many tenants in the building are now opting to keep the material exposed to add a loft-like atmosphere their offices. 10 Hudson Yards and its twin still under construction across the way carry the tradition of twin office towers that stretch down Manhattan avenues ending at the World Trade Center. Although the towers are not identical, Kwok said, both are oriented in such a way to direct energy down to the 14-acres of public space below, reinforcing the complex’s relationship to the city as a whole. Once 30 Hudson Yards is completed in 2018, visitors will be able to take in views of Manhattan from the tallest open air observatory deck. Half of the Hudson Yards’ acreage will remain open space, and will support the creation of interlocking green spaces intended to draw tenants and visitors into the campus. When designing the elliptical gardens, Nelson said, accounting for the heat generated by the trains parked below on the west campus was a unique challenge; on a summer day, when the trains are stalled with their ACs running, temperatures could rise up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and would effectively scorch much of the existing plant life. However, gardens will soon grow at Hudson Yards thanks to the design of a glycol cooling system suspended within concrete beneath the soil. As confirmed by a 360-virtual reality rendering of the five orbital gardens, the Trafalgar Square-like space will serve as an exceptional northern terminus to the High Line once completed. About the author: Kelly Felsberg is the Program Committees Coordinator at AIA New York.

Vessel

Heatherwick Studio unveils design for new device at Hudson Yards
Over the din of construction on nearby towers, today Anderson Cooper moderated a panel discussion and design unveiling of Vessel, Heatherwick Studio's new public work at Hudson Yards
Stephen M. Ross, president of Related Companies, Thomas Woltz, founding principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), and Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studios spoke with Cooper about the value of public space in New York and the opportunities that designing a park and plaza ab ova present. The project's cost was previously reported as $200 million, though there's been no update on whether that's changed with the just-unveiled design.
"Vessel was really unlike anything I've ever seen in New York. We wanted something great. The city is about having great public places," gushed Ross, whose real estate firm is a co-developer of Hudson Yards, the 365-acre mixed-used development on Manhattan's Far West Side. Heatherwick's design, he said, "was love at first sight.”

In a see-and-be-seen city where even the ultra-rich schlep in and out of the subway, Vessel elevates the time-honored art of flânerie to civic priority. Its 154 vertiginous steel-and-concrete staircases are meant to help visitors experience Hudson Yards and surrounding people from as many angles as desired (or, perhaps, angles unintended). The stairs and viewing platforms converge in a lattice that suggests a panopticon with the geometry of an inverted beehive. When complete, the 16-story structure will be the tallest freestanding observation platform in the city (at least until the New York Wheel starts rolling).

"So often, historic public spaces are commemorating kings, or battles, or tragedies. But this is a new public space. It would be a fake duty to look back," Heatherwick told The Architect's Newspaper. Instead, the project reacts to a 21st-century urban condition: "Buildings are getting bigger and bigger—that mega-scale, it's something new. But 2,000 years ago, humans were mostly the same size we are now. The human scale stays true. This project was not driven by fitness or health alone, but more by how we could nurture the human scale."

Hudson Yards, Cooper maintained, needed an attraction for those humans—a Christmas tree 365 days per year but also something the public could interact with. “It was an extraordinary thing, to make a new public square, in the center of the city," Heatherwick said, comparing Hudson Yards to Trafalgar Square and Bryant Park. "We felt enormous pressure to not make gardens but to make an urban square, an extension of New York."

The design blends a key cue from the High Line—elevation—and reacts to the city’s fire escapes, stoops, and the countless staircases that facilitate the flow of people in the city. “We wanted to make a project out of just stairs, an ultimate body thing,” Heatherwick explained. Visitors can hit their FitBit goals twice over by climbing 250 flights to the structure's top.

On the ground, NBW collaborated with Heatherwick to create the Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards, a six-acre public space that links Hudson Yards with Hudson River Park and the High Line, which will get a new on-site entrance at Tenth Avenue and 30th Street.

Like Heatherwick, who designed Vessel's teacup form with upper-story office workers in mind, Woltz wanted "to create a site that was quite graphic" for the square and gardens. The firm consulted 400-year-old maps to determine the site's original environmental conditions (it was a wet meadow) and captured a snapshot of native flora from that time, Woltz told AN.

This is one of NBW's two active commissions for landscapes over infrastructure: The platform the park sits on is the ventilation cover for the rail yard below, and the platform had to be engineered to support 200 mature trees. “The landscape operates in a seven-foot-thick sandwich of structure. I will never in my life take for granted being on real earth, because everything here is constructed,” Woltz said.

Amid exhalations on Twitter, some raised concerns about the accessibility of the public spaces, especially Vessel, whose stair-fixation seemed to exclude parents with strollers and people who use wheelchairs.

A model depicted elevators on a fixed track—hardly the expansive views and exuberant movement promised by the architects. The project is inclusive, Heatherwick maintained. He told AN that the model is outdated; new renderings, including the bird's eye view, below, were captured from elevators that snake around Vessel's insides on curving tracks.

The High Line, with the new perspectives it gives people on public (and private) space, was key to Heatherwick's approach to Vessel, which he calls "a device, not a sculpture." In the most successful public spaces, there's a chemistry to seeing that's aided by human interaction, he said. A good public space, too, should offer an element of play. "I asked, 'Why are playgrounds only made for children?' We're creating a vertical structure for all of us."

Vessel will be complete in 2018.

Buckhead Park Over GA400

New renderings revealed for ambitious, highway-capping park in Atlanta
Atlanta is planning a cap-and-trade of the best kind: Today, ROGERS PARTNERS Architects+Urban Designers (Rogers Partners) and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects released more details of a proposal to cover a stretch of highway in the city's Buckhead neighborhood and convert it to a lush nine-acre park. "Buckhead Park Over GA400 is a new park typology for the city. Most Atlanta parts are historic, or like Centennial Park, built for a special purpose [such as the Olympics]. This park will create quality public space where you already have density. Like most great public places, it's about creating a series of scaled experiences" for visitors, explained Rob Rogers, principal at Rogers Partners. Thomas Woltz, principal at Nelson Byrd Woltz, added that the park, which straddles an eight-lane highway, "is connected to existing infrastructure and is being built in found space, much like New York's Hudson Yards and Millennium Park in Chicago." The pair presented their design this morning for Buckhead Park Over GA400 to the board of the project's sponsors, the Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID). Buckhead, an affluent neighborhood in northern Atlanta that's crisscrossed by interstate and local highways, is one of the city's primary commercial districts, with dense development clustered along its main corridor, Peachtree Road. As car-oriented Atlanta grows, the city is looking to enhance the quality of its green spaces and encourage walkable environments. Buckhead Park Over GA400 is born out of that ambition, and designed as a local park with regional pull, Rogers and Woltz agreed. A series of public spaces—the plaza, the commons, and the gardens—will be complemented by MARTA stations that bring commuters into the neighborhood and by connections to the Atlanta Beltline, and Path 400, a state-funded recreational trails initiative.
"When we started the project, one of the things we thought was most exciting was taking this void in the middle of the neighborhood, and turning that into the heart of Buckhead as a public space. When you're making this major public space, we thought, 'How do you ground that? How do you make this part of Atlanta?'" Woltz said. The design team looked to nature: the Appalachian foothills are one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, so he and Rogers decided to ground the design of the ab ovo park in the region's bio-heritage. The curving lawns, stepped seating, and sweeping overhead paths that will guide visitors over sunken lanes of traffic are manifestations of the region's ecology, abstracted through form, material choices, and horticulture, especially. The plaza's high canopies evoke the native savannah, while upland ecology is represented in the park's commons, which is scaled to host large events. The gardens off of Peachtree Road buffer visitors from that busy, car-oriented thoroughfare. Even at the conceptual level, the design choices reflect structural considerations, Woltz explained. A half-mile-long allée linking the plaza, the commons, and the gardens will be planted over the structure of the train tracks, so the designers know they will have enough stability to support mature trees. "This approach is the opposite of decorating the outdoors with plants," Woltz added. "We're selecting the most resilient plants that are still iconic for this ecology." Woltz and Rogers are hopeful that the next part of concept study, which includes community outreach and deeper financial analysis, will move forward soon.

Required Reading

Our AIA Convention 2016 reader

Explore this interactive map of the Gowanus Canal’s slightly scary microbiology
The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is notorious for its filth. Normally a sure fire way to contract dysentery, cancer and arsenic poisoning, the canal is now the subject of study from a diverse collaborative effort: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, biotech nonprofit GenSpace, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and data visualizers Landscape Metrics. Called the BK BioReactor, the undertaking employs a small autonomous watercraft that samples waters throughout the infamous canal (an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund site). The researchers set out to catalog its microbial communities before the canal undergoes dredging and sub-aquatically capping as part of the Superfund cleanup later this year. https://vimeo.com/156573571 Why the Gowanus? The team aims to discover new microorganisms "unique to the urban realm." With many urban areas facing similar pollution challenges, there may be important lessons to be learned. "The Gowanus Canal is an incubator for the evolution of such bioremediating functions, attesting to its industrial past and its capacity for self-renewal," they stated. To carry out the task, the group are using the BK BioReactor: a mobile watercraft that takes samples and stops at 14 "Smart Docks" throughout the canal. The craft measures "water temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen; and most importantly grant researchers and citizen scientists access to the microbiome below the cleanup cap. Subsequently, an interactive microbiological map has been produced, locating all the different microorganisms, the vast majority of which are bacteria. However, in some parts of the canal, large quantities of the siphoviridae virus family can be found. For those wondering, this is not linked to syphilis (which the canal has been associated with). That's not to say the findings were in any way healthy however. "Many of the species identified in preliminary samplings are also found in the human gut (a result of raw sewage) while other species reveal influence of the canal’s proximity to the ocean," the group said. "Regardless of their source, the microbial melting pot of the canal has fine-tuned its metabolism, swapping genes with neighboring communities and evolving novel functions to develop real-time strategies for the unique state of the canal." https://vimeo.com/156590188 Other substances discovered included:

Control the Message
Houston skyline viewed from Eleanor Tinsley Park.
Robert Blackie / Flickr

When I interviewed Thomas Woltz of landscape architecture practice Nelson Byrd Woltz about his research and initial design proposals for a rethinking of Houston’s Memorial Park, he mentioned a stinging comment that someone had made during one of the project’s public outreach sessions. It ran something like, “We don’t need your weenie, leftist, green, bicycling unfit-for-print!” A comment left under a story about the project on the Houston Chronicle’s website struck a similar tone: “Leave it alone, Woltz. I don’t need you to ‘tell a story’ with our park. Mother Nature has done a far better job than you ever could.”

While these gripes contain a number of fallacies—design professionals don’t need that pointed out to them—the pervasiveness of this sort of opposition makes it a factor that any architect must face when undertaking a project that is open to public review and input. And though the remarks above may have a certain regional flavor specific to Texas and the Southwest, this brand of misinformed, knee-jerk reaction is common all across our great nation. It seems, in fact, to be endemic in the American Grain.

As such, architects and landscape architects with ambitions to enter the public realm need to be prepared to deal with entrenched positions and prejudiced bloviating just as much as they need to keep their ears peeled for justifiable criticism and the opinions of locals who might know a site and how they want to use it best. Sure, designers should listen carefully to a community’s needs in order to make “careful insertions” that will “heal the public realm” by promoting “connectivity and open exchange,” or whatever, but a good idea is a good idea, and just as often as not too much influence from a divided and querulous populace can spell its death.

What I’m getting at is that, often, in order to protect the integrity of a good design it has to be carried through opposition without distortion. This can require certain actions that may not make the press release—backroom dealing, ardent cajoling, pugilistic obstinacy, etc. Luckily for architects, this dirty work falls mostly within the domain of the politician. But architects should pay attention to how ambitious projects are taken through the public approval process because it can help them craft their presentations to better ensure that the ideas that matter make it to construction.

A couple of examples of figures in Houston who have handled this tricky process well come quickly to mind. One is Judge Roy Hofheinz, who gleefully referred to himself as the Grand Huckster. Even before almost single handedly assembling the land, funding, and county approval for the Astrodome, he was known for swimming against the current to improve the city. As Mayor of Houston and as Harris County Judge, he was able to sell voters on new taxes in order to fund a range of civic improvements, such as paving the roads.

Another, more apropos, example is current Houston Mayor Annise Parker. In order to drum up money to pay for the Memorial Park improvements, rather than propose a bond referendum (which would certainly have been shot down) she approached the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (or TIRZ, a Texas variety of tax increment financing) and convinced them to redraw their boundaries to include the park. It was an easy enough sell. An improved park will only hike up Uptown real estate prices, thus feeding the TIRZ with increased property taxes.

Hofheinz and Parker both exhibit how to pitch a matter so that the stakeholders involved can see how it benefits them, even against their first inclinations. It is a skill that any architect would want in their quiver, even when dealing with a private client.

As for Woltz, he knows that maintaining the integrity of his firm’s design for Memorial Park is important. “We do need to listen to the public, but we are charged with a high goal. Never again is there going to be a 1,500-acre park in the middle of Houston,” he said. Fortunately, not everyone in the Bayou City stands against him. Other comments left under the same Chronicle story mentioned above include: “I like the plan,” and “It sounds great!” and “Fantastic!”

Land Without Fences
One of NBW's most significant proposals is the construction of two wide land bridges that will connect the park across Memorial Drive.
Courtesy Nelson Byrd Woltz

Landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) has released initial ideas for a master plan to refashion Houston’s Memorial Park. At a public meeting in September, members of the firm presented a range of strategies developed over a year-long research effort that are aimed at restoring the drought-ravaged park’s ecology, improving its connectivity, and rearranging its recreational amenities.

Memorial Park lost more than 50 percent of its trees during the 2011 drought. As a result, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department along with the Uptown Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and the Memorial Park Conservancy hired NBW to conduct a study of the site’s ecology and develop a long-range plan to make it more resilient as well as better functioning.

Working with a local team of soil scientists and ecologists, NBW bored into the ground and discovered that the park was not always the thick-canopy, pine-hardwood-mix forest familiar to Houstonians. Biological matter and multiple layers of charcoal found in the park’s upper strata indicated to the team that, hundreds of years ago, before European settlement, the land on which the park sits was a post oak savannah that was managed with fire by the Karankawa and other Native American tribes who lived there to produce better hunting grounds.

 

Explaining to Houstonians that their park is not what they always thought it was and that restoring it to an essentially pre-historic ecology may be the most sustainable solution has proved challenging for the landscape architects. “We feel we need to understand the past of a piece of land in order to propose to have a great vision for the future of that piece of land,” said Thomas Woltz, principal at NBW. “One of the things that we have come up against is the public perception that Memorial Park is a pristine wilderness, or a last fragment of the Piney Woods; that it was in perfect health before the drought and just needs to be put back as it was. But it was clearly not a resilient ecology.”

Further research into the park’s history uncovered that it was used as grazing land by European settlers, was part of the Reinerman Family homestead, was the site of Camp Logan where soldiers were trained during World War I, and was purchased in 1924 by Will and Mike Hogg. The Hogg brothers sold the land to the city at cost for the purpose of creating a public park. The city named it Memorial Park in commemoration of those who perished in the Great War.

The Hoggs’ sister, Ima Hogg, assumed the role of guardian of the park and protected it from many encroachments over the years. Her efforts, however, did not stop the 1,500-acre tract of wilderness from being subdivided by roads and rail lines. “One of the observations we’ve made during this year of research is that Memorial park is divided into 24 separate parcels by roads and highways,” said Woltz. “They’re a real obstacle.”

The most notable of these obstacles is Memorial Drive, a high-speed thoroughfare that bisects the site from east to west. While in 2004 a narrow pedestrian bridge was erected over the road, NBW is proposing to create a more significant link between the two halves of the park by building two giant land bridges, one 800 feet wide, the other 400 feet wide, with an oculus in the middle. “You can imagine this broad swath of prairie and trees and shrubs going up and over the road,” said Woltz. “It would create nice connectivity and an incredible place from which to look out over the rest of the park.”

Other proposals at this phase of the design process include moving all of the park’s ball fields to the north end of the site, where there is already significant light and noise pollution from I-10, and preserving the southern half of the park, which borders on Buffalo Bayou, as an ecological restoration zone. NBW also plans to improve the park’s horseback riding facilities and provide separate bicycling tracks for high-speed, BMX, and family riding. The Memorial Park Golf Course, which was built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1934, will remain.

Funding for the master plan will come primarily from the Uptown Houston TIRZ, which has committed to spending between $100 and $150 million on the project, as well as some state and city money and fundraising by the Memorial Park Conservancy. The design phase ends in April 2015, at which point NBW will present the master plan to the Houston City Council for approval.