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Just under a year ago, a new medical and dental school facility opened just south of downtown Portland, Oregon. The 650,000-square-foot Collaborative Life Sciences Building and Skourtes Tower overlooks the Willamette River from the new South Waterfront neighborhood, a former industrial area that is undergoing redevelopment.
The field has markedly changed since the 19th century when artist Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic, harrowing portraits showing a time when instruction took place in massive amphitheaters— students watching anesthetized patients undergo surgical procedures.
The new building, designed by Los Angeles-based CO Architects with Portland’s SERA Architects serving as executive architect, reflects that massive and rapid evolution of medical knowledge and the methods of teaching our future doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health care professionals. CO’s design unites medical departments from three universities under one roof: the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Oregon University System (OUS), and Portland State University (PSU).
The facility is divided into two wings connected by a central atrium and stocked with the latest in medical education spaces and technology. There are the requisite lab spaces, two large lecture halls, and an information commons.
The exterior of the facility is ruggedly clad in standard corrugated anodized aluminum and wood veneer. “There’s an industrial feel,” said Fabian Kremkus, design principal at CO Architects. "There are no rich finishes. It’s pretty prosaic.”
Inside, new technologies lead to new types of programs, such as the simulation rooms, which Paul Zajfen, design principal at CO Architects, described as “specialized high-tech requirements that need to feel like an operating room, simulating how a patient reacts.” Exam rooms and areas for briefings and debriefings are equipped with technology to support recording and real-time feedback.
An electron microscopy lab contains one microscope so sensitive that it rests in a special underground foundation, said Kremkus. The foundation, which cost $5 million to build, is designed to block vibrations from the nearby ships moving through the Willamette River.
An open, light-filled atrium at the center connects the Life Sciences Building to Skourtes Tower, which includes a dental school, dental clinic, and labs. “The building relies on spatial dynamism,” said Zajfen. It’s a marked departure from the typical partitioned, fluorescent-lit medical buildings of yesteryear. An installation of multi-colored LED tubes designed by Los Angeles-based artist Pae White hangs from the white atrium soffits, helping to brighten Portland’s drizzly winter days. A large red sculpture resembling a DNA strand by Christian Moeller, another L.A. artist, sits outside at the building’s southeast corner.
Interconnecting ramps with seating areas crisscross the atrium, mimicking those diagonal paths found in many campus quadrangles. Zajfen likened the ramps to being on an active cafe-lined street in NYC or Paris. “We want to make buildings act like great cities.”
There are sensitive efforts to maximize daylight as well. Ceilings in the north wing are higher at the perimeter and angle down toward the center to increase the amount of natural light entering the lab spaces.
While it took years to develop the legal framework to bring the universities together, the design and building timeline was compressed. They started working on the $295 million building with just a permit for the foundation. The concept was accepted within four months and the project took just three years from conception to completion.
The building achieved LEED Platinum, yet the sustainable features are understated. There are three green roofs. There is a 60 percent potable water reduction compared to similar buildings. The designers took the typical 40,000-gallon tank for reserving fire-prevention water, and upped the storage space so rainwater could be used for flushing toilets. “It’s a five year payback,” said Lisa Petterson, associate principal at SERA Architects. “We really designed the building to solve functional issues.” Rather than focusing on the building envelope, they prioritized energy management, such as recovering heat from labs and the atrium.
As is often the nature of an old industrial site, the building lies on contaminated soil. It was cheaper to cap the polluted soil than remove it, explained Zajfen. Building on the site without disturbing the soil was a challenge. “It was a brownfield site,” said Petterson. They devised a solution: repurpose a decommissioned oil rig for the pin piles. “We drove them through the soil to the bedrock without removing the soil,” said Petterson.
The South Waterfront area is growing and there are plans to establish an OHSU satellite campus. The Life Sciences Building is the second OHSU building in the neighborhood. Just under a decade ago, OHSU opened the Center for Health and Healing designed by GBD Architects.
The Portland Aerial Tram shuttles students, faculty, and staff between the two OHSU sites. It opened in 2006 and is the second commuter aerial tram built in the U.S. after the Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York City. “Other than architecture, our transportation is a bigger driver of our sustainable choices—how people get to the building,” said Petterson.
You Know I'd Bike 1,000 Miles: New York City celebrates milestone achievement in bike infrastructure
As high-profile developments in downtown Milwaukee creep closer to the city's iconic, Santiago Calatrava–designed art museum, a $30 million design competition aims to unify the two with a new civic space. The so-called Lakefront Gateway Plaza project attracted 24 proposals, with four teams emerging as the finalists earlier this year: GRAEF, AECOM, Office of James Burnett, and James Corner Field Operations each lead a group of designers and consultants vying for the job.
In conceptual renderings recently made public, the design teams presenting visions of serpentine pedestrian bridges, illuminated sculptures, and globular dollops of lush public lawn. Public officials will pick a winner later this year. They are currently soliciting public feedback through community meetings and a website.
The project is a collaboration between the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, and the state of Wisconsin, but it is seeking private funds for construction (each of the four finalists received a $20,000 stipend from the city to complete their designs). Project briefs asked designers to stay within a budget of $25 million to $35 million, but at publication city officials could not say who would pick up the tab.
“I have not heard any limitations on where we will seek funds,” said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development. “So, foundations, government grants, individual philanthropy, and even fundraisers are all possible.”
GRAEF, Milwaukee-based engineering, planning and design firm, has in their corner PFS Studio, Dan Euser Water Architects, Rinka Chung Architecture, and Newaukee. Their proposal frames the 1.5 acre space as an "urban confluence," and tucks a curvilinear pavilion beneath the descent of a wending footbridge lined with tall grass. Towards Lincoln Memorial Drive it presents a sheltered glass facade, while towards Lake Michigan it cradles a water feature and ice rink. A snake-like sculpture lifts off the ground, and is shown glowing purple in one firework-splashed rendering.
James Corner Field Operations, most famous for their work on New York City's High Line, leads a team that includes LaDallman Architects, Robert Silman and Associates, Kapur & Associates, Mailu Knode, Dan Euser Water Architecture, HLB Lighting, and Applied Ecological Services. Their plan emphasizes green features such as stormwater retention, and presents a series of spaces in a "procession to the lake." Two oval mounds of green space cleave off the lakefront terminus of the bridge, which gradually meanders toward ground-level after reaching the site.
Houston-based Office of James Burnett is a landscape architecture firm responsible for Chicago's Riverfront Plaza, and has on their side Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Buro Happold Engineering, Focus Lighting, Shore Art Advisory, K. Singh & Associates, and Fountain Source. They cite Frederick Law Olmsted's nearby Lake Park as historic inspiration, as well as modernist Dan Kiley’s Kiley Gardens. Melding the two influences, they hope to create “a playful, continuously evolving dialogue between natural systems and the built environment,” according to the proposal. Renderings show a year-round caravan of food trucks and clusters of drumlin “play mounds.”
Global design giant AECOM's team is URS, Tillotson Design Associates, Cynthia Reeves, and Delta Fountains. Dubbed “The Hanging Gardens of Milwaukee,” their concept winds its pedestrian bridge over the site, spiraling around landscaped areas and a terraced amphitheater.
The plaza project is part of a larger infrastructure program that includes improvements to lakefront streets and highways, as well as bike infrastructure and private development. Its planning follows a controversial widening of Lincoln Memorial Drive by Wisconsin's Department of Transportation last year.
On a New York City map, the seven-mile roadway that cuts through Queens is designated as Queens Boulevard. But to many New Yorkers, the notoriously dangerous street is known by another name: the Boulevard of Death. According to the city, 185 people (most of them pedestrians) have been killed on the boulevard since 1990; over that time, scores more have been seriously injured. For Mayor de Blasio—who wants to eliminate traffic deaths through a street safety campaign called Vision Zero—overhauling the Boulevard of Death was an obvious place to focus his attention.
In March, the Department of Transportation presented a $100 million plan to transform an especially hazardous 1.3-mile section of the street where 42 people were killed or seriously injured between 2009 and 2013. The plan would fundamentally change the geometry of the street by widening sidewalks, shortening crosswalks, reorganizing slip lanes, and creating pedestrian plazas and protected bike lanes.
“Work has begun to turn Queens Boulevard into a Boulevard of Life—literally remaking this street, rewriting its future, making it safe for all,” said the mayor at a press conference along the street as construction kicked off in July.
Transit advocates and numerous elected officials from Queens and around New York heralded the redesign of Queens Boulevard—especially its inclusion of protected bike lanes—as a “safe streets” homerun. But to these same stakeholders, the laudable transformation of Queens Boulevard is an exception in the DOT’s track record of creating safe streets for cyclists. In the Vision Zero era—after Michael Bloomberg waged, and largely won, the battle to make New York more bike-friendly—the so-called “bicycle lobby” and its allies are questioning the DOT’s commitment to protecting people pedaling around town.
As work was just beginning on Queens Boulevard, the DOT presented a $60 million plan to remake part of another notoriously dangerous roadway in New York: Atlantic Avenue. The redesign included traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians, but like many recent road diets proposed and implemented by the department, it lacked any bicycle infrastructure. To the added chagrin of cyclists, as these plans have been rolled out, existing bike lanes across the city have been worn into oblivion while others have failed to reappear following street resurfacings.
In July, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wrote a public letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg inquiring about these issues. After lauding the department’s commitment to Vision Zero, she asked why certain road diets were missing bicycle infrastructure and urged the department to make bike lanes the “default option when a street is up for a redesign.”
Paul Steely-White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, said the DOT must be bolder about implementing bicycle infrastructure if it is serious about eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024. With the rate of bicycling increasing, neighborhoods clamoring for bike lanes, Citi Bike now doubling in size, and the mandate of Vision Zero, he believes the department has all the political capital it needs to do so. “It’s no longer a political issue, it’s simply a DOT performance issue,” he said. “There is a residual shyness from a lot of DOT professionals who are perhaps gun shy from the bike lanes battles of the Bloomberg years,” he said. “But politically, socially, we’ve evolved beyond that and it’s time for the agency to catch up.”
DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said the criticisms levied at the department are not reflective of the reality on the ground. “People should be impatient, they should want things to come quickly, but there has been a process,” he said.
Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.
To Ben Fried, the editor-in-chief of StreetsBlog, a popular pro-transit publication, this strategy amounts to unnecessary “self-censorship” on the part of the DOT. Since road diets often meet community resistance whether they include bike lanes or not, the DOT “might as well propose the bike lane anyway,” he said. To many advocates, the best way to create support for bike lanes is to implement bike lanes.
As for the condition of the existing bike network, Russo, who bikes to work from Brooklyn, understands cyclists’ frustration about faded markings and vanished paint. He said the winter was especially harsh on existing lanes, but that “under Vision Zero we have money we never had dedicated to upgrading our markings, and we’ve been growing that operation.”
Overall, the DOT is bullish on its bike lane record—especially outside of Manhattan. The department highlighted bike networks it has proposed or implemented in Long Island City, Ridgewood, Queens, Brownsville and East New York, and around the Harlem River. Each of these plans includes a mix of bike infrastructure from shared lanes to protected lanes to bike pathways. In August, Commissioner Trottenberg also announced that the DOT would be presenting plans for a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, a project cyclists and local officials have been requesting for years.
The DOT plans to install 50 miles of bike lanes per year, at least five of which will be protected.
Building on its success in developing research that led to the High Line and the first purpose-built NYC Taxi, the Design Trust for Public Space partnered with the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) on a two-year research project exploring in-depth the 700 plus miles of elevated infrastructure across New York City, and the spaces below. The results of this study have been published in a new book entitled Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities.
The book was developed by Design Trust fellows Neil Donnelly, Susannah Drake, Krisanne Johnson, Chat Travieso, and Douglas Woodward. Together, the team analyzed spaces under bridges, highways, subway tracks, and rail lines as a comprehensive network of underutilized urban space. They envisioned new strategies for developing these sites, as well as a criteria for choosing the most potentially useful ones.
Douglas Woodward, vice president of Design + Development at Edison Properties told AN that the project started in 2001 when the Design Trust recommended that the 33 urban spaces under the High Line should be considered equally important as those above it. Edison Properties wanted to figure out what to do with the plots they owned, so they approached the Design Trust, who put out a call for fellows. "Rather than having an urban designer or architect, we felt we should have a landscape architect," explained Woodward.
Drake approaches urban design with an ecological focus, having previously received EPA grants for pilot projects to improve stormwater management on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. However, this is only one part of the larger equation of Under the Elevated. "We always want to improve underused places, ecologically, culturally and socially," said Drake. "These are places where transit cuts through human scale things."
NYCDOT, a collaborator on the project, has been searching for and realizing innovative urban design strategies in recent years, illustrated by such work as the Plaza Program and the Green Infrastructure Unit. Its mission for Under The Elevated is to empower communities to improve those leftover, underused spaces, and reconnect them to the urban fabric.
What is next for the program? "We are talking to the DOT now, trying to find some sites to kick the program off," said Drake. "We are all committed to it, but until we have something on the street it won’t seem that real to me. We have the pop-ups, but we need something permanent." Without having to abide by the same stringent regulations as most long-term urban design projects, pop-ups have proved to be a good tool for experimentation. The pilot projects, while more permanent, are still recognized as tests which can push the envelope.
The program addresses a range of issues from policy and ownership to simple problems, including measures to reduce noise and increase light. Neil Gagliardi, director of urban design at NYCDOT, says that the information from the study is very useful, and the agency is committed to moving forward with the ideas proposed. (NYCDOT owns, or at least operates nearly all of the spaces.)
"This is the first comprehensive approach. It is good to look at [underused spaces under the elevated] as a system and how they can benefit the city,” explained Gagliardi. “We are testing some solutions over the next few months mainly around lighting, because it is the main complaint we get." NYCDOT has engaged Sam Schwartz Engineering to look at the spaces on Livonia Avenue in Brownsville, and has also sought the expertise of other designers whom the agency has worked with in the past. The goal is to establish a toolkit of tried-and-tested strategies to enhance spaces under the elevated.
NYCDOT has identified pilot sites to inform its larger framework called the EL Space Program. It will address sites in Sunset Park's Industry City at 36th Street and "Rampland" in Long Island City along Dutch Kills Street—with the hope to get funding for a more comprehensive program. The pilot program is funded through public and private sources and will depend partially on how the Department of City Planning (DCP) rezones these areas. NYCDOT is working with City Planning to incorporate elevated spaces into housing and zoning initiatives. For example, The Jerome Avenue area in the Bronx has been the focus of recent rezoning efforts, and the city has expressed interest in improving lighting in places under the elevated infrastructure as part of its economic development strategy.
The question is whether these improvements will come to fruition.
"I think it’s more real than the High Line," said Gagliardi. "We need comprehensiveness to help plan strategies and plan criteria. What places are best used for industrial operations? Which are best for the pedestrian?"
The ultimate success of this program will likely be the strategies born from this study. These forgotten, underused tracts, however, are not just found in New York City. They are ubiquitous in most cities in post-industrial America. The study has far-reaching potential, and could serve as a lesson in how to exploit and make good use of underutilized spaces.
Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities is available for $30.00 from the Design Trust.