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Chopping Down Tall Wood

Mass timber buildings could face height restrictions in U.K. over Grenfell fears
Government officials in England are poised to take an ax to the tall timber trend by moving to lop the maximum height of wood-framed residential buildings and hotels from six stories to just three or four. The potential restrictions arose as part of a just-concluded consultation process on the use of certain external cladding materials in new construction in England and Wales with a focus on flammability—an urgent concern in the wake of 2017’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire. To be clear, the Grenfell Tower was a concrete slab structure—as was the norm for London housing blocks in the early 1970s when the 24-story structure was completed—and the primary cause of fire’s spread was found to be aluminum composite cladding panels. Due to the use of specialized wood flame retardants and fireproof cladding materials, modern timber structures, no matter their height, are not viewed as particularly more susceptible to fire than non-timber buildings. Still, with Grenfell tragedy still fresh in the minds of many Londoners there’s a view that even slightly tall-ish buildings—in this case, anything over 36 feet—built from structural timber could present an elevated fire safety risk even if a building’s external walls are not wood. (The restrictions would apply to wood cladding and structural timber.) Per legislation floated by the government, any structures over 36 feet would be limited to having wood floors. As reported by BBC News, the decision has received swift pushback from the timber building industry, which has already experienced a sharp decline in England following the Grenfell fire. Meanwhile, mass timber towers continue to stretch higher and higher in other European countries, particularly in Scandinavia. Tall timber projects are continuing to reach new heights in North America as well. “Obviously no-one wants to see another tragedy like Grenfell; protecting life is the main concern. “But the government is over-reacting. Properly-constructed timber buildings can be safe in a fire – it depends on the design,” explained Matt Linegar of Finnish industry leader Stora Enso, to the BBC. “Even with the current guidelines introduced after Grenfell there has been a chilling effect on the industry. People commissioning buildings think ‘I’d better not use timber.’ The market has virtually dried up.” In a lengthy statement, the Timber Trade Association argued that further limiting the height of residential timber buildings could have a detrimental impact on housing construction:
“The best way to improve this legislation would be to focus any extension of a ban on combustible materials down to 11 metres on the external cladding, not the structural wall itself. Making such a change to the ban would also bring us into line with regulations in Scotland, which banned combustible cladding above 11 metres, but does not include the structural wall in the scope of the ban.” “One of the concerns which emerged from the Grenfell Tower fire was how quickly flames were able to spread across the surface of the building. This occurred due to the external combustible cladding and was not related to the structural walls. There is no evidence that structural walls pose the same fire risk as the external cladding, and so there is no justification for treating the two in the same way.”
The concrete industry, however, is requesting that no exceptions be made, including for mass timber. “Public safety is critical, and if further testing is required of materials like cross-laminated timber there is already too much doubt about its ability to protect people,” said Chris Leese, director of UK Concrete, in a statement. Mass timber structures are viewed as an attractive, highly sustainable alternative to environmentally taxing concrete and steel construction. Most notably, wood buildings act as carbon sinks by locking in vast amounts of greenhouse gas. Per statistics published as part of a study by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and shared by the BBC, a single five-story building built from cross-laminated timber (CLT) products can store nearly 400 pounds of carbon per roughly every 3 square feet. In the U.K., constructing a massive number of timber homes constructed from is seen as a way to both put a dent in the affordable housing crisis and reach legally-binding climate targets. “There’s no safer way of storing carbon I can think of,” said  Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director emeritus of PIK and co-author of the aforementioned study. “Societies have made good use of wood for buildings for many centuries, yet now the challenge of climate stabilization calls for a very serious upscaling. If we engineer the wood into modern building materials and smartly manage harvest and construction, we humans can build ourselves a safe home on Earth.” Responses to the just-wrapped up consultation process will now undergo review before any final formal rules are instituted.
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View From the Top

Chrysler Building public observation deck gets the go-ahead
Although observation decks remain shuttered across New York City (the newest and most dizzying in town was effectively shut down the day after it opened due to the coronavirus outbreak), the thirst for vertiginous ticketed attractions in the Big Apple hasn’t subsided. And RFR Realty, new-ish owner of the city’s 1,046-foot Art Deco landmark, the Chrysler Building, is happy to oblige. Earlier this week at a virtual public hearing, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission signed off on plans to build-out a glass panel-enclosed public observation deck on the terraces of the skyscraper’s 61st floor near its iconic silver eagles. Gensler was tapped by RFR to design the space. And to be clear, this won’t be the first observation deck at the Chrysler Building, which turns 90 later this month. The 71st floor was once home to an observation deck dubbed the Celestial that was in operation for 15 years until closing in 1945 per the New York Post. RFR honcho Aby Rosen has also expressed interest in reviving the Cloud Club. This legendary, long-running lunch club famous for its Dover sole, bread-and-butter pudding, and decidedly eclectic decor catered to big spenders on the 66th through 68th floors up until 1979. In addition to throwback sky-high clubs, Rosen wants to bring other retail and dining venues to the building as well. “I see the building as a Sleeping Beauty: It needs to be woken up and revitalized,” Rosen told the Post last year after purchasing the for-sale building, once the tallest in the world for a hot minute in 1930/1931, for $150 million. A timeline for the new observation deck has not been revealed.
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Tearing down a Mies-terpiece

Demolition work begins on NRHP-listed modernist building in Kansas City
Interior demolition work is underway at a Mies van der Rohe–inspired building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The modernist mid-rise structure, formerly home to the city’s Board of Education and central library, will be fully razed in the coming weeks although the fate of the building’s colorful, beloved mosaic murals by prominent local artist, the late Arthur Kraft, remains murky. Completed in 1960 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, the building was designed by Edward W. Tanner, an architect who left an indelible mark on Kansas City throughout the 20th century. Although another architect devised the site master plan, Tanner was intimately involved with the design of Country Club Plaza, a sprawling, water feature-studded shopping center—the first in the world to accommodate car-commandeering shoppers—opened by developer J.C. Nichols in 1923. An architectural fantasia leaning heavily on Moorish-inspired design, Country Club Plaza and its collection of Seville, Spain-inspired buildings is one of Kansas City’s most significant (and decidedly peculiar) architectural offerings. Tanner, who eventually established his own firm, also designed thousands of private homes in a variety of styles and numerous landmark buildings around town, most of them, unlike his work at Country Club Plaza, markedly modernist. The old Board of Education building, per a statement released by Historic Kansas City and shared by local NBC affiliate KSHB, is “an outstanding example of the Modern Movement: International Style—specifically the influence of Miesian design.” In 2019, the same year that the building was acquired by local developer Copaken Brooks after a controversial plan to redevelop the site as a hotel property was ultimately yanked by Drury Hotels due to squabbles over the incentive plan offered by the city, Historic KC placed the building on its annual Most Endangered List. As Historic KC noted: “Good public policy should not incentivize the demolition of historic buildings. Another low dollar hotel will add to the already saturated hotel market; threatening existing healthy historic and approved yet/unbuilt new hotels. Further, even if you don’t have affection for the modern architecture of the KC Board of ED Building, Drury’s proposal was an affront to the monumental civic mall plan across the street, that includes the three iconic art deco designed buildings: City Hall, Municipal Court and County Courthouse.” The building also landed placed on the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation’s 2018 Places in Peril list. As reported by Kevin Collison for the Flatland blog, the building has been vacant for four years and has become a “magnet for vagrants and vandalism” according to Jon Copaken. In addition to serving as headquarters to the Kansas City School District for decades, the building was also the longtime home to Kansas City’s downtown public library branch before it moved into a new, highly Instagrammable location at the old First National Bank building in 2004. As for the circus-themed glass tile mosaic mural by Kraft, a renowned muralist as well as sculptor and expressionist painter, Copaken has pledged that it won’t be reduced to rubble although nothing, at this point, is definite. “I have spent more time on the murals than the demolition itself,” he explained to Flatland. “We want to preserve them and have them open for public view.” He added, however: “The mosaics are affixed to a concrete wall. Cutting that out, removing it and preserving it in one piece is really expensive. We continue to work with groups, but we don’t have anything worked out with someone who can pay to get it down.” Concludes the statement from Historic KC, penned by its executive director, Lisa Briscoe:
Recent changes to the federal and Missouri historic tax credit programs contributed to thwart several renovation proposals. The historic structure would be demolished in connection with a proposal at 13th and Grand, which thus far remains a proposal. Historic Kansas City recognizes the need for Downtown to evolve and adapt to a changing set of office, retail, and economic circumstances. Circumstances may be changing dramatically even at the present moment. We are not adverse to development but want it to proceed in a manner that reflects the historic and scenic nature of the Civic Mall plan, that includes the three iconic art deco designed buildings, City Hall, Municipal Court and County Courthouse. One of Downtown’s strongest cultural attributes. Whatever the future holds for this site, any infill development proposal must be compatible with the Civic Mall plan. Further the colorful historic glass mosaic tile murals should be preserved in consultation with the Kansas City Municipal Art Commission.
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Bridging the Gap

Last piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park approved by Landmarks Preservation Commission
At a virtual public hearing on Tuesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a small but consequential section of Brooklyn Bridge Park that will be located directly at the foot of the 137-year-old landmarked bridge’s eastern tower; the eponymous Brooklyn Bridge Plaza. The new section, which will take the form of a spacious two-acre pedestrian plaza, replaces a long fenced-off vacant lot that has long served as an awkward barrier between the park’s DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights sections. When the project is complete, park users will no longer be forced to essentially veer out of the park and onto the congested sidewalks lining Water Street in order to circumvent the fenced-off lot and reach one section of the park from the other. The plaza is also located near Fulton Ferry Landing and Pier 1, where the first section of the park opened in 2010. This final piece of the 85-acre puzzle that is Brooklyn Bridge Park comes with a price tag of $8 million. As the Brooklyn Bridge Park website states, the “grand civic space” will include elements that stay true to the park’s “overall design vocabulary” and could potentially be home to festivals, seasonal markets, and a variety of programming. Like the rest of the park the design of Brooklyn Bridge Plaza is spearheaded by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Plans call for the plaza to be flanked by plenty of greenery and seating and lined with concrete pavers that “mimic the span of the Brooklyn Bridge” per Brownstoner. The vacant lot in question was once home to the Purchase Building, a 1936 Art Deco storehouse that was demolished to some controversy in 2008 with plans to eventually redevelop the site as part of the park. Brownstoner also noted that lintel salvaged from the building will be incorporated into the design of the plaza. Construction work at the site is slated to begin this fall and wrap up late next year. Elsewhere in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a new and improved Squibb Park Bridge designed by Arup reopened earlier this month after its structurally precarious, semi-nauseating predecessor was dismantled in October 2019 after only six years—most of them spent closed for costly repairs—in existence. The new $6.5 million steel footbridge closely resembles the first ill-fated Squibb Park Bridge but with less terrifying bounce, and will once again provide a much-needed link between the Pier 1 section of the park and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. However, practicing social distancing won’t exactly be a walk in the park for users of the new bridge. Work on another yet-to-be-completed section of Brooklyn Bridge Park near its southern end, the Pier 2 Uplands, is expected to be completed this summer.
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Rain, Rain Go Away

The Farnsworth House is (once again) besieged by floodwaters
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, certainly the most flood-prone site in the National Trust for Preservation’s storied portfolio, has once again found itself threatened following catastrophic rains that ravaged much of the Midwest during the first half of this week. (In Chicago, this May has been one for the books in terms of rainfall.) Considering the glass-encased, one-room abode’s location on a 60-acre site in the Fox River floodplain near the Illinois city of Plano, precariously rising water is certainly nothing new for the nearly 70-year-old modernist masterpiece. Major flooding events, some causing considerable damage to the structure, have occurred in 1954, 1996, 1997, and in 2008 when Hurricane Ike prompted the National Trust to suspend public tours for several months while the building underwent extensive repairs. Floodwater at the Farnsworth House, which like most National Trust properties is currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, appears to have deluged the lower terrace. But unlike some past flood events, the water has mercifully stayed below the stilt-hoisted floor level and is continuing to recede. Flood mitigation tactics were also deployed to limit the damage. More rain, however, is forecasted for the coming days. Katherine Malone-France, chief preservationist with the National Trust, detailed the current situation—and what needs to be done moving forward—in a statement provided to AN:
“The Farnsworth House is a Modernist icon that Mies van der Rohe designed to be inseparable from its idyllic natural setting. Van der Rohe recognized that the site was in a flood plain, and that is why it was built on stilts, however ongoing development as well as recent and increasingly more severe storms within the Fox River watershed have created an serious, ongoing to threat the structure. In the last few days the high water mark reached within 18 inches of the finished floor of Farnsworth House but are receding for now. National Trust staff have implemented their standard flood response protocols, including turning off the power, lifting furniture, raising and protecting the curtains among other protocols and they will continue to monitor the situation. This comes just as the house had been returned to the original interior design created by Edith Farnsworth herself as a part of Edith Farnsworth Reconsidered exhibit focused on the extraordinary woman who commissioned the house. The pandemic has significantly delayed plans for public viewing of the installation within the Farnsworth House but people around the world can engage with this digitally on the Farnsworth House’s social media channels. “The lower deck of the house has been completely flooded and our conservators estimate $500,000 will be needed to repair to steel perimeter channels, interstitial concrete, waterproofing, drains and the travertine pavers. The National Trust has begun a project to repair the lower deck, but we can only continue if additional funding sustains these efforts.”
To be clear, the initiative to repair the lower deck of the Farnsworth House was instigated prior to this week’s flooding events as part of a multi-year sequence of “projects that are crucial to the stewardship of the site and ensure it endures for future generations.” This so-called Lower Terrace Restoration Project, which underwent feasibility and investigative tests in 2019 and early this year, “will be a complex and expensive project which aligns with the National Trust’s other long-term plans for the site,” explained the organization, which welcomes over 11,000 visitors to the private weekend refuge-turned-museum annually. The National Trust acquired the Farnsworth House in 2003 after Peter Palumbo, the home’s previous longtime owner who purchased the retreat from Edith Farnsworth in 1972, put it on the market and its fate took a turn for ominous. As mentioned by Malone-France, visitors can still virtually tour and learn more about the Farnsworth House through the National Trust’s digital platforms; an array of historic sites managed by or affiliated with the National Trust are receiving special attention in May as part of Virtual Preservation Month.
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A new book argues Frederick Kiesler was the influencer at the center of American modernism
Instead of charting an artist or architect’s career as a sequence of projects, what if you mapped it according to the people with whom they conversed, commiserated, and collaborated? That is the productive experiment contained within the book Frederick Kiesler: Face to Face with the Avant-Garde, about the Austro-American architect. Its 21 essays “on network and impact” are like 21 faces of a prism that reveals Kiesler not simply as a creative and critical dynamo, but, as Peter Bogner, one of the book’s editors, writes in the introduction, “as a dedicated networker who played a pivotal role in the transfer of ideas between the European avant-garde and the New World.” Remembered in architecture circles today for designing several spectacular exhibitions and especially for his unbuilt, cocoon-like Endless House project (1947–61), Kiesler was anything but a recluse. It’s jarring, at first, to see a serious artist-architect characterized as “a dedicated networker,” as if Kiesler were a brand ambassador for LinkedIn. But the truth is he spent a lot of time schmoozing, and his sociability helped fuel his career. Standing just five feet tall, Kiesler charismatically commanded a room, his intelligence lightened by “a twinkle in his voice and a critically penetrating wit,” as Caroll Janis remembers. To read about Kiesler by way of his compatriots and contemporaries is a little bit like attending his 1965 funeral in Manhattan, which featured a lineup of spirited readings and performances. At one point the artist Robert Rauschenberg rolled a car tire through the rows of mourners, painted it near the altar, and laid it to rest by Kiesler’s casket. Though few if any architects attended the funeral, Kiesler was “rediscovered” by 1970s architects who embraced environmental art, and resurrected once more in the new millennium by spatial innovators wielding digital modeling tools. Hani Rashid, the ex-president of the Frederick Kiesler Foundation, writes in his foreword that Kiesler, with his fluid and interactive forms, “recognized the prophetic glimmers of a neurally networked planet and society.” The Endless House remains not just a paragon of sculptural plasticity, but also a daring, if all but unrealizable, vision of a total environment in flux. “As an architect, Kiesler does not often get his due,” the late Bill Menking wrote in 2016. “But Kiesler never gave up his desire to build,” and his creative vision remains “more relevant than ever in today’s world of architecture practice.” Previous books on Kiesler, such as Stephen J. Phillips’s Elastic Architecture of 2017 and a 1989 Whitney Museum exhibition catalog, provide a relatively monographic analysis of Kiesler’s multidisciplinary practice. In contrast, Face to Face uses network research, a technique developed in the social sciences, to shed light on Kiesler’s formative relationships and social circles in relation to certain key “nodes,” i.e. projects and events. The volume’s many essays describe Kiesler’s sometimes warm, sometimes fraught relationships with figures such as Theo van Doesburg, Hans Richter, Sigfried Giedion, Marcel Duchamp, and Piero Dorazio, and with collectives like the Bauhaus and the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen. Architect and environmental artist James Wines, founder of SITE, writes that his friendship with Kiesler set him on a new creative path. “Transfixed by this diminutive and iconoclastic genius,” Wines writes, “I basically abandoned my entire sculpture career and ventured into experimental architecture.” Kiesler disdained the label “avant-garde,” Wines adds, as “even more degradingly conservative than being called ‘historical.’” Frederick Kiesler was born in 1890 in a provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire that is now part of Ukraine. After studying and working in Vienna, he first broke through as a designer in Berlin, in 1923, with his electro-mechanical stage set for Karel Capek’s dystopian robot play R.U.R. After the second performance, as Kiesler was preparing to exit the theater, he was grabbed and carried off by Theo van Doesburg and his De Stijl “gang,” whose members included El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, and Kurt Schwitters. They met Mies van der Rohe at a club, where they spent the night discussing revolutionary ideas for architecture and theater. Kiesler then circulated between Vienna, Berlin, and Paris until 1926, when he first traveled to New York to set up a theater exhibition. Kiesler’s heady networking required support and sacrifices along the way. Stefi, his first wife, “gave up her life as an artist and began working at the New York Public Library in August 1927,” as Gerd Zillner writes. Kiesler befriended establishment architects like Harvey Wiley Corbett and Wallace K. Harrison—valuable connections—but corporate practice did not suit him. His attempts to practice architecture in New York were thwarted by the collapse of commissions for a theater in Brooklyn Heights (1926), a museum building for the Société Anonyme (1927), and a theater in Woodstock, New York (1931). In 1931 he was introduced to Hilla Rebay as a potential architect for the planned Museum for Non-Objective Art, the future Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, but that project, too, fell through for Kiesler. Amid the Depression, Kiesler found work designing theatrical stage sets, luxury shop windows, a cinema, a modern furniture showroom, and a model house. He also landed faculty positions at Columbia University and the Juilliard School and published articles on his theories of “design correlation” and “correalism” in which, simply put, everything responds to everything else. Though the Kieslers hosted countless parties and distinguished guests including Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, and Mies at their penthouse apartment on Seventh Avenue and 14th Street, where they lived from 1933, Kiesler always protected his creative and intellectual space. For example, Almut Grunewald’s essay recounts how the art historian Carola Giedion-Welcker, the wife of Sigfried Giedion, was impressed by Kiesler’s design for the 1947 Surrealist exhibition in Paris, and suggested recruiting Kiesler to CIAM. “Kiesler explained to me that what he does is a rebellion against hygienic architecture. That he is not a surrealist,” Carola wrote to Sigfried. “Might he not be useful for CIAM?” But, though Kiesler and Giedion shared an interest in the synthesis of the arts, and enjoyed at least sociable outing to the beach together, as shown in a photo, they ultimately held each other at arm’s length. Kiesler never joined CIAM, which came to represent precisely the “hygienic architecture” against which Kiesler rebelled with his poetic search for “the endless.” The Endless House, for which MoMA commissioned a full-scale model that was never realized, is at once Kiesler’s most recognizable and most misunderstood project. To this day it brings new designers and thinkers into the orbit of this ever-beguiling artist-architect—thus expanding his posthumous network—but the visual power of Kiesler’s drawings and models all too often overshadows his desire to put people in touch, literally, with architecture and the environment. Face to Face with the Avant-Garde takes an important cue from Kiesler’s theory of continual interaction and movement. Indeed, the book offers something like a “correalistic” approach to the figure of Kiesler himself—endlessly recomposed of opportune encounters, transformative conversations, and transatlantic debates.
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Bullseye on Brutalism

San Jose preservationists move to protect Brutalist César Pelli building from demolition
Before his name became synonymous with very tall skyscrapers, the late Argentine architect César Pelli completed a handful of projects in the 1960s and ’70s—all with Gruen Associates–that were decidedly, but not exclusively, squat: A (now demolished) shopping mall in Columbus, Indiana; an (endangered) former research facility built in Clarksburg, Maryland, for a Congress-established satellite communications company, and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, which is long and large but not all that lanky. Completed in 1973, two years before West Hollywood's “Blue Whale” beached itself on Melrose Avenue, Pelli completed another “low” project: a Brutalist Bay Area bank building. An imposing structure with faintly sphinx-like attributes, the old Bank of California building at 1170 Park Avenue in downtown San Jose is now threatened with demolition as part of a redevelopment scheme headed by Jay Paul Company. Pelli’s building, along with several neighboring structures, would be razed to make way for 3.79 million square feet of commercial office space, housed in a cluster of shiny glass towers. The crusade to save the concrete building is now being taken up by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission. Acting at the behest of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, the commission voted unanimously last week to initiate the process of recommending to San Jose City Council that Pelli’s work be declared a historic landmark. As the Mercury News elaborated, if council members ultimately decide to approve the historic designation, the Bank of California building would not be immune to being razed in the future. But landmark status would up the stakes and place added pressure on officials to save the structure, which, in addition to being home to several banks, had most recently been used as a county courthouse. It currently sits unoccupied. Preservationists believe that with some alternations to Jay Paul’s proposed Cityview Plaza redevelopment plan, the new office towers and the nearly 50-year-old Pelli building can co-exist in harmony. True to its looks, the building has been an easy target of public disdain over the years. Though, it has beenfited from the recent trend of appreciating and, more importantly, preserving buildings built in the same wrecking ball-attracting, monolithic style popularized in the late 1950s throughout the 1960s. Per the Mercury News, the structure is the “best example” of Brutalist architecture in San Jose and, according to the city’s historic preservation officer Juliet Arroyo, is “significant because of its quality of design, attention to design detail, materials, and construction method.” ”It’s an asset to downtown San Jose,” Ben Leech, executive director of the city’s Preservation Action Council, told local columnist Sal Pizarro. “What we can do is learn from the past, and we know that every period of architecture goes through a phase where it’s overlooked before it’s appreciated. Buildings like this will be the future gems of the city of San Jose.” To draw attention to the building’s endangered status, the council recently launched the “Save the Sphinx” campaign, which refers to the proposed demolition of the “historic, iconic building both shortsighted and unnecessary” and urges residents to show their support of the building’s preservation by signing a petition directed at city officials. The Northern California chapter of Docomomo and architectural critic and historian Alan Hess are among those who have written to the powers-that-be to urge them to safeguard the building. Despite this growing faction of those rallying to save Pelli’s blocky edifice, others believe that its time has come including original project developer, Lew Wolff. He wrote to city officials in March, dismissing any notion that the building had historical importance while claiming, as reported by the Mercury News, that it was borne from a design created not by Pelli but by an intern. “I like the building, but please don’t insult César or (Sidney) Brisker by over-identifying the build with those fine gentlemen,” he wrote in his email. “The real credit, if anyone is interested, should go to the intern who completed the plans.” Unless the timetable shifts, the redevelopment plan that could ultimately do away with the Pelli building and the proposed historic landmark designation that could help save it are expected to be both considered at the same city council meeting this summer.
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MASS Affordable Housing

Op-ed: Lead with a mission-first design process to provide affordable housing
One of the words most often associated with affordable housing is “crisis.” Not only is there a crisis-level shortfall of affordable housing stock in America, but the typical path to affordable housing development is also hampered by rigid permitting processes, regulatory constraints, and rising costs for land, labor, and materials. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies annual report reveals that 31.5 percent of all households are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and more than 16 percent are paying more than half their income. For these cost-burdened households, the tradeoff means cutting back on spending for food, healthcare, and retirement savings. Not surprisingly, those most affected are members of lowest-income households, which are disproportionately made up of some of our most vulnerable populations: children, those with disabilities, people of color, and seniors.  To meet the demand, developers often focus on how they can disrupt the financial systems that make building affordable housing such a cumbersome and cost-prohibitive process. While these are useful measures, financial solutions that aren’t forged in conversation with design solutions run the risk of defining success solely in terms of getting projects funded and completed.  Design holds incredible potential to transform affordable housing development and achieve the ultimate goal for all stakeholders: creating beautiful, dignifying affordable homes that meet residents’ unique needs as well as each project’s stated goals. Design excellence comes from collectively determining a cohesive project mission with input from all stakeholders. While the search for more units will always be a priority in an urban environment, it is important to prioritize the residents' experience and their place in the new community. The best results for all stakeholders occur when a project is conceived and built with purpose. From the outset, each project is grounded in a clear mission that informs and influences every step of the process. A purpose built approach begins with immersion, a deep engagement with all partners and project stakeholders that allows us to collectively identify the specific mission of a project and its intended outcomes, and ends with impact. The process redefines the designer’s role, who is never an outside authority that arrives with one-size-fits-all answers, but a partner who first listens to clients’ and future residents’ needs and goals and then brings their expertise to bear on advancing the project’s mission.  The J.J. Carroll Apartments redevelopment project in Brighton, Massachusetts, designed in partnership with 2Life Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and managing safe, affordable, and dignified housing for older adults, is one such project. The current J.J. Carroll buildings, built in 1966, are a series of two-story brick townhouses right next door to 2Life’s Brighton campus buildings, with 64 units for an aging and disabled community. The development is now past its useful life and lacks the accessible design features required by residents with various physical abilities and ages.   When MASS began work with 2Life, designers hosted a workshop series with current J.J. Carroll residents to learn how they operate, what they most want in the new development, and how the design could best support 2Life’s goal to offer older adults the chance to thrive in a dynamic, supportive environment.  At the top of everyone’s list was community. Loneliness and social isolation are two of the top health hazards for aging adults, associated with a variety of poor mental and physical health outcomes and a higher risk of mortality overall. 2Life worked diligently to create connection and community among residents, and residents highlighted their love of the micro-communities they’ve found there within the macro community. The old J.J. Carroll apartments, challenging for residents to access and disconnected from the programs and services offered on the 2Life Campus next door, were designed as townhouses, with only a few residents sharing common entrances and stairwells. Residents voiced that they appreciate this shared experience for interaction and connection, as well as the smaller scale of community that this shared space created. Building on this feedback, the design team came up with an approach to maintain this type of intimate connection and community while increasing the capacity to more than double the units on site. To create smaller scales of community within a larger, fully connected and accessible building, the team created a series of “neighborhoods” made up of apartment clusters between 5-8 units each, and connected them to a grand, singular corridor programmed with shared community spaces. This form created a diversity of spaces between the connection points and provides access to green space, views, and natural light. Along the corridor, the team focused on the specific needs of older adults, creating opportunities for rest, shared living rooms and fitness areas, and highlighting the specific identity of each neighborhood to assist with wayfinding. The courtyards between the clusters are also programmed for different scales and desired levels of social interaction, from meditation gardens, to game courts, to a 15,000-square-foot public intergenerational playground.  “We never would have arrived at this design without the early, mission-based work done up front,” said  Lizbeth Heyer, 2Life’s Chief of Real Estate and Innovation. “In the past, builders have asked how many rooms we need and designed based on housing needs, not community needs. By looking at what makes the community special, and how the building operates, (the designers) translated those needs into operational and helpful design.” The needs assessment led to a design that not only responded to 2Life’s mission and the project’s goals, but helped accelerate the timeline for getting through the permitting and approvals process with the city of Boston.  Also beneficial was the commitment project partners made to create and articulate a mission-driven design that was measured against desired outcomes. When the team presented to the Boston Civic Design Commission, they demonstrated the mission of the project as well as the design solution. This way of working to link design decisions to a clear and legible mission statement helps reviewers and partners engage more fully in the design process, reduces vague and often subjective feedback or criticism (those familiar “it’s too brick-y” or “make it more ‘contextual’” statements), and allows for efficient, productive dialog between all stakeholders. Now, at J.J. Carroll, 150 low-income seniors who would have been displaced from another building will be well cared for in beautiful, stable housing designed with their best health and social outcomes in mind.  Developments like J.J. Carroll point to a new path forward for how organizations can implement a mission-first design process, and how the wider design community can begin a necessary and fundamental shift in how we do affordable housing work in America. Instead of trying to solve the affordable housing crisis solely by building as many units as possible on a given parcel of land, we can shift our focus to designing for more equitable and healthy communities, more just outcomes, and even the grand, shared vision of providing safe, stable, and affordable homes for everyone who needs one. This case study was authored by MASS Design Group’s Katie Swenson, senior principal; Patricia Gruits, senior principal & managing director; and Jonathan Evans, senior architect. For more on MASS, visit
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Leave These Stones Unturned

Planned removal of stone sculpture at National Geographic campus continues to generate outrage
When the National Geographic Society revealed its plans to overhaul the main entrance plaza to its designed Washington, D.C. campus last summer, MARABAR, an evocative sculptural installation consisting of five massive mahogany boulders flanking a long and narrow reflecting pool, was conspicuously absent from design renderings of the revamped landscape. Completed by lauded New York-based artist Elyn Zimmerman in 1984, MARABAR has long served as the dramatic focal point for National Geographic’s existing modernist public plaza—a heavily trafficked space designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in collaboration with landscape architect James Urban—although it would appear that it will not serve a similar—or any—function within Hickock Cole’s 21st-century vision for the pavilion, which is currently under review by the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Nonprofit advocacy group The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) first sounded the alarm regarding MARABAR’s MIA status in March, swiftly adding the site to its Landslide program of under-threat landscapes of cultural significance. The TCLF also implored the concerned public to contact D.C.’s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), urging them to “revisit the plans for the new pavilion in order to take a full account of its effect on the sculpture.” In the weeks since MARABAR was granted with “endangered” status by TCLF, the pressure campaign to preserve the sculpture at its current site has gained notable traction. On May 8, the New York Times published a feature on the growing D.C. preservation controversy, noting that over two dozen letters of opposition from artists, architects, critics, museums leaders, and others “who fear the loss of an important work” had been submitted to the HPRB. Writers of these letters have included, among others, Childs, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, architect Frederick Fisher, artist and designer Mary Miss, architectural historian and critic Marc Treib, Penny Balkin Bach, the executive director and chief curator of the Association for Public Art, and Jennifer Duncan, director of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies. In his letter, Childs urged the board to “preserve her [Zimmerman’s] sculpture as part of whatever modifications are being contemplated.” “Washington is noted for its public art, and Marabar is one of its finest examples,” Childs continued. “I am certain that if the National Geographic’s current design team were asked to respect Elyn’s sculpture the way we had been asked to respect Hubbard Hall and the headquarters building on the National Geographic’s campus, they could devise an accommodating solution that would again evoke the Board’s enthusiastic applause.”   Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, was also among those to express his concern. “I know that destruction is not the intent of National Geographic,” Weinberg wrote in his letter. “I do however ask that they consider other options. Not only do I believe that it would be the right thing—for Zimmerman and art history—but it would be an important signal and reaffirmation of National Geographic’s own values as a leading organization committed to protecting the great wonders of the world, be they woman-made or natural.” Officials with National Geographic opted not to be interviewed by the Times but relayed that the absence of MARABAR in the plaza redesign was intentional and not some sort of egregious oversight. The society also promised to pay for the boulders’ removal and relocation, which would be carried out in a “respectful and appropriate manner.” It’s unclear if that relocation would take place within the National Geographic campus. Zimmerman herself has also made clear her displeasure with the idea of her work being removed from the site, and, per the Times, “did not take it seriously at first because so much work had gone into preparing the site for its installation” when she first got wind of a potential plaza redesign in 2017. “The largest of those boulders weighs a quarter of a million pounds,” she explained to the Times, expressing concern with how cumbersome, not to mention potentially damaging to the surrounding buildings, it will be to remove and relocate the boulders while keeping them fully intact. “They’re going to have to dynamite the thing out of there.” The HPRB plans to address the concerns brought forth by TCLF and others at a meeting scheduled for May 28.
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Architect and Disney-favored urban planner Jaquelin T. Robertson dies
Jaquelin “Jaque” Taylor Robertson, the Driehaus Prize-winning architect and urban planner best known for co-developing the master plan for the Walt Disney Company’s pastel-hued, theme park-adjacent community of Celebration, Florida, died on May 9 in East Hampton, New York. He was 87 and had been battling Alzheimer’s Disease. “Over the course of his long, fruitful and rich life, Jaque’s accomplishments were innumerable, extraordinary and widely varied. He had a staggering breadth of life experiences and a seemingly bottomless well of talents; always setting the bar high, holding to the highest of standards and accepting nothing short of excellence, first in himself, and in his partners and colleagues as well,” reads a statement released by New York City-based architecture and urban design firm, Cooper Robertson. Born into a considerably wealthy Virginia family, Robertson returned to his home state in 1980 to serve as dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, a role that he held until 1988 while simultaneously serving as partner alongside Peter Eisenman in the eponymous, New York City-based architectural firm. A Rhodes Scholar and graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, Robertson enjoyed a fruitful early career in municipal urban planning prior to returning to an academic setting. This included 1960s-era stints in New York City as City Planning Commissioner and inaugural director of the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development. Per Paul Goldberger’s obituary for the New York Times, it was also during this period that Robertson founded the Urban Design Group, “a special municipal agency intended to help the mayor [John V. Lindsay] raise the level of public design in the city.” In the late 1970s, Robertson relocated to Tehran where he planned and designed major development projects in the Iranian capital city. After leaving his role at the University of Virginia—as well as his partnership with Eisenman—Robertson joined as a partner at the eponymous firm of Alex Cooper, who was also an old friend and former Yale classmate instrumental in envisioning highly regarded planned communities and reshaping numerous public spaces in New York City and beyond. (The master plan for Battery Park City is perhaps Cooper’s keystone project.) The firm, renamed Cooper Robertson & Partners (later Cooper Robertson), went on to take on several high-profile projects, including the Robins Center at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia; the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Institute for the Arts & Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Robertson also designed a large number of private residencies for well-heeled clients, most of them in the Hamptons. As Goldberger noted in the Times, these commissions “were both elaborate and understated and evocative of older structures without being directly imitative of them.” In the mid-1990s, Cooper Robertson, in close collaboration with Robert A.M. Stern, developed the master plan for Celebration, a nearly 11-square-mile New Urbanist community founded by the Walt Disney Company that's located in close proximity—and directly connected—to Walt Disney World Park. (Although it served as developer, Disney divested most of its control of the town after it opened although it continues to oversee some aspects of it.) While the new town design is strictly the creation of Robertson and Stern, numerous friends and contemporaries were enlisted to design signature buildings within the community including Michael Graves, Charles Moore, César Pelli, Philip Johnson, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Wrote Michael Pollan for the New York Times in 1997:
The town of Celebration represents the Disney Company's ambitious answer to the perceived lack of community in American life, but it is an answer that raises a couple of difficult questions. To what extent can redesigning the physical world we inhabit -- the streets, public spaces and buildings -- foster a greater sense of community? And what exactly does ''a sense of'' mean here? -- for the word community hardly ever goes abroad in Celebration without that dubious prefix.
In addition to Celebration, Cooper Robertson also designed the master plan for Val d’Europe, a similar New Urbanist community built in conjunction with Disneyland Paris. WaterColor, on the Florida Panhandle, is another notable master-planned enclave (sans Disney associations) executed by the firm as is the golf course-centered community of New Albany, Ohio. In addition to receiving the Driehaus Prize in 2007, an award bestowed to champions of and contributors to New Classical architecture, Robertson was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture by the University of Virginia in 1998. He retired from Cooper Robertson in 2014. “Jaque mentored, and instilled certain values in, dozens of young architects over his career – many of whom are still with Cooper, Robertson, and many others who are practicing elsewhere across the globe,” concluded Cooper Robertson in its announcement. “That is, perhaps, his greatest gift to the profession and the culture; perhaps his greatest legacy. We will miss him. He will be roundly missed, and never forgotten.” Robertson is survived by his wife, Anya Sohn Robertson, and a sister, Catherine “Kitty” Robertson Claiborne, of Virginia.
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Dead Mall Showdown

Judge sides with developer in contentious Cupertino redevelopment battle
After a delay of more than a month due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams issued a ruling last week in a hot-button case that has divided residents of the Northern California city of Cupertino, pitting pro-development YIMBY-ists against grassroots local activists attempting to halt work on a massive redevelopment project in their backyard. In her ruling, Williams sided against the activists and with the city, which had green-lit developer Sand Hill Property Company to move forward with the redevelopment of the old Vallco Shopping Mall site in 2018. The 58-acre parcel, home to a once-bustling regional shopping center built in 1975 that now currently exists as a dead-as-a-doornail mall in the shadow of Apple’s intergalactic corporate campus, is slated to be the future home of the so-called Vallco Town Center (formerly the Hills at Vallco). The mixed-use enclave, designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects with the Philadelphia-based OLIN serving as landscape architects, is set to include 2,400 residential units, nearly 2 million square feet of commercial office space, and 400,000 square feet set aside for retail and entertainment. Early iterations of the project, unveiled a year after Sand Hill acquired the (then) mostly pulse-less mall in 2014, envisioned blanketing remnants of the old shopping center with what was described as the world’s largest green roof, which would have doubled as an undulating city park. The initial design has subsequently changed, although “an unprecedented rooftop community park with accessible walking and jogging trails” remains a key part of the master plan. As reported by the Mercury News, Cupertino residents opposing the project, concerned about the development’s scope and the detrimental impact it could have on the community with regard to traffic and other aspects, believed the project should not have been fast-tracked by the city under California Senate Bill 35, which streamlines certain qualifying housing developments in the housing-strapped state. Residents banded together as Friends of Better Cupertino and argued that various components of the redevelopment should have prevented it from moving forward as an SB-35 project. Judge Williams, however, dismissed those arguments in her 62-page ruling. Per the Mercury News, that decision, which states that Friends of Better Cupertino “multiple times misinterpreted the law and made convoluted arguments” in their case, came as a “major blow” to community members rallying against the plus-sized project. Among the reasons Friends of Better Cupertino claimed that Vallco Town Center should have not received special status as an SB-35 project: the development included too little housing, violated city height limits, and would be located on a “hazardous waste site.” All of these arguments were taken apart and disregarded by Williams. The group’s argument that Vallco Town Center does not include a proper park because it happens to largely be on a rooftop was also dismantled by Williams, who wrote: “Petitioners also use emphatic typography to make a circular argument that Developer’s proposed public spaces are not parkland because they are not parkland.” Although demolition is well underway at the site, Williams could have ultimately halted it if she had sided with Friends of Better Cupertino. In addition to finding that the development fell snugly within the scope of requirements put forth by SB-35, Williams noted that even if it hadn’t, state law would have not mandated that Cupertino, or any other city, deny such projects from proceeding. It’s unclear if the group plans to appeal the ruling. In a statement shared by the San Jose Spotlight, Sand Hill expressed enthusiasm with moving forward despite the legal challenges and community uproar the project has faced over the past several years. “We can now put our full focus on moving the project forward for the future of the city of Cupertino, including how best to do so considering the complex challenges that COVID-19 has brought on all of us,” said Reed Moulds, managing director for Sand Hil. “It is time to set aside our past disagreements and come together in cooperation of building a better and more sustainable future for Cupertino.” Speaking to the Mercury News, J.R. Fruen, a pro-growth advocate with the group Cupertino For All, referred to the ruling, one of the first major legal challenges regarding SB-35, as a “gigantic win for housing advocates specifically, and a huge win for proponents of development in general.”
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A Bite Out of the Big Apple

Cash-strapped New York cultural institutions continue to slash jobs, exhibition funding
With the dire financial impacts stemming from the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of relenting, New York City’s leading museums and cultural institutions continue to announce furloughs, layoffs, and hobbled exhibition budgets. As reported by the New York Times, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is the latest normally crowd-drawing NYC institution to make public such sweeping adjustments. The 150-year-old nonprofit museum, which broke ground on a Studio Gang-designed $383 million expansion project this past June, announced last week that it would be reducing its staff off around 1,100 employees by 20 percent. This includes permanently parting ways with 68 administrative staff members, not renewing expiring worker contracts, and moving forward with voluntary retirements. Per a statement shared with the times Times, 250 full-time staffers will also be put on furlough for an indefinite period although they will retain their health insurance and, ideally, brought “back to work in stages as it [the museum] reopens and gradually resumes more normal operations.” Futter, who commands a $1 million annual salary, will take a 25 percent pay cut beginning in the next fiscal year, the Times reported. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE plan is lifted and the museum eventually reopens, it’s expected that there will be reduced operating days/hours, cancellations of public programming and school visits, and delays in the opening of previously scheduled short-term exhibitions. Along with the ANHM, its neighbor across Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced sweeping slashes in April including executive pay cuts and layoffs impacting 80 staffers. In late March, the museum anticipated a $100 million shortfall due to the pandemic although that number is expected to surge to $150 million. A tentative July reopen date was also announced in March yet that too has changed over the past several weeks; Met officials now expect the museum will reopen later in the year. Another beloved uptown cultural institution, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is confronting a $10 million shortfall and, as of last month, had furloughed 92 employees. Despite the dramatic shortfalls, these museums will, in the end, likely weather the proverbial storm. The same, however, isn’t necessarily true for the countless smaller and less lavishly funded arts and cultural organizations that call New York City home. As a means of drawing attention to the grim financial circumstances surrounding these humble yet vital cultural venues and community-based arts organizations, a sobering report published last month by New York’s Center for an Urban Future details how they, “many are teetering on the brink of insolvency,” are fighting—and struggling—to survive. “While some major institutions including the Met Museum, MoMA, the Whitney Museum, Carnegie Hall, and the New Museum have projected stunning financial losses—accompanied in some cases by furloughs and layoffs—much less is known about the full consequences of the pandemic on the city’s small and mid-sized arts organizations and on working artists themselves,” the Center wrote in an introduction to its report. Following conversations with more two-dozen small- to mid-sized arts organizations spread across all five boroughs (Flushing Town Hall, the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the Tenement Museum, and the Brooklyn Conservancy of Music among them) as well as with individual artists, the Center found that most, if not all, had been forced to resort to layoffs and furloughs, and projected revenues losses of 17 to 50 percent or more of their annual operating budgets.