Search results for "Public Design Commission"

Placeholder Alt Text

Comment: LA's Homeless Design
The Architecture of Frank Gehry, organized by Brooke Hodge, at MOCA.
Courtesy MOCA/Squidds and Nunns

When LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) was founded 30 years ago, it was directed by Richard Koshalek, who had been trained as an architect and wanted to show the work of architects alongside top contemporary artists. Major exhibitions on the Case Study House program, Louis Kahn, Franklin Israel, and late modernism were enthusiastically received, but Koshalek had to struggle constantly with his board, which wanted to focus exclusively on art.

Now, years later, it appears that the board has won. Brooke Hodge—the imaginative curator of an exciting Gehry retrospective, as well as the more recent Skin and Bones (on the interplay of fashion and architecture) and inventive smaller shows—has been axed as part of a desperate attempt to balance the budget and remedy a decade of financial irresponsibility. Major exhibitions on Morphosis and the architectural photography of Luisa Lambri, scheduled for the fall, have been abruptly canceled.

On the brighter side, the Architecture + Design Museum (A+D) on Miracle Mile has recently achieved a measure of stability that it lacked during eight years of shuffling from one vacant space to another, always dependent on the charity of developers. Now it has a six-year lease on a spacious storefront in an ideal location on Wilshire Boulevard, across from the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA). At last it can raise funds and plan ahead.

Skin & Bones, organized by Brooke Hodge, at Moca

Director Tibbie Dunbar wants to reach out to schools and the public at large, using digital technology to bring architecture to life rather than relying on architect-designed boards and balsa models. If she realizes her ambitious goals, LA could eventually boast a showcase worthy of its history and potential: an institution to match the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and the best architectural museums of Europe.

The need is pressing. It is a cause for celebration that, in contemporary art, LA has gone from provincial outpost to key hub, thanks to the energy of institutions and individuals, and because artists find it a congenial place to work. But for architects, the picture is still bleak. Often, their work is marginalized or ignored. There is a huge disconnect between the abundance of creative design talent in LA and the timidity or philistinism of the client base. Too often, institutions and public authorities settle for the second-rate. In San Francisco, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake spurred a dramatic renewal. In LA, the 1994 Northridge earthquake produced little but bureaucratic fumbling. Walt Disney Concert Hall was nearly aborted, taking 14 years to realize, and the public realm has stagnated.

Work by major firms, including Morphosis’ Caltrans District 7 headquarters, Rafael Moneo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s School for the Performing Arts, were seriously compromised. USC is an architecture-free zone for which George Lucas’ Spanish revival film school is a perfect fit. Tepid contextualism is the theme at UCLA, and the fundraising campaign for the $185 million makeover of Pauley Pavilion makes no mention of the original architect, Welton Becket. Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne have won the Pritzker Prize and international acclaim but have secured few commissions on their home base, and other talented firms have had a tough struggle—even before the collapse of the market.

What's Shakin, curated by Brooke Hodge, at MOCA.

Koshalek had the vision to expand the mandate of MOCA to foster enlightened architectural selections behind the scenes, and to bring Art Center out of its ivory tower. For that last achievement he was hounded from his post, and is now directing the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The munificence of Eli Broad highlights the lack of philanthropy among other super-rich Angelenos. It’s unhealthy to become dependent on a single patron in the arts. In contrast to other great cities, LA is an archipelago of self-absorbed neighborhoods with little sense of the larger whole.

What’s needed is inspiring leadership—of the kind that has spurred a revival of architectural excellence and adventurousness in Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, and even the depressed cities of Ohio. It could be the mayor, the archbishop, university chancellors, CEOs of major companies, or the head of the school board. In every one of those areas, LA falls short.  A vibrant showcase, stirring public debate, exhibiting and promoting the best architecture, cannot make up for an absence of civic pride, enlightened clients, and generous patronage. But it can alert the public to what it is missing. A+D can set a lead and play the role of catalyst.

LACMA director Michael Govan is passionate about architecture, and might be persuaded to make architecture a part of his mandate—as it is at MoMA, SFMOMA, the Chicago Art Institute, and other landmark institutions. The Hammer’s Prouvé exhibit and Lautner retrospective were big hits, and director Ann Philbin has repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to architectural excellence. The Getty now has a department of architecture, acquiring major archives, and its deputy curator Chris Alexander recently convened (with AN) a meeting of 50 curators and activists to encourage them to communicate effectively and form the Southern California Architecture and Design Consortium.

All of these initiatives can advance the agenda. The fragmentation of LA could be turned to advantage if its diverse and scattered institutions were to make common cause. MAK, the LA Forum, the Italian Cultural Institute, and a score of others have distinct perspectives that could enrich the public discourse. A provocative exhibition or speaker or an introduction to the visceral experience of a great building can provide a moment of revelation and enrich the culture of a city that badly needs a lift.

A version of this article appeared in AN 05_07.15.2009 CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

Say No to Nouvel
The architects at Axis Mundi have proposed an alternative to Jean Nouvel's new MoMA tower.
Courtesy Axis Mundi

However that old cliché about idle hands goes, it does not apply to architects as a thoroughly-explored and self-initiated project by New York firm Axis Mundi proves. Principal John Beckmann and his six employees set out to do nothing less than re-imagine tall buildings, spurred on not by a commission or even a competition but rather by anger at the height, bulk, and “massive disconnect,” as Beckmann put it, represented by the 82-story tower at 53 West 53rd proposed by developer Hines with the Museum of Modern Art and designed by Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel.

While echoing nouvel's program, the proposed tower is all its own. (Click to view a slideshow of Axis Mundi's design.)
It rises to less than half the height of Nouvel's proposed tower, barely topping Cesar Pelli's Museum tower (Left).
“Hines and MoMA have been jamming this down everyone’s throat. That’s not the way to go about it. There has to be more public debate,” said Beckmann about the Chrysler-topping tower that is progressing rather steadily through the city’s land-use review process. “A lot of community groups are disgruntled and aghast at the height of it. And when they added another eight floors recently and got bigger, we decided it would be an interesting site to tackle.”

Beckmann started with the visual inspiration of Italian hill towns in Umbria that are “disorganized but organically grown” and layered on some good old parametric modeling to develop the maximum number of different spaces, materials and densities that could be stacked somewhat higgledy-piggledy into a tower.

Construction-wise there are glass panels, steel panels, brick and concrete units, several making visual references to familiar facades by the likes of Louis Kahn, Richard Meier, Rio’s favelas and Corbu’s Unité d’Habitation. The very mix, the architect said, could make it “conceivably cost effective to build because the basic structure is concrete slab.” Engineers have been sought out and agree.

Part of the challenge was sticking to the same program as the Nouvel tower but with a lot less impact and more connections to the community: It would top out at 50 stories, with a 17,000-square-foot footprint and 32,000 feet of expansion space for MoMA. The base would hit the ground with a neutralized monumentality, akin to the negative space at Citicorp.  The Donnell Library, once across the street now in limbo, might find a new home in various volumes within the structure set aside for community uses.

The designers at Axis Mundi have been working on the project steadily since April, with no reward in sight apart from keeping busy at a slow time and staying mentally sharp. But that could change. Beckmann has been invited to make a presentation on July 22 during a City Planning Commission public hearing on the Hines project.

For the architect, however, the ideal outcome remains to stir some debate and, perhaps, “get a developer interested in doing it at another site.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Salt Fix

Will developers or environmentalists win out at a former Bay Area salt flats?
Courtesy DMB

Plans were unveiled last month for the largest bayside development along the San Francisco Peninsula in the last fifty years. If Scottsdale-based developer DMB is successful in satisfying local, state, and federal regulatory agencies, a site currently covered by glittering salt ponds in Redwood City could become a residential community of as many as 12,000 units.

But the 1,400-acre parcel of open land, a rarity in the narrow belt between San Francisco and San Jose, is also coveted by environmentalists, who dream of restoring it as tidal wetlands. The next couple of years will show how this struggle between the two interests—contributing to a healthy Bay or adding much-needed housing stock— plays out.

These two square miles of ponds next to the historic port of Redwood City have been used for salt evaporation since the turn of the last century. The surreal landscape is sandwiched between a gleaming office park at its bayside edge and one of the Peninsula’s two major freeways. DMB, whose luxury projects include Tejon Mountain Village, a huge development north of Los Angeles, is proposing to transform them in a joint venture with Cargill, the agricultural and industrial conglomerate that owns the land.

DMB's proposal for the site. (Click to enlarge.)

The current DMB Redwood City Saltworks proposal calls for half of the property to be devoted to development, about a third to restoration, and the remaining twenty percent to sports fields and open space. The plan calls for 8,000 to 12,000 townhouses and apartments (15 percent devoted to affordable housing), 1 million square feet of office space, retail shops and community services including five schools, and a fire station. It would connect to public transportation via a ferry terminal, linking it with San Francisco and the East Bay, and a streetcar line to a CalTrain station about a mile away.

“The problem here, as in many places, is that the waterfront was turned over to industrial use. This will reconnect the city to the bay in a positive, ecological way,” said Peter Calthorpe, a major proponent of New Urbanism known for designing a mixed-use community on the brownfield at Denver’s Stapleton Airport. The Oakland-based architect and urban planner is leading the master plan for the Redwood City project, together with San Francisco–based ROMA design. He cites San Francisco’s Marina District as an example of the “walkable” community he envisions. The other firm on the project is Baltimore-based Biohabitats, wetlands restoration specialists.

The C-shaped development will connect with 440 acres of restored wetlands using an approach that gradually transitions from the built to the natural environment. A levee running along the curve is designed to act as a shoal, with a tidal-fed lagoon between it and the mainland. On top of the levee, a three-mile trail will overlook the wetlands.

A satellite view of the two-mile-wide salt flats.

With the closest two counties gaining an estimated 680,000 jobs by 2035, proponents say that the area’s notorious housing shortage will only worsen without this type of major development. But environmentalists criticize the site’s lack of infrastructure and its distance from downtown as well as the wisdom of building on a low-lying tidal plain when sea levels are expected to rise dramatically.

“It’s not a transit-oriented site,” said Melissa Hippard, director of the local chapter of the Sierra Club. “And this is a huge opportunity to return the Bay to maximum health—we’re at the end of a trajectory that was started in the 1960s to reclaim as much of the bayfront as possible.” In fact, the state considered purchasing the land from Cargill in 2003 when it bought 16,500 acres of salt ponds for the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast, but its price tag was too high.

Hoping to break ground in 2013, the developers kicked off the formal process by presenting the plan to the city council on May 12. They will have to get rezoning approval, along with permits from state and federal agencies including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the Army Corps of Engineers. Local residents, who have stopped other city-approved bayside developments at the ballot box, may also weigh in: In the 1980s, voters scuttled plans for Bair Island, now a national wildlife refuge; and in 2004, they sent the Marina Shores project back to the drawing board.

The last major bayfront communities, Foster City and Redwood Shores, date back to the 1950s and 60s. They were not only massive landfill projects, but extensions of the low-density, car-centric suburbia on the Peninsula. If the Redwood City proposal moves forward, it could give the area a new model to contemplate.

“We’re as conservative here as any small town in Kansas, when it comes to anything near the shoreline,” said Will Travis, executive director of the BCDC. “But the lack of housing is our Achilles heel—we need to consider all our options."

A version of this article appeared in AN 05_07.15.2009 CA.

Placeholder Alt Text

High School Musical
Just weeks from completion, a shiny new auditorium by L.A.'s Hodgetts + Fung looks to put the little town of Menlo Park, CA on the architecture map.  The $28 million project is at a public institution of learning--Menlo-Atherton High--and the 500-seat venue was designed with top-notch acoustics and a stage that can accommodate a full symphony orchestra, in the hopes of  also hosting performances by professional touring groups. Painted in Kynar metallic paint (copper was too expensive), the exterior gleams. But the real treat is inside: the acoustical scrim around the stage is laser-cut with a pattern based on the historic oaks outside.  Craig Hodgetts--whose team beat out Antoine Predock and Rob Quigley for the commission--says the high school principal's vision was that "theater should not be an upholstered, bourgeois experience, but something a bit more confrontational." We say: Bring it on! Here's a sneak peek at how things are shaping up before the official opening in October:
Placeholder Alt Text

Casey Up to Bat
Courtesy Design Trust for Public Space

Casey Jones, a principal at jones|kroloff, has been named the next director of the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program, according to sources at the GSA. Jones will replace Thomas Grooms, the program’s current head.

As director of Design Excellence, Jones will oversee the architect selection and design process for the GSA, one of the nation’s largest development organizations, responsible for building and maintaining everything from border stations to federal courthouses. The program, created in 1994 by former GSA Chief Architect Ed Feiner as a way to improve the quality of federal buildings, has been a roundly praised success, commissioning award-winning work by architects like Richard Meier and Thom Mayne.

Jones, 42, is no stranger to Design Excellence. Before launching jones|kroloff—a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based design-competition advisory firm—in 2005 with Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, he worked on the GSA's Design Excellence program with Feiner. His return to the agency will likely raise the design debate that some observers said languished during the Bush years, when it received little support from the administration.

Jones’ prior experience at the GSA assured that jones|kroloff quickly became one of the go-to firms advising clients on architect selection, particularly in the cultural and educational fields. “I’ve looked at thousands of proposals; I’ve learned how firms are organized, what they've achieved, and how they present themselves,” Jones said in a 2007 interview with Architect. Reached for comment by AN yesterday, Jones was unable to confirm the appointment until the official announcement is made.

Last summer, Jones and Kroloff collaborated with David Rockwell on an interactive digital entry sequence, Hall of Fragments, to the main exhibition hall at the Venice architecture biennale. Before coming to the GSA, Jones was an associate director at the Van Alen Institute in New York. After graduating from the Universities of Virginia and Michigan, Jones began his career as an architect for Cooper Lecky, a Washington,D.C.-based firm, and Goshow Associates in New York.

Read AN's recent interview with Ed Feiner here.

Placeholder Alt Text

Victory at Last for St. Vincent's
After three previous iterations, FXFowle finally won approval for its condo complex on the current site of St. Vincent's Hospital.
Courtesy FXFowle Architects

It has been 20 months since St. Vincent’s Hospital and Rudin Management submitted their original plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new hospital tower and housing complex in the heart of the Greenwich Village Historic District. And while the hospital and developer’s plans have changed considerably on their way to receiving final approval from the commission today, they have not changed as much as the village is bound to over the next decade as a result.

Following a 40-minute presentation by Dan Kaplan, a principal at FXFowle Architects, which is designing the housing component of the plan, the commission voted 9-1 in favor of the scaled-back complex, now in its fourth iteration. Kaplan highlighted eight major changes his firm had made in response to criticism raised during the last meeting on the project on June 19. Most every commissioner approved of the changes, acknowledging that the combination of six new and historic buildings would actually be an improvement on the blocky 1980s hospital structure they would replace.

An elevation of the 12th Street plan. The building at far left is new while the three adjacent are retrofitted historical buildings. The condo tower can be seen rising at far right. Click to view larger.
Courtesy FXFowle

“This matter has posited, without question, some of the most complex historic preservation questions in my memory and I think in our current institutional memory,” Robert Tierney, the commission chair, noted before adding his favorable opinion: “I believe the applicant has addressed our concerns and successfully knitted together new buildings with old ones and the surrounding district.”

Commissioner Christopher Moore concurred: “A year ago, this was in no way an acceptable project, but it has come a long way, and now it is." Even some who had criticized the hospital portion of the project supported the condos presented today. “I would agree that the architect has been very responsive,” commissioner Stephen Byrns said. “This is going to be a huge improvement over what is already there.”

The one dissenting vote came from commissioner Margery Perlmutter, who joked, “I fear I’m the sole dissenter, but I must stay on message.” She argued that the new condo tower remained too tall, in part because it was taking advantage of additional air rights granted to St. Vincent’s when it built its earlier building in an otherwise low-scale neighborhood because the medical uses were considered a public benefit, outweighing the needs of preservation.

This 11th Street elevation shows how FXFowle has broken down the massing of the tower. The entrance, where the buildings are recessed at left, was also applauded by the commission, as were the new townhouses at right.
Courtesy FXFowle

The decision concludes one of the most arduous, involved, and complicated matters the commission has ever considered.

It began in December 2007, when the hospital and Rudin submitted plans to demolish Albert C. Ledner’s one-of-a-kind National Maritime Union Headquarters, now operated as office space by the hospital. That building would be replaced with a 329-foot hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Across 7th Avenue, St. Vincent’s would sell its current hospital campus to Rudin for $310 million, which would go toward construction of the $850 million hospital tower. Rudin would then develop that land into a sizeable housing complex that demolished a number of the historic hospital buildings.

That proposal was overturned in May 2008, based on the fact that it would be inappropriate for the historic district. The hospital returned in June with a hardship application, arguing that it could not continue its charitable mission without demolishing Ledner’s building and building atop it.

In a narrow vote, the commission found in favor of the developer in October. Pei Cobb Freed then presented new plans for the hospital, which were approved in March of this year. Ultimately, the hospital tower went through considerable revisions in height, massing, and street-level and facade detailing, including reducing its height to 278 feet from an original 329.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners' final proposal for the hospital tower.
Courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

The condo complex went through a comparable redesign to reach its current form. First, FXFowle agreed to save three buildings it had originally proposed demolishing, as well as reducing the size of the new buildings it had proposed. Most notable was the main building on 7th Avenue. It has been reduced from a block-long building to one replacing only the 1980s buildings. Furthermore, designs presented today called for breaking the massing in half and stepping down the facades of the two masses in numerous places to create a less monolithic appearance.

“The attempt here was to differentiate the parts of the project but within the confines of the district, to create individual buildings that still read as part of a whole that fits into the district,” Kaplan told the commission.

All told, the project shed 17,000 square feet from June for a total of 591,000 square feet of residential development. Similarly, the 7th Avenue tower has shrunk from 266 feet and 21 stories to 203 feet and 16 stories. Kaplan noted that this makes it the eighth tallest building in the district and actually smaller than some of its neighbors.

Ledner's former National Maritime Union Headquarters, which is now operated by St. Vincent's and will be demolished to make way for the hospital tower.
Matt Chaban

But the process is not over, as the project must now go through the city’s land-use review process, received approval from the state department of health, and there is also an outstanding lawsuit challenging the hardship application. Still, even the project’s most vociferous opponents seem to have acknowledged the new St. Vincent’s is here to stay.

“There could have been greater review of the details,” Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, told AN. “We will have to live with the results forever.”

Given that the commission seemed to acknowledge that the parts of the project approved today were actually an improvement over the existing buildings they replaced, might the Village actually be gaining, at least from an architectural perspective? Commissioner Stephen Byrns did not believe so.

“I think with the hospital, it’s a real downer for the village,” he said after the meeting. “East of 7th Avenue is an improvement over what is here today. But it will never make up for what’s been lost across the street.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Abandoning CAMP
WRNS's proposal for the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, which attempted to disturb the historic fabric as little as possible.
Courtesy WRNS

In an announcement Wednesday, Gap founder Donald Fisher said he was withdrawing his plan for a contemporary art museum in the Presidio’s Main Post. Ever since Fisher first unveiled the renderings of a luminous white box by New York’s Richard Gluckman in 2007, the plan has met with fierce opposition by preservationists, who have objected to a modern building on the historic parade grounds.

Despite several iterations of a new design by San Francisco’s WRNS Studio, which took over the commission from Gluckman and sunk much of the 100,000-square-foot museum below ground, while attempting to make the above-ground portion look like a glass pavilion, it wasn’t enough to quell the dissent.

Gluckman Mayner's proposal, which mirrored the geometries of historic quarters along the Presidio parade ground.
Courtesy Gluckman Mayner

“It’s become clear over the course of the two years that the Main Post wasn’t going to be a good fit,” said Dana Polk, spokeswoman for the Presidio. The decision was influenced by a report issued in April by the National Park Service, which stated that “the new construction will dominate the head of the Main Parade and will negatively impact the setting, feeling, association and historic character of the property.”

According to Alex Tourk, the Fishers’ spokesman, the family is still considering three alternative sites in the Presidio—the Commissary (a building in Crissy Field that is the preferred location for a museum under the 2002 Presidio Trust management plan), an area south of Moraga Avenue (across the street from the current location) and Fort Scott (an open field in the northwest corner of the Presidio)—while also looking at other potential sites in the city and other municipalities. The project, budgeted at $150 million, was also going to include $10 million to turn the parade grounds into open space.





Several proposals including one exhibited at 3a Gallery (above, left) and  WRNS's (above, right) sought to hide at least part of their mass below ground, to no avail.
Courtesy 3A Gallery, Wrns

“Mr. Fisher is passionate about the Presidio and leaving his collection as a legacy to the city,” said Tourk. He also said that the Fishers were “thrilled” with the work of WRNS Studio and had no plans to change architects.

The announcement came after the second round of public comments on the environmental impact report closed on June 1; the final report is scheduled for the fall. Other proposals for the 120-acre Main Post are continuing to move forward: a lodge along the eastern edge, the restoration of the historic movie theatre, and a new heritage center. And early this fall, another museum will be opening at the Main Post—the Walt Disney Family Museum, in a former army barracks building renovated by Page & Turnbull.

Placeholder Alt Text

Going Public
The new Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Visitor Center by Weiss/Manfredi, one of ten award winners.
Courtesy Office of the Mayor

As one of the largest developers and builders in the five boroughs, New York City has been committed to good design for over a century, through the Public Design Commission. Founded in 1898 as the Public Art Commission, the little-known body oversees nearly every detail in projects constructed by and for the city. To honor its most outstanding work, the commission has been conferring its Awards for Excellence in Design since 1982, the latest of which were handed out at a packed event last night at the New Museum.

“Public projects help define how New Yorkers relate to the city around them,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. “In tough economic times, we all have to do more with less, but that doesn’t mean simple, elegant, and timeless public design can’t flourish. These award-winning projects exemplify the ideals of high-quality public design, and prove that public projects can be at once cost-effective, sustainable, and beautiful.” (He also made a lot of puns on the word “new” without much reaction from the crowd.)

In addition to the quality of the work, their sustainable aspects were very much on display, touted as a sign of the success of the city’s PlaNYC program. And as a further sign of the city’s commitment to spread quality design to the masses, all five boroughs were represented.

“I am fortunate to work with an administration that recognizes the impact that good design can have on our city,” Design Commission President James Stuckey said. “Many of tonight’s award-winning designs are the result of initiatives like Design and Construction Excellence, announced by the Mayor at these awards in 2004, and PlaNYC, that have set a new standard for public projects.”

View a slideshow of the ten winning projects here. They are:

Bronx River Greenway
The Bronx
New York State Department of Transportation, WSP Sells, The RBA Group

EMS Station 3
The Bronx
Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, SCAPE / LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE

Croton Water Treatment Plant
The Bronx
Grimshaw, Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Great Ecology & Environments, Rana Creek

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center

Bushwick Inlet Park District Headquarters and Community Facility
Kiss + Cathcart, Architects, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners

Inside Out @ Riverside Health Center
Richard Artschwager

The Opposite of a Duck @ Glen Oaks Community Library
Janet Zweig

Shapes @ Elmhurst Community Library
Allan McCollum

Mariners Harbor Branch of the New York Public Library
Staten Island
Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani

A Special Recognition Award for the Staten Island Court Complex
Staten Island
Polshek Partnership Architects, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

Placeholder Alt Text

FDR Finally Comes Home
The FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island is set to begin construction in September.
Courtesy FDR Four Freedoms Park

Yesterday, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park foundation received permission from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to begin construction of Phase I of the Louis I. Kahn-designed park at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. “This is the end of the beginning as we now embark on the construction of a great public park,” William vanden Heuvel, chairman of the foundation, told AN.

Commissioned in 1973 by then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in honor of President Roosevelt, the park is named for the former president’s esteemed Four Freedoms speech. Renowned architect Louis Kahn was commissioned to design the memorial, and his vision remains largely intact to this day, despite a number of setbacks.

The park’s design is centered around two main elements—the garden and the room, the garden representing man’s influence over nature, and the room representing the fundamental aspects of architecture. Kahn’s design was completed and approved just months before his death in 1974.

An original sketch of the park by Louis Kahn.
Courtesy FDR Four Freedoms Park

Since then, the design made its way into the hands of New York-based firm Mitchell/Giurgola Architects. Forming a joint venture with two associates from Kahn’s office who had originally worked on the project, they completed a set of working drawings for construction in 1975.

A series of governmental and financial vagaries in the 1970s caused the project to lose momentum. Having languished for two decades, the project made some headway in the early 1990s, when a grant was given to the island to rebuild and repair the sea walls, and money was used to reconstruct some of the rip-rap that encircles the edge of the park, and to contour the land in preparation for future construction.

The entrance to the park.
Vladislav YELISEYEV/Polshek Partnership

Recently, renewed interest in the art of memorial-making and the work of Kahn have enabled the project to proceed. Of particular help was the documentary My Architect, by Kahn’s son Nathaniel, and a 2005 show at the Cooper Union, Coming to Light.

Mitchell/Giurgola partner and project architect Paul Broches noted that only minor changes have been made to Kahn’s original work. “We’ve updated the drawings to comply with current ADA requirements and conducted more in-depth analysis of structural issues without changing the appearance of Kahn’s original design,” Broches said.

“While Kahn didn’t anticipate some of the issues we had to deal with, his design was well thought out and thoroughly designed, speaking for itself very strongly,” he added.

The Garden.
Vladislav YELISEYEV/Polshek Partnership

Divided into three phases, the park is expected to take 30 months to complete, that is, if all phases proceed seamlessly. “Right now we have our funding in place to build and complete Phase I, and must demonstrate our financial ability to complete each phase prior to beginning construction,” Gina Pollara, executive director of the foundation, said. Phase I will include the construction of the "room," a 72-foot-square plaza, open to the sky, as well as rip-rap modifications to the surrounding shoreline, and is expected to take 12 months to complete.

This project will be the first architectural work of Kahn’s in New York City, as well as the first memorial dedicated to President Roosevelt in his home state. Construction of Phase I is scheduled to begin this September.

Placeholder Alt Text

Curves and Curriculum
There was a lot of trading congratulations and extending thanks at Chicago’s Art Institute last Friday during talks connected to the opening of the Burnham Pavilions, two temporary structures in Millennium Park designed by Ben van Berkel of UN Studio and Zaha Hadid. The pavilions were commissioned as part Chicago’s centennial celebration of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago Plan, and in truth, construction of only UN Studio’s design is complete. Apparently difficulties with the tensile exterior of Hadid’s project have pushed back the pavilion’s completion to mid-July. Neither that nor the fact that Hadid was unable to attend Friday’s panel as anticipated—reportedly because of a knee injury—dampened the atmosphere. A group of panelists including Robert Somol, director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Donna Robertson, dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) architecture program, UN Studios’ Ben van Berkel, and Thomas Vitevke, an associate of Zaha Hadid’s studio, spoke to an eager crowd about the designs as well as the collaboration between the architects and the local schools. Initiated by a committee that included Joseph Rosa, the Art Institute’s lead architecture and design curator, and four city officials, pavilions designed by contemporary architects were proposed as a way of generating interest in Burnham’s legacy, both past and future. As part of the gesture toward the future, the committee decided to involve the architecture schools at UIC and IIT. Each school was presented with a final list of designers, and asked to select the person who would both design the pavilion and be involved in some way with that school’s curriculum. “In all the events surrounding the pavilions,” Rosa said after the talks, “there hasn’t been much emphasis on the school’s involvement.” He organized the panel in part to bring that involvement to light. Somol and Roberston outlined both the reasons for their choices, and the ways the architects they selected influenced the school’s programming in the past year. Somol described UIC’s shared approach with van Berkel as operating both “optimistically and counterintuitively.” Van Berkel lectured at UIC, worked with students on their publication Fresh Meat, and architects from his office did desk crits throughout the year. Robertson cited her interest in the way Hadid’s designs harness the energy of the city and translate it architecturally, an approach very much in contrast to the rectilinear world they inhabit at IIT in Mies’s Crown Hall. Stemming from Hadid’s inclusion of a film in her pavilion design, two studio courses were developed at IIT around the notion of visual media as an architectural element. While the architect herself was less immediately involved than van Berkel was at UIC, the related studio curriculum was highlighted in Architect’s annual education edition for its progressive stance. For both UN Studio and Hadid, the diagonal streets Burnham introduced into Chicago’s grid were the historical point of reference in the designs. Vitevke explained that on studying the Burnham plan, they discovered their site was on the intersection of one the diagonals, which they translated into the aluminum diagonal ribs of the pavilion’s structure. When completed, the pavilion will be clad in a white tensile skin, which will serve as the projection screen for a film by Thomas Gray that layers historic and contemporary Chicago images as way to address the many stages of change on that particular site. For van Berkel, the diagonal streets determined the shape of the sculptural openings in his otherwise planar pavilion. Earlier in the panel, Somol described van Berkel’s design this way: “It’s as if Mies ate Goldberg, or Goldberg was having his revenge on Mies from the inside, but which one I’m not sure.” Van Berkel echoed the sentiment that his design responds in some way to Mies’s cantilever projects, along with Bertrand Goldberg and even Frank Lloyd Wright, but wanted the two walls that drop down into the interior of the pavilion to allow new diagonal vistas onto the city. “I hope to liberate architecture from its reference and work with the information given,” he described. Van Berkel resisted giving his pavilion a name. He believes that good things asked to be returned to, and he hopes his project will be given a nickname like it’s temporary neighbor, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, better known as “the bean.”
Placeholder Alt Text

High-Speed Victory
The $180 million project would create a new Anaheim landmark while helping anchor California's future high-speed rail network.
Courtesy HOK

HOK’s Los Angeles office, with Parsons Brinckerhoff, has defeated some of the world’s top architectural talent to win the commission for a major new transit center in downtown Anaheim that’s envisioned as a hub for California’s future high-speed rail network, as well as for Amtrak, commuter rail, and other regional transit lines.

Other teams shortlisted for the project, known as ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center), had included RMJM with Gehry Partners and AECOM; Santiago Calatrava with Jacobs; Pelli Clarke Pelli with AAI; SOM with Parsons; and Foster + Partners with Gruen Associates. Firms who originally applied for the RFQ in February included Arup, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, and Morphosis.

The $180 million, 16-acre project, commissioned by the city of Anaheim and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), will include a 66,000-square-foot station and the masterplan for a mixed-used area around it, set to not only consolidate and dramatically improve the region’s public transportation offerings, but to help spur development in Anaheim itself.


In its first phase, the project will be designed to host Amtrak and Metrolink commuter lines, local and regional bus lines, airport shuttles, taxis, and tour buses. In later phases the center will be equipped to host California high-speed rail from the north and south, and possibly another line from Las Vegas, as well as connections from Disnleyland’s Monorail system. Anaheim Director of Public Works Natalie Meeks said that if anticipated federal high-speed rail funding comes through next fall, she expects that HOK would be the architect for the high-speed rail portion of the station as well.

The complex is set to complete its EIR process in 2010, begin construction in 2011, and open in 2013.

ARTIC will be located in the middle of what is known as Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle, a developing cluster of civic, entertainment, retail, and residential zones near the 57 Freeway that includes Angel Stadium, the Honda Center, and the Grove of Anaheim.

The new station’s vaulted design, said Ernest Cirangle, HOK Design Director, was inspired in part by grand, open rail stations like Grand Central in New York, and from the monumental—and breathtaking— hangars in nearby Tustin, designed to house Navy blimps during World War II. The column-free station will be supported with long span triangulated steel members inset with a pillow-like ETFE membrane. A lofty, wide open hall—with a ceiling measuring over 150 feet—will be surrounded by shops and ticket booths, and bordered on its southern end by train platforms and tracks.

“We wanted to celebrate the new interest our country has in improving its rail transportation,” said Cirangle. “So we wanted the building to be noticeable from a long distance,” not to mention from inside, where visitors' eyes will be drawn up to the ceiling.   

The project is aiming for a LEED Platinum rating, with green elements integrated into the structure itself. For instance, as planned, the ETFE surface will expand and compress to control natural light, and it will also be fitted with photovoltaics and solar hot-water heating cells.


The remainder of the site around the station will be masterplanned for office, retail, and high-density housing. That portion of the project does not yet have a completion date, and will depend on market recovery, said Meeks. In its proposal HOK outlined plans for what Cirangle called a “pedestrian oriented, vibrant place” set around a large public plaza, a sweeping promenade, and a riverfront park.

California’s state-run, high-speed rail project—which when completed should run from Sacramento down to San Diego (but first from San Francisco to Anaheim)—is still in its infancy, but Anaheim is eager to begin, despite the fact that federal funding is still pending. Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who has been working to get a transit hub in the area since taking office six years ago, said that Orange County has already done more preliminary engineering on its segment of the project than any other location in the state.

California voters passed almost $10 billion in funding for high-speed rail last November, but that is contingent on matching federal stimulus funds that will be doled out this fall. Architects in California will be watching eagerly as commissions for more transit centers become available. But even if high-speed rail doesn’t happen, the ARTIC is already set to transform the region, said Pringle.

Funding for ARTIC is coming from $82 million in county Renewed Measure M funds (a half-cent sales tax extension passed in 2007), $58.8 million from Proposition 116 (a state bond), and about $29 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program.

Meeks noted that public support for the project is high, despite present economic conditions.

“It’s a fully funded project with money that’s restricted to transit uses,” she said.

“We’re getting the critical infrastructure in place where you can actually envison a day in the future where you can reliably get around without a car," added Todd Osborne, vice-president at HOK. "I don’t think we’re talking about replacing the automobile, but maybe it’s not every trip.”

Editorial: Testing the Waters

I soak up media news like a sponge. Whether it’s a mogul profile, editorial smackdown, or high-flying launch, I search these stories for any possible nugget of insight or information that I can translate into a big opportunity for a small publication and that might help me steer a smarter course into new publishing territories, whether it be print, web, blog, twitter, or the next big thing.

Tina Brown said something in a recent profile of Si Newhouse in New York magazine that caught my attention: “I brought in the news gene,” she is quoted as saying. “Newhouse came to understand that news was key to connection to the culture.” I often try and understand why our publication package is working so well. Is it the local news? The insider details? The design? The smart focus of our reporting? Why do we get so many gracious notes and comments and even adoration from our readers when we are out and about?

I think that it’s all of the above—plus the gossip—and it just so happens that even though we call ourselves a newspaper, we are in fact a new kind of hybrid between a magazine, a newspaper, and a clubhouse that reaches a community by being relevant and also knowing what our readers care about. When it comes to local news, big events, and selected tidbits from all over, we connect our broad readership of professionals in the built environment to the culture of architecture.

Perhaps asking the question is what keeps the answer—and The Architect’s Newspaper—so lively. We are just excited that it’s working and that we are having so much fun while we’re at it. So much so that we are hurtling on from launching our California issue in 2007 to testing the waters around Chicago. So here it is, folks, your first peek at the Midwest edition: premiering at NeoCon this June, with follow-up issues as of January 2010. We hope you’ll soak them up, too.

Diana Darling, Publisher

AN’s Midwest-themed issue comes at an important moment for Chicago and the region. As it celebrates the centennial of the Burnham Plan, Chicago has seen the completion of a major new cultural building, the Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing at the Art Institute, and is welcoming two of architecture’s major talents, Zaha Hadid and UNStudio’s Ben van Berkel, with commissions for temporary pavilions.

Beyond these already major events, there is a sense that the city is in the midst of a homegrown architectural renaissance. Chicago architects are again gaining national and international attention, with large offices creating skyscrapers and campuses of note at home and abroad, and smaller firms designing innovative cultural, community, residential, and commercial projects. Many of the institutions that make the city’s architectural culture so rich have new leadership and an energized sense of purpose.

The region overall has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and architects, planners, and designers are working creatively to confront these new realities. There is much on which to report, from St. Louis to St. Paul. The Midwest edition is conceived as a truly regional paper, and this issue features stories from five states. As always at AN, we strived to showcase best practices, illuminate pertinent issues, and enliven the dialog on the future of the built environment. Midwestern readers, stay tuned. You will be hearing more from us soon.

Alan G. Brake, Midwest Editor