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XI International Architecture Biennale
Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff
Martin Perrin

The Arsenale

The theme was “Out There” but the experience was over the top as the leading lights of the profession plus a smattering of young up-and-comers from around the world produced a heroically-scaled display of performance architecture.

By Julie V. Iovine

To make sharp critical observers out of his audiences, German playwright Bertolt Brecht inserted blackout moments into scenes. The 11th International Architecture Biennale offered its own alienation effect in a dark-as-pitch room—a forecourt to the vast two-mile long Arsenale exhibition space—featuring an installation by Rockwell Group with Jones/Kroloff involving towering interactive screens where scenes from architecture’s favorite movies (Cleopatra,The Fountainhead, A Clockwork Orange, etc.) as complex XY-axis projections leapt up in response to the crowd moving through. This Hall of Fragments set a seductive stage for the subsequent installations commissioned from 24 architecture practices by Biennale director Aaron Betsky. The brief was to show architecture “beyond building,” that is “revelatory, utopian, and critical.” Visitors marched past a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of gargantuan works: elegantly embalmed prototyped extrusions by Asymptote; Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Oz-like Feed Back Space first envisioned in 1969; and Zaha Hadid’s brand-perfect acid green furniture/architecture. Most breathtaking in this sequence was Frank Gehry’s Ungapatchket, a three-story timber model of a Moscow hotel that the architect is designing, slabbed over with clay in the spirit of Cai Guo Qiang’s ephemeral Rent Collection Courtyard figurines shown in New York last winter, but originally exhibited in the Arsenale in 1999.

Even if you had not already been over to the Giardini, the other part of the Biennale dedicated to national pavilions and their individually curated exhibits, and seen the Estonian’s big yellow “pipeline” providentially and ominously running down a gravel slope to the steps of the Russian pavilion, you might have questioned the relevance of the Arsenale’s fabulously blousy installations. The European press has already come down hard, especially on the nudes brought in by French architect Philippe Rahm in an effort to demonstrate space-making through convection air currents instead of walls. The concept was certainly clever, and might have been enough for an art installation, but it cannot pass muster at an architecture fair if it doesn’t actually work. Betsky tried to make an end-run around buildings that “just stand there” in favor of architecture that inspires and “transforms one’s perception of one’s world.” And while there was plenty of food for thought about the latest way to turn data into structure, from artist Matthew Ritchie & Aranda/Lasch’s scale-less, fractal-turned-structural-doily to M-A-D’s AirXY, which replicated the technology of Hall of Fragments with LED lights instead of movies, many of the installations looked as if they could too easily end up as catalog fodder for the amusement of galleristas.



Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Iwan Baan

The urban problems that preoccupied some architects—the lives of singletons for the Dutch collective Droog; the pile-up of unrecyclable and ghastly plastic toys for Greg Lynn—didn’t seem global enough. Pros at performance architecture like Diller Scofidio + Renfro did not disappoint with a video installation that mashed up interviews with gondoliers in three different Venices—Italy, Las Vegas, and Macau—along with anyone’s belief in authenticity of place. UNStudio, too, satisfied with a slitheringly stunning rendition of a villa fit for Zoolander that served as a screen for footage from an Alexander McQueen fashion show.

But as one continued down the vast Arsenale where in the 12th century, entire battleships could be built in a week, the impression that today powerful minds were bent to far less mighty tasks was hard to ignore. Ten months ago when Betsky set to work, presidents and vice presidents had not been nominated, Georgian borders had not been crossed, and hurricanes both natural and financial had not rocked our foundations. Now that they have, architects working in high concepts rather than hard realities seem somehow passé.
 


 


 
 

Arsenale Interrota

By Anne Guiney

After the machined perfection of so many of the Arsenale’s massive installations, the drawings of Roma Interrota provided the show’s first real jolt. The recreation of a 1978 exhibition of the same name was inspired by the 1748 Nolli Map of Rome. The drawings show the eternal city reimagined by 12 architects, including Aldo Rossi (pictured), Paolo Portoghesi, Robert Venturi, Leon and Robert Krier, and Colin Rowe, who were themselves monumental practitioners in the 1970s. The reinstallation was an eye-opener for a new generation, including Casey Jones and Reed Kroloff, who collaborated with David Rockwell on the video installation Hall of Fragments. For them, the juxtaposition provided a revealing contrast in the ways architects look at cities. “It has the stillness of a time capsule,” said Kroloff, “and it’s amazing to see how radically the tools of expression have changed.”

The original Roma Interrota was organized by then-mayor of Rome Giulio Carlo Argan, and took as its premise the idea that since the publication of Giovanni Battista Nolli’s famous New Plan for Rome, planning in the city had been stymied and destructive. Argan asked architects to start where the 230-year-old plan left off and dream of what the city could be. Revisiting the new reinstallation at the Arsenale, Argan wrote, “It is comprised not of proposals for urban planning, naturally, but of a series of gymnastic exercises for the imagination whose course runs parallel to that of memory… [Here] are hypotheses for the Rome which would have resulted had man continued to imagine it and not to plan it (badly.)”

 





Belgium's curators David van Severen and Kersten Geers commemorated a missed centennial—the country first entered the Biennale in 1907—with after the party, an installation whose main components are confetti and mostly empty rooms.
Martin Perrin

Giardini

At the mouth of the Grand Canal, the city’s largest public garden is dotted with 35 national pavilions and a series of outdoor installations. Inside, a few curators showed how architecture can indeed be pushed “beyond building,” with results ranging from poetic to pragmatic.

By Anne Guiney

By taking the Biennale’s theme “Out There—Architecture Beyond Building” as more guideline than directive, curators of more than 30 national exhibitions in the Giardini found expansive and fertile ground for their ideas. Expansive enough, in fact, to encompass almost anything. Freed from the physical limitations of building, architecture could relate to everything.

The two most prevalent (and often intertwined) ideas curators explored were politics and the environment, but the work ranged from the poetic approach of Japan’s Junya Ishigumi, who created a dreamland of flower-structures, to Russia, whose installation of a competitive architectural chess game could be read as a mirror held up to contemporary politics.

Perhaps the most immediately satisfying project was not in a pavilion, but running between two. Estonia put a real-scale gas pipe on the ground between the German and Russian pavilions to represent a Gazprom proposal to build the Nord Stream pipeline connecting the two countries through the Baltic Sea. It was wonderfully concise in its ability to make a political argument physically manifest, and to raise questions about issues from regional power dynamics to environmental damage.


GERMANY
martin perrin 


POLAND
Eric holm


SWITZERLAND
martin perrin
 
 

Poland’s curators took the seldom-sexy idea of recycling and gave it some style by repurposing their pavilion as the Hotel Polonia, complete with beds. Inside, there were a series of photographic triptychs showing a building as it looks today and then one that Photoshops it into the future. A 2004 basilica becomes a fantastic water park, since after a while the only people attending church would be tourists anyway, so why not? Likewise, a university library is rebranded as a mall, and cheekily, a Foster-designed building became a convincingly ominous jail. The mixture of solid ideas and a light touch led the jurors to award it the Golden Lion. 

Germany, too, drew attention to the use and abuse of nature, though without the humor of its neighbor. To highlight the way we often squander our resources, the curators did some squandering of their own: The neoclassical German pavilion’s portico was lit with 32 massive spotlights, which gave it an unfortunate eerie glow, and each visitor passing underneath felt their heat. The physical sensation made an effective point, and while there was a notice inside that team members were reducing energy consumption to offset the 50,000 kilowatts of electricity the piece will ultimately consume, the choice seemed dubious. A second inadvertently funny moment was an indoor grove of apple trees under Gro-lights, fed by an IV-like sack of radioactively bright liquid that suggested nothing more than Soylent Green.

Japan’s curator Junya Ishigumi took a very different stance on the issue of our relationship to nature, and imagined a world where architecture was not set in a landscape but inextricably a part of it. The seemingly blank white walls of the pavilion were covered with dozens of drawings of greenery-clad structures in different scenarios, and outside were a series of delicate glass greenhouses filled with flowers. Its dreamy beauty made it a favorite, but the ideas it raised were really no more far-fetched than much of the more ecologically-minded work in the Italian Pavilion.



 


Ryan Reitbauer

U.S. Pavilion

By William Menking

When word first went out that the theme of this year’s architecture biennale was “Out There: Beyond Building,” I suspected that Aaron Betsky would take a more formalist approach and not include the kind of social activism that has recently engaged an increasing number of architects frustrated by a sense of impotence in the face of the country’s crumbling infrastructure and frayed social fabric. I turned to Teddy Cruz, whose housing proposals for Hudson, NY, we’ve covered in AN, and he started a conversation with Pratt Institute’s Deborah Gans. Soon the team also included Andy Sturm of the PARC Foundation and Aaron Levy of the Slought Foundation, two non-profits often involved with architects pursuing alternative practices. There seemed to be an opportunity to provide a counterpoint to the main exhibition with something that focused more on new approaches to engaging with communities and shaping local infrastructure.

Time was not on our side: We had only four months to conceive, develop, design, ship, and install everything down to the guestbook to Venice. Right at the start, Leanne Mella, with years of experience as a biennale coordinator and with the State Department, warned me, “I’ve done exhibits in Africa, and it can be a difficult place to mount an exhibition, but Venice is tougher!” and then she joined our team, an unbeatable vote of confidence.

Our goal was not modest: We were basically trying to develop and encourage an architecture culture that doesn’t yet exist in the United States. And while we included efforts like The Heidelberg Project, where abandoned houses in Detroit have been encrusted by recycled refuse collected in the neighborhood, or Kyong Park’s New Silk Road video montage, the impulse was to provoke new thinking about architecture, not to feature art projects.

While some of the work we decided to include (and that you may have read about in the last issue of AN) was very critical about aspects of American culture and the built environment, some of it was equally proactive about our problems, because they are in fact hard to believe. The reality is that in the last 25 years, this country hasn’t really invested in our infrastructure, and so a lot of the projects in the pavilion looked at that rather than at buildings in order to make a connection between an architectural sensibility and a larger social infrastructure. Finally, I believe that architects are by and large urbanists who love cities and want to make them function better, and the projects we chose to include represented a range of ways to do just that.

 


 

Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Wei Wei
Martin Perrin

Experimental Architecture

Inside the Italian Pavilion, 56 exhibits showed the range of experiment across the spectrum, from Lebbeus Woods’ drawings to architecture’s future as seen through the I Ching. With a tone set by the early, ground-breaking work of masters like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Coop Himmelb(l)au, the work suggests that the spirit of the new is alive and engaged.

By Anne Guiney

The Italian Pavilion in the Giardini promises an overview on the state of progressive practice in architecture, and while it certainly delivers, it does so in a way that is alternately provocative, satisfying, and dispiriting. Curator Aaron Betsky chose to devote the building that once housed the host country’s installation (now relocated to the Arsenale) with the work of 55 experimental firms, many of whom are younger, like MOS, NL Architects, and LOT-EK, and seven of the avant-garde’s old school, most now prolific builders, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Morphosis. Most of the masters pulled work from their archives—Zaha Hadid’s drawings were particularly spectacular, and a reminder of her extraordinary talent. A noteworthy exception was Herzog & de Meuron, who teamed up with Ai Wei Wei, their collaborator on the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, and made a simple but beautiful installation from the bamboo poles so prevalent on construction sites in China.


NL Architects


MA0/Emmeazero
courtesy the architects
 
 

Almost all of the work on display is drawn from projects that were underway long before the Biennale, and Betsky has grouped like with like. Teddy Cruz’s cross-border work in Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego is catercorner to FAST’s planning and community organizing project in the Arab-Israeli town of Ein Hawd, while Field Operations’ large-scale and long-term efforts in landscape urbanism share a room with the Colombia-based Husos’ engaging Proyecto Cali, which wonderfully manages to include the restoration of a habitat for Monarch butterflies, an exhibitions building, and a soap opera called Butterflies and Passions.

One of the more striking things that emerges from the contrast Betsky sets up between the old-new and the new-new is the preoccupation with creating a more socially engaged practice over form-making, and the use of different means to tell a story. Along with Husos and its racy telenovela, AOC developed a Monopoly-based board game to help Venetians rethink their shrinking city, and J,P:A Jones Partners put together a Marvel-style comic book projecting 50 years into the future of Dubai. CUP’s intentionally crude Xeroxed posters diagram a link between sneakers and poverty, while Urban Think Tank’s colorful wall of posters from Caracas, Venezuela is as suggestive of a vibrant public realm as any in the show.

Yogi Berra, as usual, had it right: The future ain’t what it used to be, and utopia as we know and love it is in fairly short supply in the pavilion. One of the more provocative pieces calls the very idea into question: Abitare editor Stefano Boeri and a student team took on the eco-enthusiasm so prevalent in the pavilion and beyond and ask what it would really be like if nature once again was deeply integrated into our cities. Boeri’s Sustainable Dystopias presents three scenarios—the city of energy devices, the city of vegetable surfaces, and the city of wild animals, each of which pushes the proposal to its logical conclusion and points out the pros and cons. As neat as it might sound, the piece argues, there’s also a downside to having elk and moose wandering through protected greenbelts in a city. NL Architects also presents cut-n’-paste what-if scenarios in Virtual Realities that are a little uncomfortable, in spite of their humor. The ice caps are melting? Let’s make one out of trash, since there’s plenty of that! The two projects stand in marked contrast to the visually appealing yet thin suggestion represented by ma0/emmeazero’s Footprints, whose vision for new types of public space seems more grounded in the possibilities of Photoshop than in a meaningful sense of how people use city streets and parks.

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Glass Dynamics
Jim Brady

In the Clear: Taking Advantage of Glass’ Two-Way Street

By Aaron Seward

The great pursuit in glass architecture, and thus the technology that feeds it, is and has been for energy efficiency. More specifically, it is the elusive quest to design the most transparent building possible while at the same time mitigating heat gain and glare delivered by the sun. The failure thus far to achieve a balance between fulfilling this architectural ideal and creating an environmentally responsible and comfortable built environment was aptly illustrated by the recent backlash against glass condos. The Wall Street Journal ran an article this August chronicling a spate of horror stories from residents who didn’t anticipate what it means to live in a glass house at the beginning of the new millennium. The harrowing details included faded furniture, the impossibility of watching television during the day, peeping Toms ogling daughters, Windex sizzling to an impossible-to-remove gunk, and cooling systems unable to compensate for the unfettered glory of the sun.

Aside from these issues of individual comfort and livability, it seems clear that, when looking at how we might reduce our overall carbon footprint, glass (our most ubiquitous contemporary building material) is a good place to start. A study issued by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, estimates that windows are responsible for 2.15 quadrillion BTUs of heating energy consumption and 1.48 quadrillion BTUs of cooling energy consumption within the United States annually, or 30 percent of building electrical loads nationwide. The same study estimates that an overnight replacement of the nation’s window stock with existing high-insulating glass technologies, such as low-emittance coatings and multi-pane units, would result in energy savings of approximately 1.2 quadrillion BTUs, while a similar upgrade to future technologies, currently under research and development at LBNL, could save a potential 3.9 quadrillion BTUs.

Oddly enough, these future technologies seek to improve energy ratings by taking advantage of the very quality that seems to be glass’ greatest weakness: its transmissiveness. “Glass is one of the few building materials out there that allows energy to flow both ways at the same time,” said Chris Barry, technical director at glass manufacturer Pilkington. “In the summer that can be beneficial by allowing heat to escape the interior, while in the winter it lets in the sun’s warmth.”

Ever since the oil embargo of the 1970s, when energy costs went through the roof, the industry has been trying to make glass walls behave more like brick walls in terms of insulation values. This has been successful to the point that today people who have installed low-e solutions in their homes are complaining that when they sit in their breakfast nook in the morning they feel cold. The alternative to this approach is what is commonly known as “smart glass” or “switchable glazing,” in other words, a glass unit whose opacity or reflectiveness can be altered to deflect or transmit more or less of the sun’s energy, thus creating a dynamic barrier that can be optimally tailored to environmental conditions as they change throughout the day or the year.

Smart glass has been developed in a number of varieties, including polymer dispersed liquid crystal, suspended particle, and electrochromic devices. Liquid crystal glass has become popular for privacy screening (it was famously used inRem Koolhaas’Prada stores), but it has no energy-saving benefits. Basically, two layers of glass sandwich transparent electrical conductors enveloping a thin layer of liquid crystal droplets. When in the “off” position, the liquid crystals scatter light, giving the unit a milky white appearance, but when an electrical current is applied the crystals align according to the electric field and assume a transparent state. The change between these two states is instantaneous and there is no middle ground between them.

Suspended particle glass is almost identical in its assembly, except that microscopic rod-like particles, rather than liquid crystals, float in a fluid between the conducting and glass layers. Without an electrical current, the rods fall into random organizations and tend to absorb light, whereas when a current is applied they align to allow light to pass through. Unlike liquid crystal, suspended particle devices can be dimmed to allow more or less light and heat to pass through. Both of these systems require a small but constant electrical current to remain transparent, while the third system, electrochromic, requires a current to affect the change in transparency, but once that change takes place the current is no longer needed. This system is currently the focus of most smart glass research at LBNL. The system works by passing a burst charge through several microscopically thin layers on the glass surface, activating a layer of tungsten oxide and causing it to turn from clear to dark. The reverse change takes place when the charge is passed the opposite way. A mirror system has also been developed that transitions from clear to reflective. Electrochromic systems remain transparent across their switching range—between approximately five and 80 percent transmittance—and can be modulated to any intermediate state.

According to Eleanor Lee, a building technology expert at LBNL, electrochromic glass is on the cusp of being ready for large-scale use, but there are still several impediments. “It’s an emerging technology,” said Lee, “people don’t know about it, it costs more than available systems, and there are many unknowns.” The building industry is notoriously sheepish about using new materials, as the cost of a major failure could be ruinous, but what the technology needs to get off the ground is exactly the type of investment that a large project would provide. Lee pointed out the New York Times Building, which significantly boosted the research and development of external and motorized shading systems. “Manufacturers are willing to do a big project,” she said. “That amount of money would give them the start up cost to bring in the people to engineer the product.”

Another sticking point, of course, lies with the architectural leadership, who will have to decide whether or not they’re willing to allow the external aspect of their buildings to be tossed about willy-nilly by the whimsy of occupants and the demands of the passing sun.

Aaron Seward is an associate editor at AN.

 


  


David Franck

 

Trumpf Gatehouse
Ditzingen, Germany
Barkow Leibinger Architects with Werner Sobek

 Trumpf, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of machine and laser tools, won’t open its 90,000-square-foot expansion in Ditzingen, Germany until mid-2009, but one can get a sense of what’s to come from the spectacular Gatehouse, which was designed by Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin and opened on the Trumpf campus in late 2007.

A honeycombed membrane of stainless steel cantilevers 60 feet over and floats above a 400-square-foot rectangular glass box that houses a reception and waiting area. The roof is a pattern of triangles that compress based on the changing structural forces over its surface. The roof, which was fabricated in-house at Trumpf, is an interesting formal experiment and a celebration of Trumpf’s advanced laser technology, but it is the Miesian glass box beneath that endows the sizeable overhang with its dramatic effect.

With engineering consultant Werner Sobek and manufacturer Glaszentrum Schweikert, Barkow Leibinger developed a 12-inch double non-bearing facade of two layers of low-emission float glass that gives the impression that the planar roof hovers in thin air. However, as Frank Barkow explains, the dynamic roof sits on a core of four columns inside the box while connected to the glass facade by an accordion-shaped rubber gasket that was developed by the team of engineers and architects specifically for this pavilion. Between the two glass surfaces of the facade, the architects stacked Plexiglas tubes of varying diameter, which provide subtle shading to the interiors. The team developed a custom detail of dark Plexiglas structural posts that run vertically between the glass sandwich panels, which are stronger than glass and make the whole facade read as a transparent plane. The interior glass panel is operable to allow for the occasional cleaning of the tubes, which are glued together for easy access. Together, the double facade, the tubes, and the screens lower the cooling costs of the pavilion. It is at night, when the honeycomb roof is lit by LED lights and when the Plexiglas tubes trap the light from the interiors between the layers of glass in an eerie-looking blurry effect, that the Gatehouse appears ready to drift off in a world of its own.

David van der Leer is a frequent contributor to AN.

 


  


Courtesy Simone Giostra/Arup/Ruogu

 

Xicui Entertainment Complex
Beijing, China
Simone Giostra & Partners with Arup

The buildings designed for the Beijing Olympics hardly lacked in spectacle, but New York architect Simone Giostra created one that is aimed more toward the gallery crowd than gym-goers. The 24,000-square-foot media wall called Greenpix, which covers the entire facade of the six-story Xicui Entertainment Complex, is an all-glass facade that collects solar energy during the day and gives off tantalizing patterns of vibrant colors at night. Unlike many similar (though smaller) media walls, typically used for display advertising, this one was created to showcase video works. For its opening, Greenpix’s lead curator Luis Gui worked with Shanghai-based curator Defne Ayas, who commissioned pieces by artists Aaaijao and Shi Chieh Huang of China, and Varara Shavrova of Russia.

However inspiring it may be from an aesthetic perspective, it is the system’s sustainability that is of most interest to Giostra, who developed the wall in collaboration with Arup. Together with two German glass manufacturers, Schueco and Sunways, they created a technology to laminate polycrystalline solar cells into glass panels. “It is the most radical example of photovoltaic technology applied to an entire building envelope,” said Giostra. The solar panels have been embedded in the glass panels, some of which are set at an angle, in a pattern of varying density that depends on the nature of the spaces inside and their requirements for daylight. These solar cells provide energy to the roughly 2,300 LED light points, which are intentionally distributed at a lower resolution than generally used for media walls, contributing to the wall’s special abstract quality.

The standard media wall is designed to have an even light intensity throughout the course of a day, but the brightness of Greenpix’s diodes depends on the weather. After a gray day the facade glows subtly at night, whereas a sunny day results in a feast of color. Arup tested over 200 different full-scale prototypes on site in Beijing for more than a year to see what combinations of interlayer, treatments, thickness, solar cells, and textures provided the highest possible performance. The combination they finally installed is projected to maintain 80 percent of its nominal efficiency for the next two decades, during which the wall is expected to become a platform for site specific works made by future generations of video artists.  DVDL

 


 


Scott Frances

 

1099 New York Avenue
Washington, D.C.
Thomas Phifer and Partners

With its strict height limits and bevy of bureaucratic institutions, the District of Columbia has long favored architectural harmony and conformity over innovative design. How refreshing, then, to see a commonplace glass-box office building raise the bar for design in the Capital without disrupting the city’s intended uniformity.

Designed by New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners, 1099 New York Avenue is an eleven-story, 173,000-square-foot office building, developed by Tishman Speyer, with a crystalline facade that expresses its materiality and, thanks to meticulous detailing, offers what Phifer calls a subtle “sense of surprise.” “Jerry Speyer wanted a special building with a unique skin,” said Phifer, “and he wanted to do it in D.C.” On first glance 1099 might look like a particularly well wrought version of the ultra-glassy office building— at times perfectly transparent, at others so reflective as to nearly disappear—such as SOM’s World Trade Center Seven. As you get closer, however, you see that rather than striving for a pure planar surface, Phifer has created something, literally, more multifaceted.

Rather than using a curtain wall system, Phifer opted for a custom window wall over the building’s thin concrete frame (Washington’s height limits make ultra thin floor plates a must). Each pane of glass is tilted six inches in both plan and section, giving the building a sense of depth and shimmer. “We wanted it to be a detail, rather than a gesture,” Pfifer said. “If it had been a big gesture, that would give away the sense of surprise.” A cast stainless steel clip, visible from below, supports the pane. “The clip expresses the weight of the panes.” The five-inch deep by eight-inch long clips also add to the texture of the facades.

The large twelve-and-a-half-feet long by five-and-a-half-feet wide low-emission Viracon panes function like shingles, allowing water to run down and drip off the facades during storms. At ground level, an installation by artist Matthew Ritchie helps enliven the streetscape. The building, which follows the contour of the lot where the Washington grid is bisected by a diagonal avenue, responds to its site, respecting its context while showing that even a small speculative office building, with the right attention to detailing, can reflect higher ambitions.

Alan G. Brake is an associate editor at AN.

 


 

  
M. Moulinet/Polkop/Courtesy Rolinet & Associes

 

Chapelle des Diaconesses
Versailles, France
Rolinet & Associés

In Versailles, in a park dotted with trees, sits the Chapelle des Diaconesses, a cocoon of superimposed pine wood strips inside a triangular glass structure. The small chapel, which opened to the public in 2007, replaced a large cloth tent that the Protestant Community of the Deaconesses used over a period of 20 years for its largest ceremonies. French architect Marc Rolinet’s modern interpretation of religious architecture subtly refers to this former place of worship. The sisters of the parish requested a chapel that would be firmly rooted in the 21st century, and that “offers modern people an interior that combines beauty, intimacy, and celebration, and that invites them to reflect and find peace.”

Rolinet set out to design a lightweight glass structure that follows the hilly topography of the site and provides an arcade between the wood and glass that is now used for quiet reflection. The envelope, made out of laminated safety glass with a structural interlayer by DuPont and manufactured by Saint-Gobain, protects the wooden chapel from the weather and forms an optimal acoustic barrier to the railroad station close by. Stronger than conventional laminating materials, the interlayers help create safety glass that protects against bigger storms, larger impacts, and more powerful blasts. The layers become an engineered component within the glass, holding more weight, so the glass can serve as a more active structural element in the building envelope. And they do all this while increasing framing system design freedom and improving long-term weather resistance. Marc Rolinet stated, “The structural calculations performed by DuPont and Saint-Gobain Glass enabled us to reduce the glass thickness, increase the pitch, and lighten the supporting structure.” Without the structural interlayer, the glass would have been thicker—and therefore more expensive. It also allowed for a direct integration of the fixing devices into the laminated inner glass layers. The structure spans a large distance, and allows for a minimal number of steel girders. But in the end it was the mirror-like effect that convinced Rolinet to use this material instead of conventional laminated glass—an effect that now at certain points of the day allows for a spectacular reflection of the charming park surrounding the chapel.   DVDL

 


  


Jim Brady

 

LOFTS @ 655 6th
San Diego
Public

Lofts @ 655 6th, a seven-story, mixed-use project that opened last December on the edge of San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp districts, uses an innovative glass system to distinguish what is a fairly simple structure from the city’s many other new residential buildings.

The project is one of the few new rental properties in a city awash in high-end condos. In order to save money, maximize space, and create a more authentic loft-like ambience than the traditional configurations that are dressed up to look like lofts, and which are so common today in San Diego, local firm Public built a huge concrete box at the core of the 106-unit building. The 100,000-square-foot structure then steps down to the east to address the neighborhood.

The infill glazing system cladding the core is made up of a varied pattern of small and large glazed squares. All are very transparent, but highly energy-efficient, with a U-value of .41. To further animate the facade, Public hung an irregularly spaced clear tempered glass screen system over the project’s west-facing balconies. The screen is fitted with a perforated vinyl film—similar to the films used to create many billboards—that displays a sepia-toned photo-abstraction of live oak trees, created by photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann. Not only does the screen add complexity to the building, but its shading helped the building pass its state-mandated requirements for solar gain.

When the film needs to be replaced in about five years, the firm hopes the developer will hold a call for entries to find a new artist, thus ensuring a new look for the building. “Our only agreement with the city is that the new image not be distasteful or commercial,” said firm principal James Gates. The building has been a hit, and is fully leased, despite being completed just prior to the recent economic doldrums. “We’re very proud of what we were able to get for the money,” said Gates.

Sam Lubell is AN’s California editor.

It's Planning Time

Creative Time, the renowned public art organization, has been hired to create a public art masterplan for Louisville, Kentucky, a first for the organization. Announced yesterday, the $50,000 commission will likely call for temporary and permanent installations, as well as bricks and mortar projects, such as pedestrian bridges for a new parks system currently being designed by Philadelphia-based firm WRT. “We’ve been called on to advise on public art projects around the country, so we recently decided to develop a consulting arm,” said Meredith Johnson, a curator and producer with Creative Time. “We think it will broaden our impact on the field.”

Based on the recommendations of the Mayor’s Committee on Public Art, the city of Louisville issued an RFQ for the masterplan. Creative Time prevailed over two other finalists, the names of which the city declined to release. “They were a perfect match. They didn’t want to recycle the plan of another city. They want to create something unique for Louisville,” said Jesse Levesque Bishop, a member of the committee. The yearlong study will identify sites, funding strategies, timelines, and partner organizations, and is expected to include regional, national, and international artists and designers.

The city’s art scene has attracted national attention in recent years due to projects like the 21C Museum Hotel, designed by Deborah Berke, and REX’s now delayed Museum Plaza skyscraper.

Crunch Time

It’s that time again.

With the economy on a sustained downturn, West Coast architects are once again scrambling to stay afloat, and attention is shifting from design challenges to financial ones. The next six to 12 months could prove to be the tipping point between pain and disaster.

According to the monthly AIA’s Work On The Boards survey, architects’ billings over the last six months, while stabilizing slightly in the last couple, have measured the lowest since the organization began tracking them 13 years ago. And the worst region of all right now is the west, due in large part to its dependence on the now-burst housing bubble.

From an informal survey of architects across California we learned that everyone has been hurt in some way by the economic slide. While the residential market has been hardest hit, few sectors appear secure. Every firm had at least one project that had been stalled or cancelled because of the economy. Most are depending on contracts that were secured before the downturn and are having increased difficulty finding new work.

Smaller firms seem to have been hit the hardest, particularly those with projects bunched in the same building type and those without big-money clients. Larger firms have fared better, especially because most have a wide diversity of work, and have been able to focus on more dependable (for now) international and institutional markets.

But everyone is mobilizing to find solutions. For now only a few firms have had to take drastic measures by letting staff go. Notable layoffs include a widely reported round by Gehry Partners earlier this summer, which has yet to be confirmed by the company, and a layoff of about 10 percent of the staff by CO Architects after a couple of large projects were scrapped.

Other remedies include looking more aggressively for work, pumping up marketing efforts, and accepting projects that just a year ago most firms would never dream of taking.

“You don’t avoid any- thing anymore,” said James Gates, a principal at San Diego firm Public. His eight person firm recently saw two major residential commissions in the city get scrapped, projects that the firm was depending on to get them through the next two years. “You do some of the nasty remodels. You make sure it’s done on time without mistakes. You have to show you’re committed.”

Firms are also trying to get into more stable sectors, and are competing mightily for institutional projects. But with the larger firms getting into the same boat, it’s not easy.

Mark Cavagnero, principal at San Francisco firm Mark Cavagnero Associates, points to a recent competition for a small theater addition in Aspen, Colorado. Other firms in the running included Polshek Partnership and Barton Meyers.

“Two years ago these firms would never be chasing a $15 million project,” he said.

Other firms have focused efforts on non-building realms like research and development. But no matter what they come up with almost everyone says that they may have to take more severe measures if the downturn continues for a while longer.

“We can lumber along through the end of the year, but if things don’t change, 2009 could be hard,” said Cavagnero, whose office has 30 people.

Cavagnero, among others, hopes things will pick up with a new presidential administration at the end of the year. But the anxiety is palpable, and everyone seems on edge.

“For a long time no one felt obliged to ask how others were doing,” said Bill Leddy, a principal at San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacey. “Now when I see my peers they wonder ‘how’s it going for you?’” 

Editorial: Beyond Building

Included in this issue is a pull-out pamphlet titled Into the Open: Positioning Practice. This is the official catalogue for the United States pavilion at the 2008 Venice architecture biennale. It features our curatorial statement for the exhibition, a walk-through of the exhibit, and descriptions of each of the 16 featured practices.

Into the Open begins by acknowledging a contemporary condition of “changing populations, shifting borders, and uneven economic development—exacerbated by the explosion of migration and urbanization” that we believe requires new architectural approaches that challenge this condition, and in the process, question architecture’s traditional working methods. The pavilion features smaller and more innovative practices that we believe “go beyond building,” and includes architects stretching the definitions of the profession by working as researchers, activists, and developers, as well as designers.

We also recognize that today, architectural culture encompasses a broad range of attitudes, responses, and approaches, but that due to the extreme nature of our degraded and compromised urban condition—crumbling infrastructure, environmental devastation, and a cultural fluidity that can undermine social stability—requires an immediate and drastic rethinking of old architectural solutions. With this exhibition, we made a curatorial decision to omit star architects and the modernist notion of individual authorship, and instead chose to highlight small, less visible practices that are defined by choreographies of collaboration. We believe that this intellectually entrepreneurial approach to architecture is uniquely American and one that needs to be recognized.

The exhibition opens to the public on September 14 and runs through November 23, 2008. We imagine the exhibition as a social space, prompting dialogue and debate about issues affecting the architectural community. We hope that the public will take part in this dialogue by contributing to our online blog.

William Menking
Commissioner and Curator
 

Aaron Levy
Curator

Andy Strum
Curator

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Interior Motives
The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin (1850) by Eduard Gaertner.
Courtesy Cooper-Hewitt

The 71 watercolor drawings showcased in the exhibition House Proud: Nineteenth-century Watercolor Interiors from the Thaw Collection, on view at the Cooper-Hewitt, invite museum-goers to leave the darkly paneled galleries of Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion and enter into the salons, drawing rooms, winter gardens, libraries, studies, and bedrooms of 19th-century European royalty, nobility, and the emerging haute bourgeoisie.

Painted by both amateur and professional artists, these intimate watercolors, paired with related objects from the museum’s collection, trace the evolution of domestic interiors, ranging in style from Neoclassicism to exoticism to Gothic and Rococo revival, and document the social, cultural, and aesthetic development of domestic life. The drawings are similar in composition to the photographs that appear in the shelter magazines of today, and with their obsessive detailing of architectural elements, furnishings, and bric-a-brac, appeal to the developing consumer culture of the era.

The exhibition includes examples of drawings that were published in building guides and other books authored for those designing interiors; however, the majority of the works were commissioned by proud homeowners and collected in albums as heirlooms, presented as gifts to visiting dignitaries, or prominently displayed in the house itself.




Top: The Circular Dining Room at Carlton House, London, Charles Wild (1819). above: The Dressing Room of King Ludwig I at the Munich Residenz, Franz Xaver Nachtmann (1836).
courtesy cooper-hewitt

 
 

Jules-Frédéric Bouchet’s A Small Salon in the Montpensier Wing, Palais Royal (1830) shows King Louis-Philippe’s penchant for the French-Empire style. Renovated by Pierre Fontaine, the room reflects Empire trends in furniture arrangement, with a table placed in the center of the room and a reclining sofa located in the corner. This style became popular with members of the noble and upper class, as seen in Hilaire Thierry’s watercolor, A Salon in the Empire Taste (1820–1830), that details mythological scenes above the doorway and tea-related objects, similar to those designed by Percier and Fontaine for Napoleon and Josephine.

The watercolors document private interior spaces, as well as those that are used for public occasions. John Nash’s Chinese Gallery As It Was (1838) shows couples promenading past Chinese porcelains in the exotic gallery of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, designed for George IV. The popular chinoiserie style is seen in Eduard Gaertner’s The Chinese Room in the Royal Palace, Berlin (1850), with its bright yellow upholstered furniture, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, and pale blue ceiling covered with birds. Though uninhabited, the room is filled with life and personality, and the viewer can easily project himself into the scene, settling into a bamboo armchair for tea.

Anna Alma-Tadema intimately depicts the library at Townshend House, London, decorated in the “aesthetic” style by her father, the Dutch painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. The watercolor captures the comfort of the room, with its Japanese porcelain, inviting sofa covered with a fur throw, and mullioned casement windows. Adjacent to Alma-Tadema’s work are spectacular metamorphic library table-steps, as well as imported bark cloth, similar to that seen in the watercolor. Not to be missed, however, is the spectacular shellwork bouquet in the final gallery. Hermetically sealed under a glass dome, this curiosity illustrates how the meticulous attention to detail common in 19th-century objects could produce strange yet awe-inspiring examples of high design.

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Glass Dynamics
Scott Frances

In the Clear: Taking Advantage of Glass’ Two-Way Street

By Aaron Seward

The great pursuit in glass architecture, and thus the technology that feeds it, is and has been for energy efficiency. More specifically, it is the elusive quest to design the most transparent building possible while at the same time mitigating heat gain and glare delivered by the sun. The failure thus far to achieve a balance between fulfilling this architectural ideal and creating an environmentally responsible and comfortable built environment was aptly illustrated by the recent backlash against glass condos. The Wall Street Journal ran an article this August chronicling a spate of horror stories from residents who didn’t anticipate what it means to live in a glass house at the beginning of the new millennium. The harrowing details included faded furniture, the impossibility of watching television during the day, peeping Toms ogling daughters, Windex sizzling to an impossible-to-remove gunk, and cooling systems unable to compensate for the unfettered glory of the sun.

Aside from these issues of individual comfort and livability, it seems clear that, when looking at how we might reduce our overall carbon footprint, glass (our most ubiquitous contemporary building material) is a good place to start. A study issued by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, estimates that windows are responsible for 2.15 quadrillion BTUs of heating energy consumption and 1.48 quadrillion BTUs of cooling energy consumption within the United States annually, or 30 percent of building electrical loads nationwide. The same study estimates that an overnight replacement of the nation’s window stock with existing high-insulating glass technologies, such as low-emittance coatings and multi-pane units, would result in energy savings of approximately 1.2 quadrillion BTUs, while a similar upgrade to future technologies, currently under research and development at LBNL, could save a potential 3.9 quadrillion BTUs.

Oddly enough, these future technologies seek to improve energy ratings by taking advantage of the very quality that seems to be glass’ greatest weakness: its transmissiveness. “Glass is one of the few building materials out there that allows energy to flow both ways at the same time,” said Chris Barry, technical director at glass manufacturer Pilkington. “In the summer that can be beneficial by allowing heat to escape the interior, while in the winter it lets in the sun’s warmth.”

Ever since the oil embargo of the 1970s, when energy costs went through the roof, the industry has been trying to make glass walls behave more like brick walls in terms of insulation values. This has been successful to the point that today people who have installed low-e solutions in their homes are complaining that when they sit in their breakfast nook in the morning they feel cold. The alternative to this approach is what is commonly known as “smart glass” or “switchable glazing,” in other words, a glass unit whose opacity or reflectiveness can be altered to deflect or transmit more or less of the sun’s energy, thus creating a dynamic barrier that can be optimally tailored to environmental conditions as they change throughout the day or the year.


  

 

Trumpf Gatehouse
Ditzingen, Germany
Barkow Leibinger Architects with Werner Sobek

 Trumpf, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of machine and laser tools, won’t open its 90,000-square-foot expansion in Ditzingen, Germany until mid-2009, but one can get a sense of what’s to come from the spectacular Gatehouse, which was designed by Barkow Leibinger Architects of Berlin and opened on the Trumpf campus in late 2007.

A honeycombed membrane of stainless steel cantilevers 60 feet over and floats above a 400-square-foot rectangular glass box that houses a reception and waiting area. The roof is a pattern of triangles that compress based on the changing structural forces over its surface. The roof, which was fabricated in-house at Trumpf, is an interesting formal experiment and a celebration of Trumpf’s advanced laser technology, but it is the Miesian glass box beneath that endows the sizeable overhang with its dramatic effect.

With engineering consultant Werner Sobek and manufacturer Glaszentrum Schweikert, Barkow Leibinger developed a 12-inch double non-bearing facade of two layers of low-emission float glass that gives the impression that the planar roof hovers in thin air. However, as Frank Barkow explains, the dynamic roof sits on a core of four columns inside the box while connected to the glass facade by an accordion-shaped rubber gasket that was developed by the team of engineers and architects specifically for this pavilion. Between the two glass surfaces of the facade, the architects stacked Plexiglas tubes of varying diameter, which provide subtle shading to the interiors. The team developed a custom detail of dark Plexiglas structural posts that run vertically between the glass sandwich panels, which are stronger than glass and make the whole facade read as a transparent plane. The interior glass panel is operable to allow for the occasional cleaning of the tubes, which are glued together for easy access. Together, the double facade, the tubes, and the screens lower the cooling costs of the pavilion. It is at night, when the honeycomb roof is lit by LED lights and when the Plexiglas tubes trap the light from the interiors between the layers of glass in an eerie-looking blurry effect, that the Gatehouse appears ready to drift off in a world of its own.

David van der Leer is a frequent contributor to AN.

 


  

Xicui Entertainment Complex
Beijing, China
Simone Giostra & Partners with Arup

The buildings designed for the Beijing Olympics hardly lacked in spectacle, but New York architect Simone Giostra created one that is aimed more toward the gallery crowd than gym-goers. The 24,000-square-foot media wall called Greenpix, which covers the entire facade of the six-story Xicui Entertainment Complex, is an all-glass facade that collects solar energy during the day and gives off tantalizing patterns of vibrant colors at night. Unlike many similar (though smaller) media walls, typically used for display advertising, this one was created to showcase video works. For its opening, Greenpix’s lead curator Luis Gui worked with Shanghai-based curator Defne Ayas, who commissioned pieces by artists Aaaijao and Shi Chieh Huang of China, and Varara Shavrova of Russia.

However inspiring it may be from an aesthetic perspective, it is the system’s sustainability that is of most interest to Giostra, who developed the wall in collaboration with Arup. Together with two German glass manufacturers, Schueco and Sunways, they created a technology to laminate polycrystalline solar cells into glass panels. “It is the most radical example of photovoltaic technology applied to an entire building envelope,” said Giostra. The solar panels have been embedded in the glass panels, some of which are set at an angle, in a pattern of varying density that depends on the nature of the spaces inside and their requirements for daylight. These solar cells provide energy to the roughly 2,300 LED light points, which are intentionally distributed at a lower resolution than generally used for media walls, contributing to the wall’s special abstract quality.

The standard media wall is designed to have an even light intensity throughout the course of a day, but the brightness of Greenpix’s diodes depends on the weather. After a gray day the facade glows subtly at night, whereas a sunny day results in a feast of color. Arup tested over 200 different full-scale prototypes on site in Beijing for more than a year to see what combinations of interlayer, treatments, thickness, solar cells, and textures provided the highest possible performance. The combination they finally installed is projected to maintain 80 percent of its nominal efficiency for the next two decades, during which the wall is expected to become a platform for site specific works made by future generations of video artists.  DVDL

 


 

 

1099 New York Avenue
Washington, D.C.
Thomas Phifer and Partners

With its strict height limits and bevy of bureaucratic institutions, the District of Columbia has long favored architectural harmony and conformity over innovative design. How refreshing, then, to see a commonplace glass-box office building raise the bar for design in the Capital without disrupting the city’s intended uniformity.

Designed by New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners, 1099 New York Avenue is an eleven-story, 173,000-square-foot office building, developed by Tishman Speyer, with a crystalline facade that expresses its materiality and, thanks to meticulous detailing, offers what Phifer calls a subtle “sense of surprise.” “Jerry Speyer wanted a special building with a unique skin,” said Phifer, “and he wanted to do it in D.C.” On first glance 1099 might look like a particularly well wrought version of the ultra-glassy office building— at times perfectly transparent, at others so reflective as to nearly disappear—such as SOM’s World Trade Center Seven. As you get closer, however, you see that rather than striving for a pure planar surface, Phifer has created something, literally, more multifaceted.

Rather than using a curtain wall system, Phifer opted for a custom window wall over the building’s thin concrete frame (Washington’s height limits make ultra thin floor plates a must). Each pane of glass is tilted six inches in both plan and section, giving the building a sense of depth and shimmer. “We wanted it to be a detail, rather than a gesture,” Pfifer said. “If it had been a big gesture, that would give away the sense of surprise.” A cast stainless steel clip, visible from below, supports the pane. “The clip expresses the weight of the panes.” The five-inch deep by eight-inch long clips also add to the texture of the facades.

The large twelve-and-a-half-feet long by five-and-a-half-feet wide low-emission Viracon panes function like shingles, allowing water to run down and drip off the facades during storms. At ground level, an installation by artist Matthew Ritchie helps enliven the streetscape. The building, which follows the contour of the lot where the Washington grid is bisected by a diagonal avenue, responds to its site, respecting its context while showing that even a small speculative office building, with the right attention to detailing, can reflect higher ambitions.

Alan G. Brake is an associate editor at AN.

 


 

  

 

Chapelle des Diaconesses
Versailles, France
Rolinet & Associés

In Versailles, in a park dotted with trees, sits the Chapelle des Diaconesses, a cocoon of superimposed pine wood strips inside a triangular glass structure. The small chapel, which opened to the public in 2007, replaced a large cloth tent that the Protestant Community of the Deaconesses used over a period of 20 years for its largest ceremonies. French architect Marc Rolinet’s modern interpretation of religious architecture subtly refers to this former place of worship. The sisters of the parish requested a chapel that would be firmly rooted in the 21st century, and that “offers modern people an interior that combines beauty, intimacy, and celebration, and that invites them to reflect and find peace.”

Rolinet set out to design a lightweight glass structure that follows the hilly topography of the site and provides an arcade between the wood and glass that is now used for quiet reflection. The envelope, made out of laminated safety glass with a structural interlayer by DuPont and manufactured by Saint-Gobain, protects the wooden chapel from the weather and forms an optimal acoustic barrier to the railroad station close by. Stronger than conventional laminating materials, the interlayers help create safety glass that protects against bigger storms, larger impacts, and more powerful blasts. The layers become an engineered component within the glass, holding more weight, so the glass can serve as a more active structural element in the building envelope. And they do all this while increasing framing system design freedom and improving long-term weather resistance. Marc Rolinet stated, “The structural calculations performed by DuPont and Saint-Gobain Glass enabled us to reduce the glass thickness, increase the pitch, and lighten the supporting structure.” Without the structural interlayer, the glass would have been thicker—and therefore more expensive. It also allowed for a direct integration of the fixing devices into the laminated inner glass layers. The structure spans a large distance, and allows for a minimal number of steel girders. But in the end it was the mirror-like effect that convinced Rolinet to use this material instead of conventional laminated glass—an effect that now at certain points of the day allows for a spectacular reflection of the charming park surrounding the chapel.   DVDL

 


  

 

LOFTS @ 655 6th
San Diego
Public

Lofts @ 655 6th, a seven-story, mixed-use project that opened last December on the edge of San Diego’s East Village and Gaslamp districts, uses an innovative glass system to distinguish what is a fairly simple structure from the city’s many other new residential buildings.

The project is one of the few new rental properties in a city awash in high-end condos. In order to save money, maximize space, and create a more authentic loft-like ambience than the traditional configurations that are dressed up to look like lofts, and which are so common today in San Diego, local firm Public built a huge concrete box at the core of the 106-unit building. The 100,000-square-foot structure then steps down to the east to address the neighborhood.

The infill glazing system cladding the core is made up of a varied pattern of small and large glazed squares. All are very transparent, but highly energy-efficient, with a U-value of .41. To further animate the facade, Public hung an irregularly spaced clear tempered glass screen system over the project’s west-facing balconies. The screen is fitted with a perforated vinyl film—similar to the films used to create many billboards—that displays a sepia-toned photo-abstraction of live oak trees, created by photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann. Not only does the screen add complexity to the building, but its shading helped the building pass its state-mandated requirements for solar gain.

When the film needs to be replaced in about five years, the firm hopes the developer will hold a call for entries to find a new artist, thus ensuring a new look for the building. “Our only agreement with the city is that the new image not be distasteful or commercial,” said firm principal James Gates. The building has been a hit, and is fully leased, despite being completed just prior to the recent economic doldrums. “We’re very proud of what we were able to get for the money,” said Gates.

Sam Lubell is AN’s California editor.

Crunch Time

The Numbers

It’s that time again.

With the economy on a sustained downturn West Coast architects are once again scrambling to stay afloat, and attention is shifting from design challenges to financial ones. The next six to twelve months—point out many— could prove to be the tipping point between pain and disaster.

According to the monthly AIA’s Work On The Boards survey, architects’ billings over the last six months, while stabilizing slightly in the last couple, have measured the lowest since the organization began tracking them 13 years ago. And the worst region of all right now is the west, due in large part to its dependence on the now-burst housing bubble.

From an informal survey of architects across California we learned that everyone has been hurt in some way by the economic slide. While the residential market has been hardest hit, few sectors appear safe. Every firm we talked to had at least one project that had been stalled or cancelled because of the economy. Most are having trouble finding new work, instead depending on contracts that were secured before the downturn.  

Smaller firms seem to have been hit the hardest, particularly those with projects bunched in the same building type or without big-money clients. Larger firms have fared better, especially because most have a wide diversity of work, and have been able to focus on more dependable (for now) international and institutional markets.

But everyone is mobilizing to find solutions. For now only a few firms have had to take drastic measures like laying off staff. Notable layoffs include a widely reported large round by Gehry Partners earlier this summer, which has yet to be confirmed by the company, a ten percent staff cut by LA-based CO Architects, and a layoff of six staffers by Johnson Fain (the last was reported by LA Curbed).

Other remedies include looking more aggressively for work, pumping up marketing efforts, and accepting projects that just a year ago most firms would never dream of taking.

 “You don’t avoid anything anymore,” said James Gates, a principal at San Diego firm Public. His eight person firm recently saw two major residential commissions in the city get scrapped; projects that the firm was depending on to get them through the next two years.  “You do some of the nasty remodels. You make sure it’s done on time without mistakes. You have to show you’re committed.”

Firms are also trying to get into more stable sectors, fighting for institutional projects. But with the larger firms getting into the same boat, it’s not easy.

Mark Cavagnero, principal at San Francisco firm Mark Cavagnero Associates, points to a recent competition for a small theater addition in Aspen, Colorado. Other firms included Polshek Partnership and Barton Meyers.

“Two years ago these firms would never be chasing a $15 million project,” he said.  

Other firms have focused efforts on non-building realms like research and development. But no matter what they come up with almost everyone says that they may have to take more drastic measures if the downturn continues for a while longer.

“We can lumber along through the end of the year, but if things don’t change 2009 could be hard,” said Cavagnero, whose office has 30 people.

Cavagnero, among others, hopes things will pick up with a new administration at the end of the year (he’s rooting for Obama, who he says will inject a needed dose of energy and responsibility into the environment). But the anxiety is palpable, and everyone seems on edge.

“For a long time no one felt obliged to ask how others were doing,” said Bill Leddy, a principal at San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacey. “Now when I see my peers they wonder ‘how’s it going for you?’”

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Paul Byard, 1939-2008


COURTESY PBDW
 
 

Paul Spencer Byard leaves a remarkable legacy as both designer and defender of public-spirited architecture. As a young lawyer for the New York State Urban Development Corporation, from 1969 to 1974, he helped develop 30,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing. Later, as an architect, he artfully shaped some of the city’s newest landmarks and revived its old ones—first at James Stewart Polshek & Partners, and then as partner at Platt Byard Dovell White. And as director of Columbia University’s graduate preservation program, he showed a new generation how to learn from the past. Three colleagues spoke to AN about this eloquent and spirited advocate for architecture, who died at his Brooklyn home, at age 68, on July 15.

Charles A. Platt, partner
Platt Byard Dovell White Architects
My first partnership, Smotrich & Platt, designed the offices of Edward Logue and the Urban Development Corporation. There was on the staff a bright, cheerful young lawyer, with a handkerchief flopping out of his breast pocket, who took me aside and asked if I would design a special window in his office wall. Which I did, sneaking it by the very watchful Ed Logue and his entire architectural staff, and we got it built. So not only was I Paul’s partner, but I was also his architect.

Paul had left the firm Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts to work for the UDC, which was an amazingly hopeful organization. I can’t tell you how hopeful we were for the architectural and social expectations of the UDC. And that was one of the ideals in Paul’s later life: that the profession would return to those optimistic days and purposes. He was very ambitious for architecture.

I was on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission beginning in 1979. Jim Polshek practiced before the commission, and was often importantly represented by Paul. I remember one project in the Village, which was a little postmodern and forward-thinking for its time. Paul was the partner responsible for the project, which was not approved instantaneously. He came to me for advice—something architects before the commission apparently aren’t allowed to do any more—and that was when we began to talk architecture to each other again.

Preservation with a capital P didn’t exist in those early days. I think Paul felt very strongly, even as a lawyer at UDC, that the preservation of buildings of value was terribly important. Like many of us who had lived through the age of urban renewal, Paul learned from the mistakes of the past. He felt preservation played an exemplary role in our lives, that it profoundly affected our understanding of our society.

Gregg Pasquarelli, principal
SHoP Architects
Paul Byard was my first studio professor at Columbia’s GSAPP, in the fall of 1990. I had decided to pursue a joint degree in preservation and architecture, and Paul assigned three projects in the South Street Seaport. As anyone who has gone to architecture school knows, the first semester of studio is both exhilarating and terrifying, and as a student who had recently left a job on Wall Street to venture into the world of design, it was more the latter for me. Paul patiently guided me through everything from installing a Mayline to complex ideas about context, zoning, and aesthetics. 

A week or two before our final review, I was very much doubting myself. Paul said to me, “Gregg, if I could change my life and leave law at 37, you can change your life and leave banking at 26. And in fact, I think you should consider leaving preservation to focus on architecture,” he added. “Your job will be to try to make buildings that people will want to preserve someday in the future.” Those words, and his encouragement, have never left me.

Rosalie Genevro, executive director
Architectural League of New York
Paul Byard loved the art of architecture, the creativity and complexity inherent in the act of making. “The reason we have our art is like the reason we have hands, to take hold of pieces of our world and make them meet our needs,” he wrote in an introduction to the Architectural League’s catalogue for its exhibition on the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

For many, Paul’s public persona was so tied to his exquisite facility with language that his affinity for the making of architecture could be surprising. But it was an essential part of his view of the world; it manifested itself not only in his professional work but playfully in projects like his shading devices made of sails, and a table made of extruded aluminum, built for his house in Maine.

Paul’s insistence on understanding the art of architecture in all its fullness and significance—as the most characteristic and meaningful activity of homo faber—will reverberate in the League’s programs and with all those he came in contact with for a long time to come.

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Erie Basin Park
All Images: Colin Cooke
 
The park's recurring motif of crisscrossing lines (top and above) was inspired by shadows cast from the rigging of ships that once filled the harbor.
 
 

Erie Basin Park
Designer: Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture
Red Hook, Brooklyn

When the Swedish furniture company Ikea took over the 22-acre Todd Shipyard property along Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, it inherited piles of ropes, winches, a forgotten shipyard log, and a hefty chunk of Red Hook history: a Civil War–era dry dock renowned as one of the harbor’s most important maritime sites.

The precise value of that history—its social meaning, its salutary grit—became a kind of currency in the tug-of-war over this freshly post-industrial swath of land. Zoned for heavy manufacturing, the site could not accommodate a retail use without planning commission approval, which allowed Ikea’s blue-and-yellow building only if the retailer returned to the public the very history it was about to displace.

The result, six years later, is Erie Basin Park, a nearly mile-long stretch of newly accessible public waterfront. Built and paid for by Ikea, the park is both a tribute and a tombstone to the industrial past—and a surprisingly optimistic statement about Brooklyn’s future.

The rezoning called for an esplanade keyed to the shipyard’s maritime flavor. “Whatever we could save, we tried to save,” said Lee Weintraub, principal of Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture, the park’s designer. Most spectacular are four monumental gantry cranes, stationed around the site (two others collapsed into the basin, and were deemed too difficult to preserve). Also incorporated were sundry artifacts—cleats and bollards, heaps of rope—while concrete blocks, once used to stabilize ships, are inscribed with the names of vessels repaired there. A motif of crisscrossing lines recurs throughout, inspired by shadows cast from masts of ships.

All this texture is in some sense mitigation for the loss of other historic elements, notably the more than 700-foot-long dry dock, known as Graving Dock No. 1, filled in by Ikea for a parking lot. Amid the asphalt, the dock has been outlined in Belgian-block paving stones, while a small segment has been preserved near the water’s edge.

In its complicated role as the private owner of a public park, Ikea found an apt partner in Weintraub, who had worked on an early design for nearby Valentino Pier, and helped design Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. For his part, Weintraub credits the support of planning commission chair Amanda Burden, as well as his team, including Anderson deMoraes, who together specified 558 trees, plus wildflowers and grasses—all of which Ikea must maintain. The store’s safety team also patrols the park, which is open from dawn to dusk.

Essential to the scheme was the separation of the 346,000-square-foot store from the park. “We were very insistent that we wanted this to be a public esplanade,” said Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth. Even the crane lighting, designed by Fisher Marantz Stone, avoids turning the industrial past into a blue-and-yellow Ikea logo. Meanwhile, Parks Department–style benches at the esplanade’s approaches signal the open-space fabric of the city. (The site also links with the route of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway.)

Opened in June, the park is still being discovered by New Yorkers with their own opinions about public-private trade-offs. “You have to make a judgment,” as Weintraub said, “whether Brooklyn has gotten equal value for the zoning change that yielded the blue box.” With its views of Erie Basin’s barges and wharves—enhanced by a new dock for free water-taxi service—Brooklyn’s maritime heritage, while it lasts, is in many ways more public than ever.
 






The landscape architects designed rugged site furniture (top), to complement the industrial vernacular of the preserved gantry cranes (above).
 
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Soho Says Trash Plan Stinks
The proposed facility as seen from West Street. The louvered curtain wall system would track sunlight and adjust accordingly to conserve energy.
Courtesy Weisz + Yoes

As New Yorkers colonize the last of the city’s former industrial areas, they’ve found themselves on the front lines of battle against their neighborhoods’ unsavory remnant uses—wastewater treatment plants, marine transfer stations, salt sheds, and sanitation depots.

Now that battle has erupted in Hudson Square, a district west of Soho that until a few years ago did not even have a name. With such luxury brands as the Urban Glass House and the soon-to-be-completed Trump Soho rising in its midst, the community has come out in sharp opposition to a Department of Sanitation plan to site a new garbage truck garage and salt station atop an existing UPS facility at the corner of Spring and West streets.

At a hearing before the City Planning Commission yesterday, local residents, business owners, and public officials voiced their concerns about noise, traffic congestion, and pollution, claiming the area is already plagued by all three. That is thanks largely to the nearby Holland Tunnel, which has been deemed one of the worst asthma zones in the city. “The dangers of such a location should be self-evident,” Katharine Wolpe, president of the Village Independent Democrats, told the commission.

The Sanitation Department has little choice about moving. When the Hudson River Park Act became law a decade ago, the city agreed to relocate its sanitation garage on Pier 52 at the end of Gansevoort Street to make way for additional parkland. After much deliberation and an eventual lawsuit, the city now pays $1.8 million per year to lease the site, and if it does not vacate by 2012, it must pay an additional $1 million per year.

To make the $400 million, 347,000-square-foot facility more palatable, the department and its architects, Dattner Architects and Weisz + Yoes, are pursuing a number of sustainable features with the goal of achieving LEED certification.

The most obvious component is the operative louvered curtain wall, the signature element of the building envelope being designed by Weisz + Yoes. One of the largest of its kind in the country, the system will track sunlight and adjust louvers throughout the day to regulate heat exposure, thereby cutting energy costs. The form of the curtain wall, which would extend down to the UPS portion of the building, is also meant to telegraph the structure’s interior.

Dattner was in charge of the massive green roof for the structure, possibly the largest in the city at nearly the size of a football field. (The building’s large footprint, coupled with a requested variance to forego the required 85-foot setback in favor of a sheer 120-foot street wall, has greatly angered the community.) The garage will also draw on Con Edison’s steam network for heating and cooling, further reducing energy consumption.

Still, the community is not entirely satisfied. On July 19, when Community Board 2 conditionally disapproved the proposal by a unanimous vote of 40-0, they demanded LEED Gold standards, including public access to the green roof and a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions, asthma being one of the greatest concerns. “My eldest son Paul and my wife have asthma,” John McPeake, a resident of 330 Spring Street, told the commission. “Essentially, I will be forced to leave if this garage is built.” (The specific LEED rating goal has yet to be determined.)

Beyond the facility’s design, many residents feel the plan would burden the area with more than its share of waste operations. The Gansevoort Station currently serves Sanitation Districts 2 and 5, but the new station would combine those two garages with District 1—a solution critics say brings too much traffic into the area. Were the District 5 garage relocated elsewhere, the station’s bulky profile could also be reduced to 95 feet, closer to the neighborhood scale and required setback.

Christine Quinn, the local representative on the City Council as well as the speaker, has yet to take a position on the matter, leaving the facility’s fate an open question.

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Rod and Reel
Jeff Byles

This summer, Hudson River Park’s landscaping expanded beyond its popular jogging and biking path to make it a more immersive place. While most of the park’s improvements in the past few years have converted its rotting piers to playgrounds and lawns, the newest section—a 4.6-acre swath starting just above Chambers Street and continuing to the contested Pier 40 parking garage and playing fields at Houston Street—includes three sculptures by Williamsburg artist Mark Gibian that endow the segment with a fittingly nautical mood.

The three pieces, which Gibian sculpted in Plattekill, New York, twist galvanized pipe into shapes that bend like fanciful boats or enormous fish. The first, a short, 1,000-pound bench, was installed on June 16 and helps anchor the new section of the waterfront promenade, which includes a boardwalk just upland of the main walkway. The other two pieces, 12 and 16 feet tall, underscore the park’s celebration of local ecology.


COURTESY Mark Gibian
 
Gibian with his cantilevered, galvanized steel sculpture, which will be colonized by a varying palette of plants. 
 

“The idea was to have pieces relate to each other over space and time as you walk,” said Gibian, who designed similar work for the Northside Piers condo on Williamsburg’s waterfront. “We will eventually have plants growing on the units so they will change with seasons and have life,” he added.

Here, Gibian’s pieces serve an effort by the Hudson River Park Trust to lure visitors onto the piers that make the site unique (and uniquely expensive to build). “While the park attracts 17 million visitors a year, I think most people experience it as a strip of greenery adjacent to the West Side Highway,” said Trust chairperson Diana Taylor at a recent press event. So the new phases, including nearby Piers 25 and 26, still under construction, abound with activities, which Taylor listed: “a playground, practice field, mini-golf and snack bar, beach volleyball, historic ships, skate park, basketball, boathouse and café, estuary research center, dog run, tennis, and public art.”

The public art affirms the maritime roots of the park’s new, $16.3 million segment, which was designed by landscape architects Sasaki Associates and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. “They wanted to emphasize an estuarine environment,” Gibian told AN. “You don't have to do much to these forms I was already making, to make them evocative of fish forms.” 

While Gibian runs and bikes on the park’s path, he said his new work is oriented toward the water. “Those piers are a tremendous opportunity to reflect the needs of adjacent neighborhoods,” he said. The Trust plans to solicit development proposals this year for the 300,000-square-foot Pier 57, and settle on a mixed-use strategy for the 15-acre Pier 40. With millions to raise and a softening economy, it had better hope Gibian’s work strikes a chord.