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Nervi's New Look
Upgrades to the terminal are likely to leave Nervi's famed rooftop silhouette intact.
STV/Courtesy PANYNJ

The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is Italian maestro Pier Luigi Nervi’s sole New York building, and though thousands pass beneath it every day, it’s familiar to only a few. The Port Authority station sits astride the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, where it slips below grade between 178th and 179th streets, just east of the bridge’s Manhattan landing. With buses serving northern New Jersey and beyond, it is a transit hub whose commercial potential has never quite been met, and whose architectural character is easy to miss beneath 45 years of accumulated grunge.

The Port Authority is trying to change all that. In October they released a proposal for a major overhaul aimed at giving the terminal improved services and a lot more retail space. More recently, local political leaders, current retail tenants, and members of the preservation community have sought to influence the redesign, even as the Port Authority plans to begin construction late this year.

“Our aim is to provide a better retail experience for people who live in the Washington Heights area,” said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. The plan as originally announced called for the relocation of several of the small retailers presently on site; after a mid-November meeting with community leaders, the Port Authority revised and clarified that plan, stating that rather than a single big box anchor, a number of new stores would occupy the renovated facility.

The Port Authority will fund a third of the $150 million budget, with developers P/A Associates and Arcadia Realty Trust responsible for the remainder. The developers have selected Robert Davidson of design/build firm STV as project architect, and the choice would appear to be a significant one: Davidson planned the new transit hub for Ground Zero, and he helped select Santiago Calatrava to build the PATH station there. Calatrava has cited the Nervi bus terminal as a major inspiration for his design.

That connection, however, offers no certain measure of how deferential the redevelopment will be towards Nervi’s structure. And P/A’s Carolyn Malinsky gave a qualified assessment of the building, saying that “the Nervi roof is not actually a historical structure,” while insisting the redevelopment would leave the award-winning concrete coffers intact.

That much appears confirmed by the renderings: Save for a realignment of the arrival concourse to provide for more buses, the upper portion, with its winged silhouette, is unchanged. The lower level, meanwhile, will be glassed in, with all buses arriving on the deck above. The Modern Architecture Working Group, a preservation advocacy organization, has been lobbying both city and state landmarks agencies to insure that the building remains true, in its entirety, to the original 1963 design. But as Group co-chair Michael Gotkin observed, “we’ve been pushing for them to landmark the building for ten years. It’s only since the reconstruction was announced that we got a real response.”

Nervi fans may be interested to know that the architect designed one other major public work on the East Coast, an arena in Norfolk, Virginia known as the Norfolk Scope. A near-replica of Nervi's arena for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the structure, designed with local architects Williams and Tazewell, opened in 1971 and was awarded the 2003 Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects' "Test of Time" award.
 


The terminal's overhaul will feature glassed-in retail space at street level.
STV/Courtesy PANYNJ 
 
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Ground Zero's Vanishing Ghost
The shrouded edifice of 130 Liberty Street still looms large--both physically and psychically--over Ground Zero.
Matt Chaban

Since it claimed the lives of two firefighters a little over a year ago, the 26-story ghost at 130 Liberty Street has barely moved behind its black shroud of construction netting. Or so it would appear. And while it is true the building has yet to shed any more of the 40 floors that have been in deconstruction as a result of damage sustained on 9/11, workers for LVI Services have, since May, been quickly, if carefully, cleaning and remediating the tons of toxic material that accumulated within the troubled building.

That job is nearly finished, city and construction officials said Friday during a city council hearing on progress at the site. Facade removal, in addition to the remediation, should be complete by April, at which point the building’s structure can resume its disappearing act. Barring unforeseen setbacks, the building, long a bitter reminder of the area’s tragic past, will be gone by October.

“Halloween ’09, that’s the treat, right?” asked council member Alan Gerson, chair of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, which held the hearing. “It’s not a trick?”

“That’s the goal,” responded Lower Manhattan Development Corporation president Richard Emil, one of a dozen people Gerson grilled about the project over the course of six hours.

One issue Gerson was unable to discuss—to his seeming consternation—was the criminal charges recently brought against the employees of the project’s general contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, as well as its main subcontractor, the John Galt Corporation. “I’ve been told by my legal counsel that we’ve been asked by the district attorney’s office not to comment publicly about anything prior to the fire,” James Abadie, head of Bovis’ New York office, said at the start of the hearing.

That did not prevent Gerson from making frequent references to a report (.PDF) prepared by the Manhattan District attorney, Robert Morgenthau, which led to the indictment of one Bovis and two Galt employees on December 22. (Morgenthau also charged another Galt employee on January 6 with stealing $1.2 million from the LMDC.)

Generally, the hearing took on a Beckett-like quality, with Gerson pressing for assurances that the site’s operational lapses had been corrected, and his interlocutors assuring him that indeed lapses had been corrected, though they could not comment on what those lapses were. Take this exchange, which has been condensed:

  • Gerson: According to the district attorney’s report, Bovis should no longer be allowed to ensure site safety. Now, how can they be trusted? What’s changed?
  • Emil: Subsequent to the fire, the LMDC has worked with the city to review all aspects of the project to determine what can be done to best protect the community. We feel that the work that has been done adds an important layer of protection.
  • Gerson: But the plan is only as good as enforcement. Pre-fire, the rules and regulations were ignored and not implemented. There was an undeniable, lackadaisical problem. What has changed to give you this new level of confidence in Bovis?
  • Emil: I can’t speak to changes, but we have observed the work of the Bovis safety team on the project, and we believe that the team so far has done a good job.
  • Gerson: In order to safeguard the future, we have to understand what went on in the past.
  • Abadie: Again, I can’t comment on anything from before the fire, but I can say that after we have worked closely with the city and the fire department to enhance safety at the site.

And so on. While there can be little question that the management of the site was insufficient prior to the fire, Bovis has clearly made an effort to ensure such problems do not resurface. Frank Boci, a senior vice president at the company, noted that special security dogs are now employed on the site to ensure that no flammables enter the building. Boci said that a security guard had apparently forgotten to remove a single cigarette from his jacket, and when the dog found it, the guard was immediately fired. “I don’t know what else is possible in enhancing the security,” he said.

Still, Gerson did begrudgingly acknowledge the advances Bovis and the LMDC had made and seemed pleased to hear that the project would be finished soon. (After the hearing, he told AN he doubted October was realistic, but did expect deconstruction to be done by the end of the year.)

When a second panel convened, this time representing the mayor’s office, a similar back-and-forth ensued, with Gerson calling for a coordinator for the entire effort (a czar, in the current parlance), and the city’s representatives insisting that, while there is no coordinator, there is plenty of coordination at the site. Both sides agreed to disagree, and thanked each other for their time.

This did not sit well with the final panel, which represented the community. Catherine McVay Hughes, the vice chair of Community Board 1, read off a litany of complaints against the LMDC, saying it had broken most every promise to keep the community abreast of developments at the site. “It is imperative that the remainder of the process be as open and transparent as possible to reduce the likelihood of any future mishaps,” she said.

Joel Kupferman, director of the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, went so far as to condemn Gerson for working with the city. “Their story is not the whole story,” he said. “They break their promises and ignore their job, and then they come before you and you say you feel fine on the progress. Please, do not congratulate them.”

For his part, Gerson was not fully satisfied with the hearing, and might never be, even after the former Deutsche Bank headquarters is long gone from 130 Liberty Street. “Am I happy? Not entirely—far from it,” he told AN. “We did not get to hear the acknowledgment of the gravity of the problems that existed before the fire. And you’re not going to solve it without acknowledging it.”

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AIA Names 2009 Honor Awards
Grimshaw's Museo del Acero, in Monterey, Mexico, is one of nine winners in the architecture category.
Courtesy AIA

Today the AIA announced 25 outstanding projects in three categories—Architecture, Interiors, and Urban Planning—which exemplify the best work in the field to be celebrated by the 2009 Institute Honor Awards. Without further ado, here are the projects, grouped by category, along with the jury's thoughts as provided by the AIA.

Architecture

The jury for the award was chair David Lake, Lake | Flato Architects; Carlton Brown, Full Spectrum of New York; Michael B. Lehrer, Lehrer Architects; James J. Malanaphy, III, The 160 Group, Ltd; Paul Mankins, Substance Architecture Interiors Design; Anna McCorvey, director, AIAStudents Northeast Quad; Anne Schopf, Mahlum Architects; Suman Sorg, Sorg and Associates; and Denise Thompson, Francis Cauffman.

Project: Basilica of the Assumption—Baltimore
Architect: John G. Waite Associates, Architects
Jury Comments:
The architects expanded the space while making it appear as if the envelope is virtually the same. The jury applauded the efforts of mending our ways to restore, respect, and give new life to buildings by significant architects who are so important to the profession.

Project: Cathedral of Christ the Light—Oakland
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: The project contains layers of symbolism. There is a sense of community and openness. The space shifts between heaviness and lightness. It is appropriately monumental but a reverie of light and shadow that is a gift to the City of Oakland.

Project: Charles Hostler Student Center – Beirut, Lebanon
Architect: VJAA
Jury Comments: This project uses elements in a thoughtful way to create a rich urban place. Smart use of its surfaces and resources and in keeping with the local conditions. The outdoor spaces are more comfortable because every piece of the building is leveraged to its best advantage. This could have been a monolithic program but instead the architects created an enlivened urban quarters connecting the campus to the water.


Project: The Gary Comer Youth Center—Chicago
Architect: John Ronan Architects
Jury Comments: A true landmark and beloved building. People want to be here and want it to be active all of the time. A new Modernism that uses timeless and topical ideas that look as if they will stand the test of time. Kudos to Gary Comer for giving back to his community and the architects for creating a tribute to his generosity and energy that benefits and uplifts this community.

Project: The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life—New Orleans
Architect: VJAA
Jury Comments: This project is climate-responsive in six months out of the year in very clever ways. The architect was creative about the functions in the perimeter zones and how they interact with the campus. It changes the perception of what is the heart of the campus.

Project: Museo del Acero—Monterey, Mexico
Architect: Grimshaw
Jury Comments: This is a proud symbol and testament to the steel industry in Monterey, Mexico. The architect brought back the artistry of artifact that was industry and gave it new spirit—embracing steel being made, fabricated, and enlivened.

Project: The New York Times Building—New York
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Jury Comments: There is an amazing serenity that emanates from the building in contrast to the chaos of its surroundings.  The building is welcoming to the human at the ground level and wears its transparency proudly. The jury liked the iconography of the building—it looks like lines of print and becomes like reading the Times.


Project: Plaza Apartments—San Francisco
Architect: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Jury Comments: The architecture has become a seminal event in the residents’ lives—residents remember the date they were first allowed to move in. The architect created a series of “events” that happen in the lobby, courtyard, and in every hallway where there’s light—it’s really about optimism, hope, and change and the message that everyone is deserving of light, air, view, beauty, and proportion.

Project: Salt Point House—Salt Point, New York
Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners
Jury Comments: I believe this house makes a statement to living in a simple and sustainable way. The owners wanted to connect with nature, tread lightly on the landscape, and be able to relax.

Interior Architecture

The jury for the award was chair Mark Sexton, Kruek & Sexton Architects; Joan Blumenfeld, Perkins + Will; Elizabeth Knibbe, Quinn Evans Architects; Arvind Manocha, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association; Kevin Sneed, OTJ Architects.


Project: Barclays Global Investors Headquarters—San Francisco
Architect:
STUDIOS Architecture
Jury Comments:Very handsome, using wood and colored glass to great effect; the lighting is imaginative, and the relationship to the base building is resolved well. For a large office project, the architect showed an amazing amount of creativity and vibrancy. The lighting is frequently unexpected. The thinking about the use of light is out of the box and playful in what is not a playful project type.

Project: Chronicle Books – San Francisco
Architect:    Mark Cavagnero Associates
Jury Comments: Nice relationship to the existing structure. The jury applauded the sustainability efforts and the effort to bring light in. The reuse of the core structure space—concrete floors, etc.—is quite effective and was done in a very subtle way. On the ground floor, the building structure is revealed to great effect.

Project: The Heckscher Foundation for Children—New York City
Architect: Christoff:Finio architecture
Jury Comments: Without losing the original character of the building, this renovation transforms it. This is a difficult design problem solved elegantly. The narrow nature of the townhouse becomes a framework for beautifully composed public spaces that flow seamlessly. By linking them together the observer never has the feeling of being between the two long and dark party walls.


Project: IFAW World Headquarters—Yarmouth Port, Ma.
Architect: designLAB architects
Jury Comments: From the initial selection of a brownfield site through the design of the spaces to the selection of materials, this project is a successful example of sustainable design. The reference to wooden boat making and craftsmanship is particularly successful to the design inside and out.

Project: Jigsaw—Washington, D.C.
Architect: David Jameson Architect
Jury Comment: This project seems designed from the inside out with the users’ experience in mind. An enormous amount of thought was given to the individual users as to their experience inside the house. Natural light enters into each space in two to three different ways. Care was given to the optimal experience of moving from room to room.

Project: R.C. Hedreen—Seattle
Architect: NBBJ
Jury Comments: The richness of detailing juxtaposed against the heft of the historic concrete structure was gutsy and effective. Creating a corporate interior that has such a completely unique aesthetic is rare and wonderful.

Project: School of American Ballet—New York       
Architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Jury Comments: This project floats like the dancers who use it. There is an ethereal quality of design and materials that relates directly to the users. The quality of light is wonderful. Muscular architecture; beautiful concept.

Project: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center—New York
Architect: Lyn Rice Architects
Jury Comments: The architect uses the design to display the students and their work to give the campus its identity. Nice respect of historic façade while giving the school a clearly contemporary identity.  Youthful, vibrant, dynamic! This project is hitting on all cylinders; it captures the energy of the student environment.


Project:
Tishman Speyer Corporate Headquarters—New York City
Architect: Lehman Smith McLeish
Jury Comments: The design was very well done. It pays respect to the historic design and created a Modern design that is respectful of the original space. The architecture doesn’t compete with art work; it respects it without being a white box.

Project: Town House—Washington, D.C.
Architect: Robert M. Gurney
Jury Comments: This is a terrific project! It takes the typology of town house and opens it up, creating wonderful spaces and vistas. The materials and aesthetic is new and fresh, using bold color and simple materials without being cartoonish. It is a unique and imaginative take on a well-known design problem. It is refreshing to see how a traditional town house can be transformed through bold moves by a very talented architect.

Urban Planning

The jury for the award was chair Jonathan Marvel, Rogers Marvel Architects; Samuel Assefa, Chicago Department of Planning and Development; Tim Love, Utile; Ivenue Love-Stanley, Stanley Love-Stanley; and Stephanie Reich, Glendale Planning Division.

Project: Between Neighborhood Watershed & Home—Fayetteville, Arkansas
Architect:
University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Jury Comments: This greenfield development seems to fit in Fayetteville, particularly by Habitat in a scheme that truly employs innovative sustainable techniques in its management of all surfaces, integrated parking, circulation, and open space. The site plan configuration achieves a level of density balanced by usable and varied open space, and the buildings are more varied than a typical Habitat development.

Project: The Central Park of the New Radiant City—Guangming NewTown, China
Architect: Lee + Mundwiler Architects
Jury Comments: This project is beautiful and ingenious. Particularly, the attention to the existing landscape and topography as integral to the project by utilizing the existing hills as a structured landscape to return to nature, while the natural runoff becomes a body of water is a simple idea with a conceptual clarity to make it truly memorable.


Project:
Foshan Donghuali Master Plan – Guangdong, China
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: The plan shows a variety of uses, scales and densities and open spaces that will serve to integrate the district with the surrounding city fabric.  The proposal includes a set of guidelines for a variety of scales, heights and streetfront types that will enable implementation over time.

Project: Orange Country Great Park – Irvine, California
Architect:
TEN Arquitectos
Jury Comments: The project utilizes the underlying axis of the former airport, and juxtaposed the new gorge with a sensible structure of circulation for cars and people and placement of buildings. The use of the former runway as an inspiration and opportunity as a supergraphic creates an urban poetic gesture at a larger scale.

Project: Southworks Lakeside Chicago Development—Chicago
Architect: Sasaki Associates, Inc.,  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: A formidable effort and comprehensive plan for a new neighborhood with a variety of districts. These districts are composed of different grains and densities allowing for varied economies, housing types, and uses. The welcome irregularities in the plan resulting from well-considered view corridors and idiosyncrasies in surrounding fabric create a wide variety of experiences and places.

Project: Treasure Island Master Plan – San Francisco
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Jury Comments: An urban design strategy that is sustainable by its very nature.  The project employs an inventive use of solar and wind pattern that generated an urban plan with diagonal grid to protect public spaces from the inhospitable winds.  Other sustainable design strategies include an organic farm, wind turbines, location of open spaces as reconstructed wetlands.

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All Consuming
Matter's Mobile Home Dutch Dollhouse (details below).
Courtesy Matter

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LE CORBUSIER: A LIFE

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LONDON 2000+

Our CA editor on 29 buildings that have made London a design capital

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The Monacelli Press
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I AM NOT A PAPER CUP

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Protest: Sam Hall Kaplan
Courtesy Palazzo Westwood Village

After two decades of contentious community debate and fierce parochial politics, a major mixed-use development, Palazzo, has opened its doors in Westwood Village. Let the debates continue, for if nothing else, the project points to a disturbing drift in the design world, where heralded mixed-use projects do not necessarily translate into accessible urbanity as promised, but rather into economically isolating banality—at least in this less than inspiring instance.

Woe to Westwood, now promoting as its new heart the Palazzo’s 350 luxury apartments, an array of gilt-edge amenities, a cavernous 1,252-space garage, and 50,000 square feet of mostly high-end retail and restaurants. Shoe-horned onto the four-plus acre site and shrouded in a nauseating canary yellow, the heavily hyped development has all the charm of an extended-stay mid-city hotel residence. It is more citadel than community.

A Casden Properties conceit, it was designed with an experienced if predictable hand by the venerable firm of Van Tilburg Banvard & Soderburgh in the all-too-familiar Spanish colonial style that has carpeted swaths of sprawling Southern California over the last quarter century.

To be sure, the apartments seem to work, deftly maximizing light and air in limited interiors in no fewer than 17 different floor plans. The now-standard gourmet kitchens replete with granite countertops and spacious closets are attractive. But the attempt to clad the exterior in an Andalusian mode of bygone Westwood is more boorish than Moorish. The detailing that distinguishes the style is just not there, no doubt a budget consideration by the infamously cost-conscious CEO Alan Casden, with whom Van Tilburg has worked before.

The project’s aggressive sales pitch may play off of the cultural attractions and conveniences of the adjacent UCLA megacosm, but with rents in the $4 per square foot per month range—one bedrooms are listed starting at $2,940, two bedrooms at $3,875—the Palazzo is more in tune with NYU and New York real estate prices than LA’s. And let us not forget the rock climbing wall and concierge service. We are talking here of “a secluded five-star resort with the advantages of stepping out your door into a vibrant and dynamic cityscape,” in the words of Casden that hint at [Grove developer Rick] Caruso envy.

How “dynamic” that cityscape will be is questionable. Clearly, neither Palazzo’s residences and retail nor its streetscaping are designed to serve the penny-pinching, poor-tipping college crowd that in the past so animated Westwood and made it particularly attractive to that forever-18 crowd. Especially fun were the weekend nights when the village’s array of first-run landmark movie theaters existed. For a while, it was LA’s premier pedestrian scene.

But that scene has long languished, following several nasty incidents over the past few decades that prompted a security-concerned UCLA to try to keep its students on campus by providing more on-site housing and diversions. Meanwhile, the obtrusive wannabe Bruin teenagers from the Valley who used to hang out in the village flocked to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and elsewhere to act out.

Casden was quite direct in his remarks at the opening, declaring that the hope of the Palazzo is that it will attract deep-pocketed residents and visitors to the faded village, and spur its revitalization and property values, even in these tough times. Echoing this hope for a new community in Westwood of “new people and new top-tier retailers” was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ever alert to both old and new campaign contributors.

Conversely, that heralded revitalization was the paramount fear of those objecting to the project during its protracted planning stage, as they quixotically clung to a nostalgic vision of the area’s past as a comfortable college town catering to both students and the surrounding community of postgraduates and professionals. In addition, the feeling was that Westwood did not need to become a regional attraction to pump up its real estate, and in fact was potentially more valuable as a modest yet distinctive development.

Westwood Village was indeed once a village, designed in a fanciful Spanish style and in a suburban spirit to serve a burgeoning Los Angeles in the Roaring '20s. Planned by one of the more acclaimed land use designers of the time, Harland Bartholomew, the village was the focal point of a high-end housing tract developed by the Janss Corporation, adjacent to a new campus for UCLA that had outgrown its downtown location. Nevertheless, the hyped development dollars and anticipated local taxes that an ambitious high-end mixed-use project would divert from the adjacent wealthy municipal enclaves of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica was too much for the city of Los Angeles to ignore, even if it meant enduring some raucous public hearings and nasty press and turning its backs on UCLA’s fast-food and fast-forward crowd.

The politically-connected Casden persevered, cheered on by local real estate interests and city economists, who see the village’s future and their profits pinned to high-end development. And if the mixed-use Palazzo doesn’t quite work as hoped, and Westwood slips further into somnolence, perhaps a streetcar going up and down Glendon Avenue would help, just like at the Grove and the Americana. They are all beginning to look the same, anyway.

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All Consuming

MELAMINE MIXING BOWLS

Williams-Sonoma
121 East 59th Street
www.williams-sonoma.com
$38.00


ARTS & ARCHITECTURE, 1945-54: THE COMPLETE REPRINT

Taschen
107 Greene Street
www.taschen.com
$700.00
 




KOOLHAAS HOUSELIFE BOOK & DVD

The down and dirty on the architect’s Bordeaux villa first hand from the housemaid

Storefront for Art and Architecture
97 Kenmare Street
www.storefrontnews.org
$85.00


 



STOREFRONT’S LETTERS

Storefront for Art and Architecture Auction
97 Kenmare Street
www.storefrontnews.org
Bids start at $1,000.00
 




THE MOBILE HOME DUTCH DOLLHOUSE

Matter
227 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn
www.mattermatters.com
$40.00
 


 

EAMES HOUSE BIRD

The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street
www.conranusa.com
$195.00
 





CHRONOTEBOOK

Plan your day, literally, by the clock

MUJI
455 Broadway
www.muji.com
$5.50
 


 

 

WINE CARAFE WITH OAK STOPPER

A&G Merch
111 North 6th Street
Brooklyn
www.aandgmerch.com
$49.00




 

LE CORBUSIER: A LIFE

Nicholas Fox Weber
Knopf Publishing Group
www.randomhouse.com
$45.00
 



 

LONDON 2000+

Our CA editor on 29 buildings that have made London a design capital

Sam Lubell
The Monacelli Press
www.monacellipress.com
$50.00


 

STEREO DOCK MINI

“Legos rock!”

Pylones-USA!
842 Lexington Avenue
www.pylones-usa.com
$22.00
 


 

JET MINI ALARM CLOCK

The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street
www.conranusa.com
$48.00
 


 


21L BIRD SHELTER BY MALCOLM LELAND

In continuous production since the Sixties

Vessel USA Inc.
Aero Studios Limited
419 Broome Street
www.architecturalpottery.com


 

 


MODERN AMERICANA

Our executive editor on the famous mid-century studio furniture makers you’ve never heard of

Julie Iovine and Todd Merrill
Rizzoli New York
www.rizzoliusa.com
$75.00
 


 

SAFETY LUGGAGE TAG SET

MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street
www.momastore.org
$25.00


 

BITTER BLUEPRINTS BY CONSTANTIN BOYM AND LAURENE LEON BOYM

Axonometric diagrams of buildings that were sites of disasters—gunmen at LAX in 2002; Texas A&M bonfire—totally Boym

Moss
150 Greene St.
www.mossonline.com
$180.00
 


 

FLOOR PLAN LUXURY SQUARE PLATTER

Fishs Eddy
889 Broadway
www.fishseddy.com
$32.95
 


 

FRANK GEHRY ON LINE

On why FOG keeps drawing

Esther da Costa Meyer
Yale University Press
yalepress.yale.edu
$29.95
 


 

WOOD BLOCKS PUZZLE OCTAGON

Design Within Reach
142 Wooster Street
www.dwr.com
$65.00
 


 

SOLAR & WIND CHARGER

For recharging your cellphone on the Appalachian Trail

Flight 001
96 Greenwich Avenue
www.flight001.com
$80.00
 


 

FUTURE SYSTEMS FLATWARE

Whole service, including zoomy shot glasses

Alessi Soho
130 Greene Street
www.future-systems.com
$352.00
 


 

THINKING OF YOU NOW

Pop-up vase by baroque-ster Tord Boontje

Artecnica
www.artecnicainc.com
$46.00
 


 

HUMIDIFIER

Matter
227 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn
www.mattermatters.com
$55.00
 


 

BORN CRUCIAL MILK 2% YO-YO

YoYoNation
www.YoYoNation.com
$59.99


 

 

I AM NOT A PAPER CUP

I am a ceramic vase

MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street
www.momastore.org
$20.00 

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Unveiled: Linden Hotel
Courtesy Lang Architecture

The industrial buildings of Brooklyn’s rough-edged East New York neighborhood inform the design of the planned Linden Hotel. The use of polycarbonate panels, clear glass, expanded metal mesh, and stucco cladding creates a varied composition of translucency, transparency, reflectivity, and opacity, qualities that change over the course of the day. Designed by Lang Architecture, the 30-room hotel, which includes a sky-lit central atrium, will be priced for budget travelers, as it is located in relative proximity to John F. Kennedy Airport, and should appeal to “neighborhood vacationers,” according to principal Drew Lang. The developer, who owns another budget hotel in the area, thinks design could make the Linden stand out from the competition, rather than, say, loud roadside signage. 

For Lang, the hotel represents his first built project in New York (he has built several in his native Gulf Coast region), which is something of a surprise to him. “I’d never thought of working in this section of Brooklyn, but if you share a vision with your client and your contractor, you can build good architecture almost anywhere,” he said.

Architect: Lang Architecture
Client: Sam Patel
Location: East New York, Brooklyn
Completion: late 2009

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One For the Books
In this age of blogs and 24-hour cable news, rarely does breaking news come from an old-fashioned hardcover book. But that is exactly what happened with Studio Daniel Libeskind's New York Tower, which can be seen above (and which we also talked to the architect about earlier today). Ever since the project leaked onto the Internet last year, the real estate blogosphere has been following every rumor and murmur about the project. But it took the November 18 publication of Counterpoint, Libeskind's latest monograph, for the world to get its first look. Indeed it wasn't until last week, when New York architecture critic Justin Davidson pointed out the project's publication therein, that people started to take notice. Fortunately for us, we happened to have a review copy lying around the office, from which these images were taken. But before we go, one caveat. The developer refused to release any of these images--except for the one we posted of the terrace gardens--when we requested them. "They were made at least a year ago, for publication purposes, and no longer reflect the current state of the project," Lloyd Kaplan, spokesperson for developer Elad Properties, told us. Still, they provide the most complete picture of the project yet. And, even if it does change, as long as it looks half this good, we think everyone will be happy. Also, if you care to learn more about the book (and, we hope, the tower), Liebeskind and Paul Goldberger--his interlocutor for Counterpoint--will be giving a talk at the Center for Architecture on December 10.
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No End In Sight

The Numbers

The Dow was up another 396 points yesterday, following Friday’s rally of 494 points. But that, of course, was preceded by a two-day drop when the index shed nearly 900 points. Architects addled by the market’s moment-by-moment gyrations may take a measure of relief in the fact that the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) is released on a monthly, not instantaneous, basis. But it can still feel like a swift punch in the gut.

So it was last week, when the AIA released its billings numbers for October, a month when world financial markets were reported to be on the brink of collapse. Just as those markets dropped to levels not seen in decades, the ABI achieved historically new lows at a historically precipitous rate of decline.

For October, U.S. architects recorded a billings level of 36.2, down from 41.4 in September and 47.6 in August. In March, the second-weakest month in the index’s 13-year history, the reading was 39.2. Since March, the index had posted gains of a point or two, suggesting the downturn might be brief, but the last two months have erased almost any hope of a reprieve, said Kermit Baker, the chief economist of the AIA and the person who developed the index. (Measured on a scale of 1 to 100, a measure of 50 is neutral, with anything over representing a rise in billings and anything under, a drop.)

While October billings were bad, the real shock came from the inquiries architects surveyed by the AIA said they had received. The monthly inquiries reading was 39.9, not only a historic low but a considerable fall from September (51.0) and May (46.5), when inquiries hit their previous historic low. Demonstrating just how severe this downturn might be is the fact that inquiries have dropped below 50 three times this year—in March, they measured 48.0—while they had only fallen past that point once previously, in September 2001. Historic comparisons can be hard to make, however, since the index, which recorded its first measurements in November 1995, is so young.

Still, Baker said there was no question that the industry was in bad shape. “I think there’s a lot of weakness permeating the entire profession,” he told AN. “It’s permeating every region and every business type, so we’re without that buffer.”

Of greatest concern to Baker was the institutional sector, which is typically a bright spot during economic hard times because governments, schools, and other institutions prefer to build when there tends to be less competition for materials and labor. This had remained the case throughout the year, until the sector began to fall in August, when it registered a drop to 48.9 points from 52.1 in July. In September it reached 44.4 and for October it was 42.1, the lowest on record. That is still considerably better than multi-family housing, which reached 34.2 in October, though that sector has also been struggling since last August and fluctuating since late 2006, both a result of the housing bubble that set off the current economic turmoil.

But now even governments, universities, and other private institutions are hard-up for cash. Take the New York City School Construction Authority, which cut its five-year capital budget nearly in half. Daniel Heuberger, a principal at Dattner Architects who has designed a number of schools for the city, said his division remains busy with projects for both public and private schools, but he would also not be surprised to see work abate. “If the downturn is long enough, though the private sector gets hit first, it will eventually come full-circle,” he said.

(Despite this fact, the Northeast was the one region to post a gain this month, though again, such gains are relative considering all four regions have been have been in the doldrums of the past few months.)

With credit markets showing some signs of normalizing, Baker hopes so, too, will the billings index. But at the same time, with the financial markets still suffering and construction starts faltering, there is no way to know what the future holds in store. “We are looking at a shrinking economy even if the credit markets are operating more smoothly,” Baker said. “We will just have to wait and see where the market takes us.”

Until next month, then.

For the Long Haul

The Numbers

Whether their decisions are large or small—a shift in focus from Beijing to Riyadh, or cutting down on office supplies—design professionals of every size and stripe have been taking stock. Few are willing to openly acknowledge that layoffs are already underway: The going euphemism is “belt tightening.” Around Election Day, the ranks of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) lost 50 people, several sources confirmed; and one prestige firm took the not-so-elegant step of laying off 20 people who had all been gathered into one room.

But in interviews with over a dozen firms, including landscape architects and engineers, AN found that the economic strategizing that many New York offices started a year or two ago has paid off. At the very least, the process of planning for a downturn has helped mitigate jitters about what lies ahead.

Perkins Eastman has grown from a staff of 50 in the early 1990s to 800 in 13 global offices today, and in the past few years, the firm has focused on what principal Aaron Schwarz called “value-added service areas” including healthcare, education, senior living, and municipal developments. That has put it in a good position to pick up on a convergence phenomenon in building programs such as education wellness centers and hospitality healthcare. “We started looking two or three years ago at how to position ourselves,” he said. “We feel we are in as good if not a better place than many,” said Schwarz, adding that Perkins Eastman is still hiring, though more slowly than a year ago.

In June 2007, the partners at Gruzen Samton noticed that they were no longer seeing zoning and feasibility studies come in to the office at the same rate as before. They, too, had a meeting and decided to focus even more on senior living facilities and educational infrastructure. But an even smarter move turned out to be the decision to seek an on-call contract with the General Services Administration (GSA). Under the auspices of the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, Gruzen Samton was selected to be one of four or five firms pre-qualified for any work put out by Homeland Security’s Port of Entry from North Dakota to Maine, for up to five years. “We’re very proud we made the cut,” said firm partner Darko Hreljanovic.

Last spring, SOM invited economists into the office to talk about macro-economic issues in an effort to define more opportunities in emerging markets. However, they have found that global diversification hasn’t provided a puncture-proof cushion from economic blows. “We’ve been purposefully global for years,” said partner Roger Duffy, “but it turns out that almost no world market is immune right now.” There are a few exceptions, though: While several sources described the development market in Russia and Dubai as very shaky, Saudi Arabia is actually getting busier. “We can’t get enough people into Riyadh,” said Craig Schwitter of Buro Happold, who is working with FXFowle on the King Abdullah Financial District development, which includes over 100 new buildings. Over the last decade, the kingdom had proceeded more conservatively than its neighbors, and so hasn’t been as affected by the economic crisis.

At 65 people, Rogers Marvel Architects is no giant, but a year ago they hired a managing director to help the firm act and plan ahead like a grown-up operation. “We followed that with a lot of sit-downs to try and prepare,” said Rob Rogers, and so far all the desks are still full. One of the firm’s strategies is to sign on for “curb and gutter jobs” if there’s even a modicum of creativity involved. Noting how designing streetscapes at Battery Park City led first to streetscape security for the New York Stock Exchange and then to a masterplan for the Pentagon, Rogers said, “We launched in the 1990s at a tough time when we had to have good habits and we’ve stayed aggressive and less picky.”

Three weeks ago, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis had the inevitable meeting about cutting back on office surplus. The firm knows how to keep it lean with a staff of 12 and a handful of academic projects, which so far have all been reconfirmed. Fee negotiations, however, have become more circumspect, said Marc Tsurumaki, estimating that the going rate is off about 25 percent from last year. While all three partners in the firm are already teaching, they will probably start entering competitions—at least the ones rooted in reality. Like many, Tsurumaki is trying to figure out the bright side: “We see it as a good opportunity to reconsider things and even re-conceptualize the firm,” he said. “We’re wondering if there are even more inventive ways to get back into design-build.” At 42, Tsurumaki experienced the last downturn in 1991, when he was just out of school and working for Joel Sanders. “He’d be off teaching and I would be the only person in the office when these 40-year-old architects came by to drop off their resumes,” he recalled. “I just sat there hoping I would never be one of those guys.”

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Towering Over Philly
The American Commerece Center would Redefine the Philadelphia Skyline.
Courtesy KPF

For nearly a century, City Hall, with William Penn atop it, stood as the tallest building in Philadelphia. For decades, skyscrapers there flirted with the 548-foot height of the Absolute Proprietor but never surpassed him—part of a "gentleman's agreement," not a law, as commonly thought. In 1987, the 945-foot One Liberty Place broke the limit, but that tower, too, may soon be dwarfed. Though still in its earliest development stages, the KPF-designed American Commerce Center aspires to rise above them all, to 1,510 feet.

Beyond its height, the scale of the project is immense, nearly 2.2 million square feet of office, hotel, and retail space rising from a relatively small 62,000-square-foot lot. This density of development has drawn the ire of many locals, but the unanimous passage of a rezoning of the lot on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Planning Commission proves that, at least in spirit, the city supports the project.


The new tower is meant to be a beacon
for a new philadelphia.
All images courtesy KPF
 

"It's an aggressive proposal—aggressive in a good way," Alan Greenberger, executive director of the commission, said in an interview after the vote. "They're asking for a lot of density and that makes people nervous, and I understand that. The question is, is this the place for that density. I think that today's vote indicates that, yes, it is."

The City Council will now hold a hearing on the rezoning December 4 with a vote due by December 10; Greenberger said he expects the council to support it. The developer, Hill International of Marlton, New Jersey, then has one year to create a Plan of Development—which fleshes out the project in more detail and allows for more specific tweaks by the commission—before the rezoning's sunset clause takes effect. Because of the slumping economy, though, the commission will allow Hill to apply for an extension.

During the developer's presentation, Peter Kelso, Hill's counsel on the project, said its purpose was to allow Philadelphia to join the business capitals of the world, like New York, London, and, yes, Dubai. "We need to move into a more modern realm of office development," he said.

KPF founder Gene Kohn spoke on behalf of the architects, saying the American Commerce Center had a significance even greater than that. "Every great city has its icon," he declared, mentioning the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Eiffel Tower. "Philly has one in its own right, in City Hall, which was once the world's tallest building," he said, though he added that a new era also calls for a new icon.

(They also showed a rather intense video for the project, which has since been posted to YouTube, that offers a pretty good sense of what the project might someday look like to a bird.)

Support for the project has been evenly split between businesses and younger residents in favor, while some neighbors and preservationists tend to oppose it. Back in July, the commission heard three hours of testimony to this effect, but at the most recent meeting, opposition was more muted. The project's strongest critics, residents of a co-op across the street, did show up, however, to give an impassioned presentation denouncing it as an overbuilt traffic disaster.

"It's the same old story—the developer says they want the biggest in the world, or at least the city, and we are forced to wrap our arms around it," Joseph Beller, the resident's attorney, told the commission. He added, "This is a wonderful building. If you found a place for it, I would love it. But this is not the place for it."

Not that anything on this scale has ever been built anywhere else in the city, hence the rezoning. It takes the parcel at 19th Street and Arch Street, which is currently a parking lot, from a classification of C4, with a special height limit of 125 feet, to C5. The latter allows for a floor-area ratio of 12 with a bonus of 8 for the inclusion of a public plaza covering 30 percent. (The cutout at the center of the project not only divides the office tower from the hotel but also accounts for 22 percent of this public space in an elevated courtyard). The developer is then seeking an additional bonus of 4 FAR through standard public amenities like off-street parking and public restrooms.

Under the current code, the project could not get any bigger, but because of sustainable features and other amenities, like a regional rail link, the developer hopes to secure an additional 3.5 FAR, to reach an unprecedented density of 27.5. The commission said it was not opposed to this idea, as its final vote indicated, though it would probably seek to codify such bonuses for general consumption instead of simply confering them upon a single developer. "Our zoning code has actually created more obstacles to large-scale development," commissioner Natalia Olson de Savyckyj said, "not less."

The bigger concern now, amidst the economic downturn, is whether or not the project can actually get built. "Everyone's wondering, 'Is it real?'" Greenberger said in the interview. But he also noted that the developer pushed for the rezoning because without it, Hill could not reasonably attract financing or tenants.

"Would we be spending this kind of money and resources putting this project before the commission and the City Council if we didn't believe this project was coming to fruition?" Kelso told AN. "It shows a commitment on the part of the developer to see it through."

Matt Chaban
 

If completed, the project will be the densest in recent city history.
 
 
One of the ways it achieves such density is by dedicating 30 percent of its footprint to public space, which is cleverly achieved through a series of courtyards cut into the building.
 
 
The progression of the Philadelphia skyline (From Left to Right): one liberty place, the comcast center, the american commerce center, Arch street presbyterian church, philadelphia city hall, and independence hall.

 

Editorial: Public Transit in Every Pot

When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown last July, and the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed just weeks later, people around the country began listening to the Cassandras who had been warning about the decrepit state of our infrastructure, urban and rural alike. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost of bringing it all up to date would be $1.6 trillion, and at the time, that number seemed just impossible—would Congress ever allocate that kind of money to something as unsexy as infrastructure? No way.

Fast forward 15 months—and one $700 billion bailout later—and it doesn’t seem so crazy. More traditional quarters of the Republican Party may regard New York Times columnist David Brooks as the skunk at the picnic, but he is squarely in line with a growing number of people who believe that the one way to pull us out of the looming recession is to devote significant federal resources to public works, especially those that focus on transportation and the development of alternate sources of energy. A “Green New Deal” has been championed in one form or another by people across the political spectrum: President-elect Barack Obama, Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, the Regional Plan Association, and even Martin Feldstein, the economist who advised President Reagan on policy.

For New York City, and the Northeast in general, Brooks’ argument for transportation spending is the central one. In a recent Times column, he suggested a “National Mobility Project,” which argues that we should take the mix of fiscal stimulus and research in alternative energy, and focus it on the realm of transit. This makes sense: Many supporters of a Green New Deal advocate turbine farms in the Southwest and the Dakotas to capture that region’s least-exploited resource, the wind. Our version of that is our regional transit system—everything from Amtrak and Metro-North to NJ Transit and the MTA. One of the Obama campaign’s platform issues was a commitment to thinking about cities on a metropolitan scale, and that means thinking about transportation of every kind.

One of the most striking elements of the Skyscraper Museum’s recent symposium on density in Hong Kong was the way that the government there believes in the centrality of investment in infrastructure and transit to future development. Project after project detailed train stations built before the new neighborhoods that would use them, and the assembled panel of New Yorkers—including MTA commissioner Elliot Sander, Port Authority chief Chris Ward, and developer Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Related Companies—looked on with a mixture of awe and envy. There are many reasons why the Hong Kong model wouldn’t work here, but the straightforward premise that infrastructure feeds growth does. Architects, developers, planners, and urbanists have a rare opportunity to argue for the kind of investment that will strengthen the city and its connections to the region. If the Obama administration does in fact begin to formulate an infrastructure-based stimulus program, New York must be a part of it.