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The Architect-Developer

NOMA President Kim Dowdell on the politics of Detroit and the architecture profession
Detroit is an entrepreneurial city. In its heyday, it was full of forward-thinkers who were breaking boundaries by building big business dedicated to innovation and manufacturing. That same spirit still exists in the Motor City today, though some have written off the gritty, Michigan enclave as a place of the past. Many dedicated Detroit natives are working hard to rebuild its legacy as a capital of American economic and cultural development. Kimberly Dowdell, in particular, is using her experience as an architect and a real estate developer, as well as her innate entrepreneurial drive, to change the face of urban housing in Detroit. Along with her team at Century Partners, an emerging firm in the city, she’s tackling long-standing social injustices through the lens of home ownership. She’s doing the same in her new role as president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA) by advancing representation in the architecture industry and fighting for professional equity. AN spoke with Dowdell about her unique career path, what drives her to rebuild Detroit, and why addressing architecture’s internal issues can help build stronger cities. The Architect's Newspaper: You spent time on the East Coast working as an architect and developer, and then studied public administration as a graduate student at Harvard University. What drew you back to Detroit? Kimberly Dowdell: I grew up in Detroit in the early '90s when the city was in pretty bad shape. The buildings were ghosts of their former selves, which fascinated me, but economically, Detroit was devastated. Instead of moving back after graduating from Cornell with my bachelor’s in architecture, I decided to sample cities on the East Coast (Washington, D.C., and New York), rounding it all off in Cambridge for the Harvard program. Many people ask me why I studied government since I came from a design background, but I firmly believe buildings are intrinsically part of the public realm, so it’s our responsibility to learn everything we can about how policies can work to better the built environment. In 2015, I was recruited by the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, where I worked closely with the Planning and Development Department, collaborating with a long-time mentor, Maurice Cox, Detroit’s Planning Director. That unique opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s resurgence ended my 14-year East Coast tour. AN: Since you’ve been in Detroit, you’ve transitioned into a more entrepreneurial role as a professional and within your current firm, Century Partners. How does your background in public service and design serve you in thinking about housing in Detroit? When I was younger, I didn’t like that Detroit looked bad, so I decided I was going to become an architect. I didn’t really see many people trying to solve the city’s big problems growing up, so I aimed to do it myself. A lot of what I’ve chosen to do in my career has been in response to things that I think are not ideal. As a kid, I actually wanted to be a doctor, which is funny now because I consider myself kind of like a doctor at the macro level. I get to help heal neighborhoods. Architects have to be knowledgeable of all the issues at hand in order to get a project done successfully. To be a developer, you also have to understand the bigger politics at play. With Century Partners, I’m able to use my design eye as I try to maintain the historic fabric of Detroit as much as possible through our projects. AN: What’s the biggest thing you’re working on at Century Partners? Detroit is well-known for its expanse of single-family homes. We’re currently looking at building out neighborhoods that are positioned to contribute to the multi-family housing fabric of the city. We’re currently fundraising to purchase commercial and multi-family buildings in Detroit’s core that will spur economic development, increase density, and create a 24/7 neighborhood. The other major project that we're working on right now is called the Fitz Forward Neighborhood Revitalization project, a city-backed, public-private partnership that will eventually revitalize over 300 parcels of land, including existing homes, open lots, and parkland, across the Fitzgerald neighborhood in central Detroit. AN: You spend a lot of time thinking about Detroit’s future and how to solve these big-picture problems. How is this mindset helpful as you start your new position leading NOMA? I’m three months into my presidency and the biggest thing I want to be really mindful of is fundraising for the organization. As a woman, I think there’s a general consensus that we don’t directly ask for money—as if fundraising is a taboo thing to do. But as president, I want to commit to doing that, which coincidently ties into my fundraising efforts with Century Partners for the commercial property and multi-family housing fund I mentioned. Money is always part of the bigger picture in architecture, but it’s a new challenge for me to think about it so directly.   AN: How could more money for your organization have an impact on architecture? I was recently possessed to say out loud in a podcast interview that if someone gave NOMA a million dollars, it could change the face of the profession. We’d have money to fuel our access-related programs like exposing K-5 students to architecture through classes and products, while middle and high school students could more deeply engage with our NOMA Project Pipeline summer camps. College students, especially aspiring architects of color, need help with studio supplies, technology, housing, transportation, and scholarships. As the first millennial president of NOMA, I’ve also begun considering how the architecture profession can alleviate the student debt crisis. Many of my colleagues have really high levels of student debt coupled with comparatively low professional salaries (consider lawyers and doctors) and limited flexibility and financial freedom. How can we as an organization motivate or incentivize people to pursue architecture knowing that compensation is a challenge and the student loan debt is higher than ever? We will miss out on some really talented people if things don’t change. This is also a diversity issue. Minorities in particular struggle with this given the wealth gap. NOMA is about getting people to believe in the power of diversity and the success of companies and organizations who support that vision. I want to make the case that investing in NOMA is investing in the future of a more diverse and equitable profession, which can help build more diverse and equitable cities. AN: So you think addressing the architecture’s internal inequalities would have a trickle-down effect on not only the way firms are set up, but how projects and cities get built? I absolutely think that there is a correlation between who is empowered to author the built environment and how that environment shapes the well-being of the community that it serves. In the words of Winston Churchill, "we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us." I believe that this statement holds true and I would add that the heightened diversity of our built environment stewards (developers, architects, builders, real estate brokers, etc.) will contribute to a more thoughtful and responsive set of buildings, spaces, and places that will equate to more sustainable cities. I believe in quadruple bottom line sustainability—incorporating financial, ecological, social and cultural priorities. While everyone in the development process has a particular purpose and role, I think that the more we see greater cohesion between those quadruple bottom line priorities, the better off our cities will be moving forward.
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Janus-Faced

1100 Architect blends the new and old with the sensitive use of fiber-cement boards
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1100 Architect's East Side Lofts is located in the Osthafen, or East Harbor district, of Frankfurt, Germany. Heavily damaged during World War II, the district is composed of historical vestiges and contemporary infill. The East Side Lofts effectively combines the two with a restoration of the landmarked Lencoryt Building and a six-story addition clad in fiber-cement boards. The imposing massing of the Lencoryt Building—a former office and textile factory—is enlivened by four-story Corinthian columns, classical detailing, and generous fenestration, and topped by a soaring mansard roof. At first glance, the asymmetrical location of the principal entrance suggests something is awry with the historic building. It is, in fact, incomplete, and would have been twice its size had World War I not drained the country of building resources and labor.
  • Facade Manufacturer Eternit Schueco
  • Architects 1100 Architect
  • Facade Installer Popiolek Fassaden Metallbau Wolf
  • Location Frankfurt, Germany
  • Date of Completion 2016
  • System Single fiber cement rain screen
  • Products Eternit Fiber Cement, Schueco Aluminum Storefront
"Our addition doubled the size of that building (bringing it to scale at which it was originally designed)," said 1100 Architect Founding Principal Juergen Riehm. "The form responds directly to that historic structure, adapting the shape, scale, and proportions of the original, but rendering it in contemporary language." Located adjacent to the bustling port of Frankfurt, it was imperative that the cladding of the new addition obstruct unwanted sound cascading off the waterways. 1100 Architect achieved this objective with an interplay of toned fiber-cement panels and recessed window bays highlighted with yellow window reveals for visual effect. In line with the 1100 Architect's portfolio of high-performance facades, the design of the East Side Lofts followed stringent sustainable techniques. Reihm continued, "together, with the manufacturer, we designed the envelope of the addition as a cohesive system—a single rainscreen that encloses the facades and roof." To reduce the carbon footprint of the project, the design team also sourced the concrete from Eternit's facilities approximately 60 miles south of Frankfurt. The construction of the contemporary addition was accompanied by the painstaking restoration of the Lencoryt Building. The design team, collaborating with the Frankfurt Landmarks Department, pored through archival drawings and imagery to determine the historic structure's original detailing. Based on historical evidence, masonry was repaired, window frames rebuilt, and mosaics relaid. Conference Co-Chair Juergen Riehm will be joining a panel, “Facade Syntax: Changing Context and International Regulations,” at The Architect’s Newspaper’s upcoming Facades+ New York conference, a two-day event at the beginning of April focused on the design and performance of facades.
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Going Up, Going Down

Vessel and Hudson Yards are open. What do the critics think?
The first phase of Manhattan’s $25 billion Hudson Yards development opened to the public on March 15, and with the embargos lifted and first impressions filed, a wide variety of critics have put pen to paper on their Vessel thoughts. The $150 million, 150-foot-tall occupiable sculpture is the centerpiece of Hudson Yards’ first phase and sits at the heart of a Nelson Byrd Woltz–designed plaza. The Thomas Heatherwick–designed public installation, inspired in part by Indian stepwells, expands from a minimal footprint at the bottom to a 150-foot-wide diameter at the peak. After signing up for free tickets and agreeing to Vessel’s restrictive photo policy, which previously stated that guests would forfeit the rights to any photos or videos taken there, visitors can explore the 154 flights of stairs and 80 landings. Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross, who paid for the structure out of his own pocket, claims that Vessel holds a mile of staircases. For the mobility impaired, Heatherwick Studio has included a curvilinear elevator that stops at three different landings along the sculpture. The intentions behind the piece have been well stated—the desire to create a monument in Hudson Yards that engages, not overshadows, the surrounding towers, and a "living room" for the public and residents who call the new neighborhood home. So, what do people think of the 15-story Vessel? The reviews have been mixed; some saw it as a monument to excess, while others drew comparisons to shawarma, a pinecone, trash can, drinking glasses, and more. Still others juxtaposed the structure’s 360-degree views and position to a panopticon, as Vessel is eminently and intentionally viewable from most places in Hudson Yards. It should be noted that Related insists that Vessel cost $150 million; the $200 million figure cited in the below articles reportedly accounts for the plaza it sits in as well. The Architect's Newspaper AN's Executive Editor Matt Shaw couldn't help but link Vessel to its larger place and the moneyed circumstances that led to its creation, questioning whether it was spectacle for the sake of spectacle. "Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. "This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.)" The New York Times Michael Kimmelman didn’t mince words in his review for the NYT. “It is temporarily called the Vessel. Hoping for public buy-in, its patron, the lead developer of this vast neoliberal Zion, has invited suggestions for a new name. “Purportedly inspired by ancient Indian stepwells (it’s about as much like them as Skull Mountain at Six Flags Great Adventure is like Chichen Itza) the object—I hesitate to call this a sculpture—is a 150-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel.” New York Magazine Justin Davidson had many of the same concerns as Kimmelman, as he recognized that historically stairs have been used as gathering places throughout New York City, but that ultimately Vessel felt like a staircase to nowhere. “The advance hype doesn’t prepare you for a structure quite this large, shiny, and extravagantly pointless. Its stainless-steel skin gleams russet like polished copper but won’t weather or lose its gloss. From the beginning, Ross declared his desire for an artwork big and splashy enough to focus the whole development. Not a clock or an obelisk—how about a botanical puppy, say, or a Chicago-style shiny kidney bean? Ross wanted something bolder, an artwork he wouldn’t have to warn people off of. Instead, Heatherwick’s piece functions as its own sign: PLEASE CLIMB ON THE SCULPTURE.” The New York Post Post writer Zachary Kussin wrote much more enthusiastically about his experience with Vessel. In an article entitled “Why the Hudson Yards Vessel is $200M worth of glistening glory,” Kussin recounted a grandiose trip to the top of the sculpture. “He’s right. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick and his London-based Heatherwick Studio, Vessel is an interactive artwork made entirely of staircases that make you feel as if you’re in a giant honeycomb, surrounded on all sides by copper-colored steel.” Curbed Alexandra Lange, reviewing Hudson Yards for Curbed, was simultaneously dazzled by the physical structure of Vessel, but questioned its promised social utility. She writes that once inside, rather than sparking conversation between climbers, the focus turned towards the piece itself, and an innate awareness of being on Vessel. “Whatever you call Heatherwick Studio’s Vessel—the wastebasket, the egg-crate, the Escher-brought-to-life, the basketball net, the Great Doner Kebab—it is the opposite of those examples. Not temporary, not cuddly, not delicate. It looks just like its renderings except possibly more perfect. I had mentally assigned it an outer cladding of weathering steel; with everything else so smooth and shiny, surely Vessel would have an industrial flavor? But no—Heatherwick Studio leaned into the fractal nature of its design, and the cladding, copper-colored steel, has a mirror finish like Anish Kapoor’s Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, welcoming our irresistible impulse to selfie.” The Baffler Kate Wagner’s take on Vessel was, predictably, the most pointed AN was able to find. In “Fuck The Vessel,” Wagner savages Heatherwick’s entire body of work as well as the structure’s premise, writing that Vessel embodied the attitude of Hudson Yards, a utopia for the rich out of the grasp of the other 99 percent. “It is a Vessel for labor without purpose. The metaphor of the stairway to nowhere precludes a tiring climb to the top where one is expected to spend a few moments with a cell-phone, because at least a valedictory selfie rewards us with the feeling that we wasted time on a giant staircase for something—perhaps something contained in the Vessel. The Vessel valorizes work, the physical work of climbing, all while cloaking it in the rhetoric of enjoyment, as if going up stairs were a particularly ludic activity. The inclusion of an elevator that only stops on certain platforms is ludicrously provocative. The presence of the elevator implies a pressure for the abled-bodied to not use it, since by doing so one bypasses ‘the experience’ of the Vessel, an experience of menial physical labor that aims to achieve the nebulous goal of attaining slightly different views of the city.” Heatherwick’s response For Thomas Heatherwick’s part, he hasn’t let the criticism bother him. On the opening day of Hudson Yards, The Real Deal was able to snag a brief interview, where the English designer shrugged off the above concerns, saying that all that mattered was whether visitors enjoyed it. Indeed, it seems that for as many think pieces and social media slams that Vessel has endured over its purpose and aesthetics, and whether it truly belongs in New York, tourists have still been clamoring to climb it. AN has reached out to Heatherwick Studio for its take on the critical hullabaloo and will update this article accordingly.
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New UFO

Artist and designer Leeroy New brings his aliens to New York City
Filipino artist and designer Leeroy New has created a fluorescent installation in Pintô International's new gallery space in New York City's East Village. After a two-week residency in February 2019, New created the sculptures along with multi-colored costumes that performers have donned while traipsing around Lower Manhattan. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony has a sort of psychedelic, fungal look, as though prosaic objects had somehow mutated into funky new lifeforms. Both the sculptures and the costumes are made of cheap plastic home goods and fabrication supplies like zip ties and fiberglass strips. The photos of performers on the street are part of the artist's broader Aliens of Manila project that "speaks to the wider experience of cultural displacement but is profoundly informed by the artist’s own familial experience with the phenomenon of what he refers to as 'OFW'—Overseas Filipino Workers." The photos show people in the costumes popping against the backdrop of day-to-day activity in New York City. Pintô International is the new space from the Phillippines-based Pintô Art Museum, a museum that collects and exhibits the work of many prominent local artists. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony marks the launch of a quarterly exhibition schedule, an artist residency, and a monthly Pintô Sessions event series. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony Pintô International 431 East 12th Street, New York, New York Through May 27, 2019
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Designer News

New Armani building by COOKFOX could rise in New York City

Fashion magnate Giorgio Armani’s flagship boutique in Manhattan, designed by Peter Marino Architect and opened in 1996, could be torn down to make way for a 12-story tower containing a new Armani store and 19 luxury condominiums above, including one for Armani himself, if the city approves the demolition.

New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has scheduled a hearing for next week to consider an application to raze the four-story Armani store at 760 Madison Avenue and portions of two apartment buildings next to it at 19 and 21 East 65th Street.

The Armani Group disclosed plans earlier this year to “reimagine” its Madison Avenue property, and now more details about the project are coming out, and getting scrutiny, as a result of recent filings with the preservation commission. They show that the project is far more extensive than a store renovation and would represent a significant change for a tony stretch of Madison Avenue.

The replacement project is a joint venture of The Armani Group and SL Green Realty Corp., the city’s largest commercial property owner. They say it will be “a milestone in Giorgio Armani’s journey into interior design.”

COOKFOX is the architect for the 83,000-square-foot replacement building and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners is the historic preservation consultant. Armani would design the residential interiors.

Armani is the sole occupant of the 23-year-old Armani building, which has a landscaped roof terrace. The first two levels are for women’s clothing and accessories, the third floor is the men’s department and the fourth floor is currently off-limits to shoppers. The symmetrical exterior, with an indentation on the Madison Avenue side, is clad in white stone and features street-level display windows.

Now 84, Armani commands a global empire that includes hotels and upscale housing as well as clothing, accessories, watches, jewelry, eyewear, cosmetics, perfume and furnishings. The one-time window dresser ranks No. 173 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with a “real time net worth” of $8.8 billion as of March 21, according to the publication.

Through his Armani/Casa Interior Design Studio, launched in 2004, the designer opened the Armani Hotel inside the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai and the Armani Hotel Milano in Italy and created luxury housing in Miami, London, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and Beijing, among other cities. The Madison Avenue project would be his first residential project in New York City, and he has said he will live there.

 Armani indicated in a statement released by the development team that he doesn’t regret tearing down his own building if it means he can construct an even more ambitious project at the corner of Madison and 65th.

“Madison Avenue is by definition an iconic luxury location,” he said. “In the 1980s, when I opened my first Giorgio Armani boutique in Manhattan, I chose this exclusive and refined area because it was perfect for the timeless elegance and attention to detail I wanted to communicate. Today, thirty years later, I still believe this place reflects my philosophy and my aesthetic vision.”

 As proposed, the replacement tower will have an exterior of limestone and brick, with a series of setbacks and terraces that break up the massing and take advantage of views to nearby Central Park. In all, about 19,000 square feet will be devoted to retail space and about 66,000 square feet will be devoted to residences, and the average size of a residence is 3,516 square feet, according to permits filed with the city.

COOKFOX designed the replacement building to reflect the Armani aesthetic while fitting into the context of Madison Avenue, said principal Rick Cook.

“This special project is an opportunity to design a modern home for the next generation of Armani’s presence on Madison Avenue,” Cook said in a statement. “Our approach is to reinterpret the design sensibility of classic Madison Avenue building, like The Carlton House at 21 East 61st Street and 45 East 66th Street, to create a contemporary and iconic residence and retail building for both the Upper East Side historic district and the Armani brand.”

Marino, 69, founded Peter Marino Architect in 1978 and is well known for his work for arts- and fashion-oriented patrons. One of his early clients was artist Andy Warhol, who hired him to design a renovation of his townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and a home at 860 Broadway for his studio, The Factory.

Marino’s first retail commission was for the owners of Barneys New York, for whom he eventually designed 17 stores in the U. S. and Japan. He has designed stores for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Ermenegildo Zegna, among others.

The structures facing partial demolition were designed by Scott and Prescott and are described in LPC materials as vernacular buildings in the neo-Federal style. One dates from 1928-29 and the other was built in 1881 and altered in 1929. The applicants are seeking to “modify masonry openings, replace infill, and install a canopy at existing buildings.”

If their plan is approved, the developers say, they expect to begin construction in 2020 and open in 2023. The team has not disclosed a construction budget or name for the building.

An Upper East Side citizens group, Community Board 8, voted on February 20 to support the project. The city’s preservation commission has oversight because the three buildings are part of the Upper East Side Historic District, and any changes to building exteriors there must be approved by the panel. Its hearing is scheduled for March 26 in the LPC offices at 1 Centre Street.

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The Bigger Apple

Facades+ New York will explore trends reshaping international architecture
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On April 4 and 5, Facades+ is returning to New York for the eighth year in a row. Organized by The Architect's Newspaper, the New York conference brings together leading AEC practitioners for a robust full-day symposium with a second day of intensive workshops led by manufacturers, architects, and engineers. Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, and Toshiko Mori are respectively leading the morning and afternoon keynote addresses for the symposium. In between the keynote addresses, representatives from Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Permasteelisa, Cooper Union, Gensler, Heintges, Atelier 10, Transsolar, Walter P. MooreSchüco, Frener & Reifer, and Behnisch Architekten, will be on hand to discuss recently completed innovative projects. New York-and-Frankfurt based practice 1100 Architect is co-chairing the conference. In anticipation of the conference, 1100 Architect's Juergen Riehm sat down with AN to discuss the firm's ongoing work, the conference's program, and trends reshaping New York City's built environment. The Architect's Newspaper: It is safe to say that New York City is undergoing a tremendous period of growth. What do you perceive to be the most exciting trends within the city? Juergen Riehm: You’re right; New York City is undergoing big change and growth. I would say that one of the big drivers of that change—and one of the exciting trends—is the investment in the city’s public spaces. There has been such transformation along the waterfronts and in parks across all five boroughs, and that has really catalyzed growth. We have worked with several city agencies for many years and in different ways, including with the Department of Parks & Recreation, which has been an exciting partnership, contributing to these changes. One of the projects we currently have in design for NYC Parks is a new community center in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. There, we are designing a 33,000-square-foot community center. The facade will perform in a number of ways. Since it is a community center, we want it to be as open and transparent as possible, and it also needs to be robust and durable. The building is on track to meet the city’s new sustainability standards LL31/32 and LEED Gold. There has been so much attention on new large-scale developments like Hudson Yards or the supertall towers in Midtown, but one of the other exciting trends right now is the renewed attention on optimizing the performance of existing buildings. It is something we will address during Facades+ NYC, but there is great work happening now on restorations of historic buildings—at the Ford Foundation or the United Nations, for example—that not only addresses decades of wear and tear, but that also brings these structures up to full 21st-century performance standards. AN: 1100 Architect is based in both New York and Frankfurt. What are the greatest benefits of operating a trans-Atlantic practice? JR: Our practice has always been deeply rooted in New York—just as it has also always had an international footprint. From our earliest days, we delivered projects overseas, so it seems like part of 1100 Architect’s DNA to have an ongoing dialogue with other geographies. We launched our Frankfurt office about 15 years ago, and, as you suggest, it does bring benefits. In general, we find that it has a reciprocal sharpening effect, with each location informing the other with different materials, technologies, and delivery methods. AN: Which projects are 1100 Architect currently working on, or recently completed, that demonstrate the firm's longstanding demonstration of sustainable enclosures? JR: Well, the NYC Parks community center in East Flatbush is a good example. It’s an exciting project in many ways—including the fact that we are designing it to the City’s new LL31/32 sustainability standards. In every way, we are really pushing for optimal performance, and the high-performance envelope plays an integral role toward that end. We were recently awarded a contract with the U.S. Department of State, so we are poised to begin working on diplomatic facilities around the world, so the safety and security of facade systems will be a paramount consideration. In Germany, we are renovating a 19,000-seat soccer stadium and adding a new training facility, using an innovative and high-performance channel-glass facade. We recently completed a Passive House–certified kindergarten there, too, which involved a high-performance facade. AN: Are there any techniques and materials used in Germany or the EU that should be adopted in the United States? JR: In Germany, I find that there is a more closely integrated relationship between government, the building industry, and the architectural profession. With environmental standards, for example, the goals set by the government are quite ambitious, and it has resulted in a closely integrated process of meeting those goals. In this moment of deregulation in the U.S., it seems like a good time to consider the value of the government’s role in moving toward energy efficiency. AN: Where do you see the industry heading in the coming years? JR: By necessity, I see it moving toward higher standards of energy performance. Climate science is calling for it and the marketplace is increasingly looking for it, so the architecture and building industry will need to deliver. And as I mentioned at the start of this conversation, I also think there will be a lot of focus on updating existing buildings to enhance performance. Further information regarding the conference can be found here.
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America Last

“Great” construction projects in America? Starchitects say: look elsewhere

A strange thing has been happening at some public architecture talks lately, perhaps you’ve noticed. Over the course of otherwise hopeful and positive discussions covering amazing new projects from around the globe, at some point, usually toward the end of a talk, conversation turns to the current state of American building and infrastructure. And, it's safe to say, people are not happy. Sometimes, the presenter will rip off the bandaid, as Thom Mayne of Morphosis did at a recent Facades+  talk in Los Angeles, when he said, “I hate to be negative, but there’s not much going on in this country architecturally,” before adding, “[But] if you look at architecture around the world, it’s startling…It’s unbelievable, the research [taking place]—I just came back from Shenzhen [China] and I’m looking around [at the skyline] there wondering ‘is there anything left for me to do?’” Other times, a perplexed-sounding audience member will ask what it seems many in attendance had been pondering privately: “Why can’t we build like this here?” 

 It’s a debilitating question that really only has one answer. And although, even when speaking bluntly, everyone tries their best to truth-tell without offending, but the writing is right on the projection screen—building big in America simply isn’t what it used to be, and we don’t know what to do about it.

 “The United States is falling behind,” architect Moshe Safdie explained to a packed room during a recent keynote talk at Palm Springs Modernism Week when asked why the inventive array of projects he had just presented are mostly located outside the United States. “Around the world, the competition [for bold infrastructure] doesn’t stop,” he said, half-jokingly, “until you land at Kennedy or LAX.” 

 To prove his point, Safdie pointed out further that although the Hudson Yards development in New York City is the largest privately-led construction project in the country by square footage, it is easily dwarfed in terms of vision by countless projects around the globe of a similar or larger size. 

 He’s right. Hudson Yards is a dime a dozen as far as global mega-projects are concerned. Safdie’s own Raffles City development in Chongqing, China, for example, might be roughly two-thirds the size of Hudson Yards, but it is going up in less than one-third the time and is almost entirely designed by a single architecture firm—Safdie Architects—with P&T Group International Ltd. serving as architect of record. Safdie’s own portfolio of recent work shows that while New York occasionally will build an elevated billionaire citadel, Chongqing, Singapore, and other cities have tasked his office with erecting bold new structures designed for working people and the public at large, all without sacrificing design quality. 

 Safdie explained that one possible reason why American projects no longer lead the world in terms of size or scale might be due to a “lack of urban initiative,” the type of sustained and calculated political and managerial energy necessary for bringing to life the types of large-scale and lasting projects that have transformed other countries around the world in recent decades. 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Rem Koolhaas, who, when recently asked about the prevalence of NIMBYism in America, explained, “I think you can divide the world into one part that is eager to change and doesn’t have hesitations about things changing, and another part that is totally nervous about change and actually aspires to a kind of stability.” Koolhaas added, “As an architect, every one of your efforts is impacted by this. In the end, however, architecture is always controversial because it proposes to make things different than they are.”

 Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the realm of high-speed rail (HSR), where American decision makers across all levels of government have persisted in remaining tethered to auto-centric planning, condemning the nation to antiquated transportation for at least another generation. A recent article in The New York Times covering the ongoing debacle with California’s tragic HSR project, for example, brings this condition into sharp relief with the following line: “California’s High-Speed Rail Authority…was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail.”

 America has built none. But America’s last-place finish doesn’t end with rail or with deteriorating airports; it includes city-building, too, as Safdie pointed out. Much of America is suffering from some form of housing crisis, whether it’s so-called Rust Belt cities struggling to retain residents or coastal cities that can’t figure out how and where to build new housing fast enough. While American cities have doubled-down on onerous building restrictions and lengthy bureaucratic reviews, politically polarized state and federal governments have worked at cross purposes, too, failing to enact bold plans and avoiding future-oriented thinking at almost all costs. The overarching legacy of redlining, racial segregation, and income inequality has placed a stranglehold over American cities, as well, contributing to intense gentrification when development does occur and debilitating displacement when it doesn’t. Over the last decade, it has become clear that America's public health, land-use, and transportation policies are all woefully out of whack, and the result is stifling the abilities of a generation of well-trained architects and engineers eager to build a better nation. Meanwhile, the world’s urbanizing areas have embraced building vertically, have expanded transit of all sorts, and have worked to enact bold planning initiatives that over a generation have remade the face of global urbanism in the name of interconnectedness, density, and place-making.

 In Europe, for example, France is currently enacting its “Le Grand Paris” plan, a vision that will stitch together the Paris city center with its inner and outer ring suburbs to bring together an urban region of 10 million inhabitants. The plan includes a €30 billion public transit expansion initiative that will create a network of regional transit routes connecting suburbs with one another as well as sizable new investments in social housing, parks, and other equity-minded initiatives.

 But it’s not just Europe. 

 Cairo, Egypt, is building a new $45 billion capital city that, when completed, will become the largest purpose-built capital city by population in the world.

 In India, the country’s largest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, aims to connect the nation’s political and economic capitals with a 900-mile long conurbation made up of 24 urban “nodes.” The plan aims to urbanize 14 percent of India’s population—180 million people—over the next 30 years and will take $100 billion in investment to realize.

 In South America, Argentina’s so-called Belgrano Plan will bring $16 billion in rail expansion to 10 of the country’s neglected northern provinces and will create up to 250,000 new housing units and 1,100 childhood education centers. 

 Saudi Arabia is building new mega cities from scratch, as are China, Singapore, Nigeria, Mauritius, and countless others. 

 None of these projects are perfect socially or environmentally-speaking, to be sure, but one thing they do not lack is vision.

 If it feels like the most impressive work is taking place in other countries, that’s because in many ways, it is, and international architects know perhaps better than anyone else the truth of that reality. Even more, the hesitation, hedging, and hand-wringing that accompanies talk of the current state of American infrastructure and urban vision indicate that the problem runs deeper than a mere lack of funding or risk-averse clients. 

Whether it’s California’s flailing HSR project, the nation’s intractable housing crises, or even, the sad, dispirited political discourse surrounding the Green New Deal—a potentially transformative plan that is barely supported by the party that conceived it—it is clear that America has a crisis of vision, a failure of political will, and perhaps most alarmingly, no real interest in solving its own problems. Look at the Salesforce Transit Center debacle in San Francisco, Elon Musk’s substandard and retrograde transit ideas in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the steady stream of failing bridges and tunnels across the country for further proof. Even Amazon’s HQ2 extravaganza, a year-long publicity stunt by the world’s richest company that wrung billions in incentives from some of the most desperate cities around the country, rightfully withered on the vine. What’s going on here?

 As Safdie quipped, “We were promised infrastructure!” But the truth is that it’s just not happening in America anymore.
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Coming Soon

Theaster Gates, MASS Design Group among list of Chicago Architecture Biennial contributors
Theaster Gates, MASS Design Group, Wolff Architects, as well as Forensic Architecture and Invisible Institute are among the first wave of contributors announced for this fall’s 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. The show, titled ...and other such storieswill be an expansive look into global projects that delve into how architecture relates to land, memory, rights, and civic participation. The initial list of participants, announced last week, features 51 artists, collectives, architects, and researches from 19 countries—only half of the soon-to-be full lineup of participants. According to Biennial Board Chairman Jack Guthman, the international showcase will have something for everyone, designers and Chicagoans alike. “The participants who will explore the significant issues raised by our curators will both challenge and entertain the Biennial’s audiences,” he said. Artistic Director Yesomi Umolu noted the broad range of contributors have backgrounds and projects that “resonate deeply” with the four curatorial areas previously laid out by the organization: “No Land Beyond,” “Appearances and Erasures,” “Rights and Reclamations,” and “Common Ground.” Capetown-based firm Wolff Architects, as well as local Chicago artist Theaster Gates, will present “reflections on landscapes of belonging,” while CAMP from Mumbai and New York’s Center for Spatial Research will uncover the political controversies behind contested spaces of memory. RMA Architects and DAAR, the studio helmed by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, will think about how architecture can act as a site of advocacy. Lastly, Construct Lab from Berlin and Adrian Blackwell of Toronto will “explore methodologies for intervening” in public space. Works on these topics and more will allow visitors the chance to interpret their own opinions about the ways in which architects advances or inhibits global stories of culture and history. The projects will be placed in the main exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, housed in the Chicago Cultural Center. The programming also includes broader, city-wide events and talks. You can read the full list of initial participants here.
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Empty Vessel

Hudson Yards and its Vessel open to the public
As throngs of tourists and New York City residents descend on Manhattan’s far west side for the opening of Hudson Yards’ first phase, AN joined the first tour of the Thomas Heatherwick–designed Vessel (interested visitors can reserve free tickets). Bill Pedersen, founding partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), Thomas Woltz of landscape architecture studio Nelson Byrd Woltz, representatives from Heatherwick Studio, and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross, who paid to construct the Vessel out of his own pocket, were also on hand to dive into the design behind the development. With the first phase of Hudson Yards opening to the public today, plenty of ink has already been spilled over the new neighborhood’s “fortress-like” nature, the accusations that it intentionally and discordantly stands apart from the street grid and city as a whole, and that the development is a playground for the one-percent financed through $6 billion in tax breaks (though some might passionately dispute that characterization). Those points have been argued elsewhere. What is definitely true is that the 11-million-square-foot, $16-billion first phase of Hudson Yards is now mainly open, or will open shortly, and it’s likely to draw shoppers, tourists, and High Line hikers to what was formerly an open-air staging area for the Long Island Railroad. The second phase of the megaproject over the still-uncovered western railyard will hold five more residential towers and a commercial project from architectural heavy hitters like Herzog & de Meuron, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, and Robert A.M. Stern. Related expects that infrastructure work on the second phase will begin next year before the site is decked over. Vessel, Heatherwick’s $150 million not-quite-a-sculpture, not-quite-a-building sits at the center of Hudson Yards’ Public Square and Gardens. The climbable installation is made up of 154 flights of stairs connected to 80 landings, and it balloons up to 150-feet-wide at its 150-foot-tall summit. As project architect Stuart Wood explained, Vessel (explicitly not “the Vessel”—although Related will rename the structure later, anyway) was designed to be open in its programming while not “jamming up” the plaza. “The project was built entirely from staircases and landings. They're public, publicly accessible, free to use spaces. It's non-prescriptive. That was absolutely our intent from the outset. This should be a project that is open to interpretation. It's open to different natures of use.” The underside of the piece is clad in warm, reflective metal paneling that distorts the glass towers around it and brings a sense of liveliness to the “sculpture” as more visitors gather at its base. As visitors scale Vessel, climbers see themselves reflected overhead as the panels act as mirrored ceilings; that interactivity is intentional. On the topside, Heatherwick has used wood railings, darkened steel, and stone for the steps and landings in reference to the site's industrial heritage. With a form so often compared to a beehive or garbage can by outside observers, actually entering Vessel produces an unusual effect. Standing in the sculpture’s base feels akin to entering a towering atrium, with the glass handrails resembling windows. Climbing the structure’s numerous staircases, at least when devoid of the crowds that will surely descend on it after the official opening, felt slightly dangerous. The view of Hudson Yards, the Shed, shops and dining areas, and across the Hudson River, open up towards the top, and might induce the same sense of vertigo found on construction sites. For mobility impaired visitors, Heatherwick Studio has added a glass elevator that travels along a curving track along Vessel’s inside rim, though it only stops at one landing per story. The plaza in which Vessel sits is elliptical and gently spirals out to each of the buildings on the site, a decision that Nelson Byrd Woltz came to in tandem with Heatherwick Studio. As such, it serves as the epicenter of Hudson Yards’ public space, and its central location in the neighborhood’s main plaza visually cements that status. Vessel, for better or for worse, is intrinsically at home in Hudson Yards and wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the world. And even if it wasn’t, as Wood explained, Related has copyrighted the design.
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And Another One

Johns Hopkins may tear down arts center by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
Another Tod Williams Billie Tsien project appears to be headed for the wrecking ball. After years of planning and fundraising, Johns Hopkins University president Ronald J. Daniels announced this month that a new student center will be built for its Homewood campus at the intersection of Charles and 33rd Streets in Baltimore. The property chosen for the new building includes the current site of the Mattin Center, a 2001 arts complex designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Administrators indicate it will likely be demolished to make way for the student center. The announcement already has people upset. The Mattin Center would join the former American Folk Art Museum in New York on the list of Williams and Tsien buildings that have been leveled and replaced with even larger projects. Opened in 2001 like the Mattin Center, the Folk Art Museum was razed in 2014 to make way for an expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, currently under construction. The demolition was one of the biggest preservation controversies in the nation that year. Tsien has said she was unable to go by the site while the building was coming down and long afterward. There has been talk in Baltimore for the past several years that Hopkins was eying the Mattin Center as the site for a new student center, but administrators said they didn’t want to confirm anything until they had raised enough money to move ahead with the project. Hopkins is one of the few major universities in the United States that doesn’t have a full-fledged student center or student union on its main campus, and Daniels has wanted to build one to keep Hopkins competitive with other colleges and universities. On March 5, Daniels announced that the project is moving ahead with a target completion date of 2024. Without dwelling on demolition, his announcement was the most definitive statement he has made to date about securing funds and replacing the Mattin Center, which was built by a previous administration as a home for the visual and performing arts on campus. “As the needs of our student body have evolved, so has the desire for a different and dedicated student center taken hold,” he wrote in a message to the Hopkins community. “This will be a new kind of space for us—one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design…It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.” Planning for the student center began in 2013 when Hopkins formed a task force. A year later, it hired Ann Beha Architects of Boston and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol of Seattle to conduct a feasibility study and develop a preliminary design. Hopkins administrators have indicated the student center will cost between $100 million and $150 million. According to university spokesperson Karen Lancaster, an architect has not been selected and a final cost has not been determined, but “we have the funding we need to commit to this project” through a combination of institutional and philanthropic sources, including pledges from anonymous donors. The Mattin Center is the only project in Baltimore by Williams and Tsien. It cost $17 million and consists of three brick-clad structures that frame an open courtyard and together contain 50,000 square feet of arts-related spaces, including dance and visual arts studios, a digital media center, black box theater, music practice rooms, and café. It occupies a prominent site near the gateway to Hopkins’s Homewood campus, between the main academic buildings and the Charles Village neighborhood to the east. That site is largely what seems to have doomed the Mattin Center, because campus planners wanted to put the new student center in a “welcoming” location. At the nexus of town and gown, the Mattin Center site met their requirements more than any other property. According to Johns Hopkins’s news site, Hub, the final location was selected “based on the flow of students on and off campus from the Charles Street corridor and on its proximity to the heart of Homewood activity.” The Mattin Center’s size was also an issue, Lancaster said in an email. “While the building is less than 20 years old, our space requirements have evolved over time and the building, as designed, is not adequate to fulfill many of these specific needs—such as the larger gathering venues our students seek today.” In a further sign that Hopkins intends to demolish the Mattin Center, Lancaster noted that one of the next steps will be to figure out where to move the people and activities now based there. If the Mattin Center were to remain, planning for long-term relocation wouldn’t be necessary. “As part of the design and planning process,” Lancaster said, “we will be determining options for where to locate the groups and programs that are currently housed in the Mattin Center—both in the short-term during construction and permanently once a new center is opened.” Although the building’s design won a 2002 award from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it has drawn criticism locally for “turning its back” on the city.   “It represents the end of an era when the university faced inward and was moving very gingerly to interact with the community,” said Sandra Sparks, former president of the Charles Village Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood next to the Hopkins campus. Williams and Tsien were selected by Hopkins after participating in a limited competition to design the arts center. The other competitors were Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pennsylvania and Heikkinen Komonen Architects of Finland. When they learned several years ago that Hopkins was considering razing their building, Tsien and Williams issued a lengthy statement defending its design. In it, they said Hopkins administrators at the time had expressed a desire for a secure setting. “When we won the competition to design the Mattin Center in the late 1990s, the City of Baltimore was a much tougher, more dangerous place,” they wrote. “A student, a musician, had been recently killed in a wooded section of the proposed site. So the university chose our design over the two others in part, because they wanted a protective environment for students to pursue their artistic interests which, at that time, were considered extracurricular. “The administration was concerned about the physical security of the students. The suggested program was not so large and that allowed us to organize spaces…around a large exterior courtyard at the heart of the site.” In their statement, the architects acknowledged that the university’s and the city’s needs have changed. They lamented that they weren’t involved in future planning for the site. “Today there is a desire to create a more direct connection to the city and for more socializing spaces for students,” they said. “The site of the Mattin Center is an important one for the University and campus, and we believe it can accommodate additional density and change. If the administration elects to demolish the Mattin Center, it should not be without very serious debate…because to do so is unimaginative, and unsustainable, and because it does not acknowledge the layers of history that are crucial to an understanding of our culture, our campuses, and our cities.” AN reached out to the firm last week but wasn’t given further information on Williams and Tsien’s thoughts about the recent announcement. In an email, the firm wrote: “We are aware of Johns Hopkins’s plan to build a new student center at the Mattin Center site, however, we do not know of any additional details regarding its development at this time.” The student center is one of several major projects that Hopkins has underway in Baltimore and Washington. Last fall it selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to design the home for a new interdisciplinary center called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute. In January, the school announced plans to buy the Newseum in Washington, D. C., and convert it into a new home for its academic programs there. An architect for that project has not been announced. For its medical campus, Hopkins has hired William Rawn Associates of Boston and Hord Coplan Macht of Baltimore to design an addition to its school of nursing.
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Brant Building

New York’s East Village gets a new prestigious art space
In New York’s East Village, Gluckman Tang Architects has transformed a century-old Con Edison substation-cum-home to artist Walter De Maria (Lightning Field, Earth Room, Broken Kilometer) into the Brant Foundation Art Study Center. The 16,000-square-foot building with 7,000 square feet of exhibition space across four floors, a roof deck, and gardens by Madison Cox Associates has been impeccably rendered, retaining original features such as metal stairwells. The foundation was started by publishing executive Peter Brant (Interview, Art in America, ARTnews), and is directed by his daughter Allison, and opened with the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat. Upon entering the foyer, one sees a trap-door metal slide on the ceiling, part of a floor-door system that can open to hoist artworks heavier than the 8,000 pounds the elevator can accommodate. Floor materials are used on the ceiling; oak on level four, and cast concrete floors set against coffered concrete ceilings mottled by unseen LED uplights. Fenestration is notable. On the East 6th Street side the original windows are updated, whereas the 7th Street side sports nearly full-height spans. Clerestories adorn the double-height second floor. An original cranked window opener unlocks the top row. On the top floor, an acrylic skylight is the base of a rooftop reflecting pool, emitting rippling light. The double-height space has a hoist gantry, a sliding metal strut suspending two large hooks, that can glide across the span on metal studs embedded into blonde brick walls. The Brant Foundation is reminiscent of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Studio (Ryall Sheridan Architects) on Eldridge Street less than a mile away. Both are converted former residences, here from a power substation, there a former synagogue, which have been turned into free public art spaces integrated into their neighborhoods. Brant Foundation Study Center 421 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10009
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Build De Blasio

After a comprehensive climate change study, Manhattan may extend its shoreline
New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, took to New York Magazine to lay out an ambitious $10 billion plan to protect Lower Manhattan from the worst effects of climate change. The city will also be advancing $500 million in capital projects right away to beef up the coast with grassy berms, esplanades, sea gates, and by elevating existing infrastructure; but the most surprising measure is an initiative to extend the tip of Manhattan another 500 feet into the East River. Both initiatives are the result of the Lower Manhattan Climate Resilience Study released today as part of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) project, which is meant to examine the risks and challenges posed by climate change. The study found that by 2050, 37 percent of Lower Manhattan would be susceptible to storm surges, while by 2100 that number would move to 50 percent as sea levels rose six feet. Twenty percent of Lower Manhattan would be vulnerable to daily tidal flooding by that time as well. For an area that holds more than ten percent of New York City’s jobs, and produces ten percent of the city’s gross economic output, flooding on the scale seen during hurricane Sandy would be devastating. The report also identifies heat waves, extreme precipitation events, and the gradual encroachment of groundwater (which would eat away at the neighborhood’s below-ground electrical and transportation infrastructure) as catastrophic threats. After running through a gamut of different flood mitigation approaches, the report advocates extending the shoreline to prevent flood waters from reaching critical buildings and infrastructure sites as the optimal solution. Requiring buildings to implement individual-level flood mitigation measures would result in a piecemeal, non-standardized application, and building hard storm barriers would impede views and access to the waterfront. Mayor de Blasio expects that building into the East River could cost up to $10 billion. “Over the coming years, we will push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet,” wrote de Blasio in his NY Magazine op-ed, “or up to two city blocks, into the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms and the higher tides that will threaten its survival in the decades to come. “When we complete the coastal extension, which could cost $10 billion, Lower Manhattan will be secure from rising seas through 2100.” As for funding such an ambitious project, the mayor admitted that the city wouldn’t be able to go it alone, but that President Trump also wouldn’t be willing to contribute. He then called on Democrats to make the project part of their national agenda, to work towards allocating federal funds, and to fast-tracking the extension. Alongside the resiliency study, the city also released the third iteration of their Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which architects and planners can use to future-proof their projects. Starting in the spring, the city will begin holding public engagement meetings on all of its resiliency capital projects and the in-progress Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan. The input gathered will help guide the city on which district should receive the first phase of the plan.