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Stranger Than Fiction

Architectural Bestia at SCI-Arc will display the ambiguities of creative authorship
This fall, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will present an exhibition that attempts to draw subconscious connections between the work of several of its faculty members to potentially discover new, previously undefined methods of design practice. “Today, perhaps as never before,” the description for Architectural Bestia begins, “we share a technical language that flows from discipline to discipline, altering the paths of previously discrete branches of knowledge.” Supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the show will bring together the design work of several SCI-Arc faculty members that have independently relied on burgeoning digital technologies, including Liam Young, Marcelo Spina, Devyn Weiser, and Peter Testa, and Lucy McRae. Their work will be embellished through an artificial intelligence (AI) visualization software program that will expose each to “a perpetual state of transformation and mutation” in a series of animations output to television screens. Over the course of the exhibition, the images will become progressively deformed to reveal the facets of the “strange beast” that is theorized to have previously laid dormant in all of the work being presented. The concept for Architectural Bestia mirrors the discoveries made by Steven Johnson in his 2001 book Emergence: The Secret Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, which attempted to lay out the history of technological and creative innovations through and the unintended interconnections of seemingly unrelated elements known as ‘complexity theory.’ Where Johnson implores his reader to “embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent," and “build a tangled bank,” Architectural Bestia will perform Frankensteinian operations on carefully composed works of art and architecture to arrive at unforeseeable outcomes. In small part, Architectural Bestia will be a recreation of The Architectural Beast, an exhibition that was on display at the 2019 Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC) Biennale in Orléans, France. Conceived by SCI-Arc director Hernan Diaz Alonso and SCI-Arc professor Casey Rehm, the exhibition transformed the original work by giving creative agency to an AI program of Rehm’s design. Architectural Bestia was originally intended to go on display April 24 but has been postponed to the fall due to ongoing coronavirus concerns.
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Corona Column

What architects need to know about coronavirus small business relief programs
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here. It’s been three weeks since President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion relief effort meant to bring the United States economy back from the brink of disaster. Much of that measure was meant to help the country’s millions of small businesses, architecture firms among them, but the rollout of the act’s programs has been rocky and confusing, and at least one of the new programs has already run out of money. While the relief programs don’t target architecture firms specifically, many may be helpful for the many small studios impacted by the crisis, so I thought it might be helpful to write a brief introduction to the programs. There are many resources linked throughout the article, and because so much of this information is changing so quickly, we may update this article as needed. Obviously, many architects in the U.S. don’t run their own firms, but this article will focus on new resources now available for small business owners, and AN will look at options for other professionals in future articles. The two biggest programs architects running small firms need to know are the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Both define small businesses as having 500 or fewer employees and are also available for independent contractors. The PPP has reportedly run out of money for now, though it may be replenished if the federal government can pass more legislation. The EIDL also ran out of money and has stopped accepting applications, and may have been rationing what was left. Both programs had experienced long delays as the government was swamped with applications, so if you’re interested in them, it may be helpful to prep application materials to apply as quickly as possible should more funds open up.

Payroll Protection Program (PPP)

The PPP created forgivable loans that come with the following stipulations:
  • The loans cover 8 weeks of payroll and “most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs,” according to the Treasury Department
  • Companies can borrow up to $10 million, though the loan will only cover $100,000 of payroll per employee. 
  • Only about 25 percent of the loan can cover non-payroll costs. 
  • Companies have to keep or rehire employees laid off or furloughed since February 15, 2020, in order for the loans to be fully forgiven, though partial forgiveness will also be offered.
  • The loans have a 0.5 percent fixed rate, and payments are automatically deferred for six months.
  • The loans do not require collateral.
  • Applications are available and are being received now, and they need to be processed by June 30, 2020.
PPP loans are administered through commercial lenders, so the easiest way to apply may be through a bank with which you already have a relationship. However, if you’re not having luck with your bank or don’t have one, financial tech companies like PayPal and Intuit’s Quickbooks are authorized to offer PPP loans and are open to new customers. The New York Times and other outlets have reported that applicants are seeing long delays both in getting the applications processed and getting their money, and the architects I have talked to have seen the same. Politico reported yesterday that the program is out of money unless the government approves more funding, but it might be possible to join a sort of waitlist for future loans. More information about PPP loans is available on a Treasury Department fact sheet, and a basic application shows what information lenders will require. Construction specialists at Pierce Atwood, a law firm, published a succinct guide to PPP in The National Law Review with more information.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)

The EIDL is not a new program, but the CARES Act gave it more money and took away some restrictions. It’s run through the federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA), and is meant to support businesses in areas that have declared emergencies (all 50 states have active states of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic). The EIDL provides low-interest loans that do not have to be completely paid back. The EIDL has run out of money and is not currently accepting applications, but the government may expand the program in the future. Application information should be available here if the program reopens. Part of what was new about the EIDL program is that the first $10,000 of the loan was supposed to be available within three days of applying and was offered as a grant called the EIDL Emergency Advance. Here are the basics about EIDL:
  • Borrowers apply directly through the SBA, not a third-party lender.
  • Applications were open through December 30, 2020.
  • Loans were typically available in amounts up to $2 million, although…
  • The New York Times reported that loan amounts may be capped at just $15,000 because of a lack of funding.
Finance reporter Stacy Cowley has written a great guide to the new small business relief programs at The New York Times that breaks down the above programs in an informative and easy to read format. Two other SBA programs offering $25,000 bridge loans for borrowers with an existing relationship with an SBA Express Lender and debt relief for borrowers with existing SBA disaster loans are also available. The SBA website has more information on those. But what should architects do with the relief funds if they get them? Esther Sperber, founder of New York-based firm Studio ST Architects, suggested that architects who do receive relief funds use that support “to do something good,” she said. “Since we have little architectural work that we can do [right now] but [may] nevertheless be paid, I would like to use this time to pay forward and help others.” Sperber applied for a PPP loan on April 6, but, as of this article’s publication, had not heard about the status of the application. She suggested that relief recipients do pro bono design work for nonprofits or offer to help related businesses apply for relief of their own. In other pandemic-related news this week, events continue to move online, including Burning Man, although the AIA completely canceled its 2020 national conference. In a sign of what may be in store for the rest of the country, New York City has stopped all public design work, not just construction. To cope with the crisis, companies and organizations are developing new technologies to monitor the state of construction and the behavior of construction workers. French officials announced that they still expect the Notre Dame Cathedral to reopen in 2024 despite interruptions to site work, and San Francisco announced last week that the city is planning on renting thousands more hotel rooms for homeless people. Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji also died this week from COVID-19 complications at the age of 93. In news not related to the pandemic, this past week we also lost Bill Menking, AN’s cofounder and editor in chief. There is a tribute page online now, and there will be an online memorial service in the coming weeks. More information will be available soon. Be well!
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A Two Mega-Arena Town

Plans for OVG Manchester, the U.K.’s largest arena, revealed
Los Angeles-headquartered sports and live entertainment company Oak View Group (OVG) has revealed plans for a 23,500-seat multi-purpose arena­ in the English city of Manchester that, when complete, will be the largest indoor arena in the United Kingdom. The current title-holder is also in Manchester, the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, which recently unveiled early-stage plans to increase its capacity to 24,000. Coming in at a close third is London’s O2 Arena, which can seat 20,000. OVG recently submitted plans to the Manchester City Council for the mega-venue, which would be located in a highly accessible, public transit-friendly “regeneration priority area” in the Eastlands of Manchester. The proposed canal-side site is adjacent to the Arup-designed Etihad Stadium, home to one of the city’s two prestigious Premier League football clubs, Manchester City F.C. The company is confident that two very large arenas can peacefully and successfully coexist in the same city, one that has a longstanding reputation as the live music capital of Britain. (The owner of the Manchester Arena, however, has expressed concerns.) For its first project outside of the United States, OVG, which describes itself as being “focused on being a positive disruption to business as usual in the sports and live entertainment industry,” has assembled quite the impressive team for the super-sized project. Dutch construction behemoth Royal BAM Group, which has executed a wide number of major projects in Manchester as well as global sports and entertainment venues including O2 World in Berlin and Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, has been tapped as project contractor. The arena and stadium specialists at  global design firm Populous (formerly part of HOK Group) will serve as principal architect for the new arena. In the U.K., Populous-designed venues  include the new Wembley Stadium (with Foster + Partners), the First Direct Arena in Leeds, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, London’s Olympic Stadium, and many others. “This ground-breaking venue will set new benchmarks in sustainable arena design, as well as creating an experience and form that sits perfectly within Manchester’s architectural context and vibrant community,” said Declan Sharkey, senior principal and project architect at Populous, in a press statement. “We are delighted to be working with Oak View Group on its exciting vision for East Manchester.” With an estimated price tag just under $440 million, the privately funded OVG Manchester Arena will be the most expensive ever built in Europe. It’s expected to generate 1,000 local jobs when in operation and 3,500 jobs during the construction phase. Long, sleek, and somewhat resembling the world’s largest gaming console (or maybe a low stack of luminescent video cassettes), Populous noted that the LED-ringed venue’s “bold contemporary form complements the public realm and combines aesthetic beauty with a recognisable and identifiable profile that will be globally recognised as being inspired by contemporary Manchester.” Describing the easily reconfigurable venue as a “transformer-like bowl” that will allow spectators to be closer to the stage than any other comparable arena in Europe, Populous placed special emphasis on, as mentioned by Sharkey, sustainability as well as inclusivity in its design. Per the firm, the venue was specifically designed to meet Manchester’s Zero Carbon 2038 commitments and will rank among the most environmentally sensitive arenas in the world when complete. In addition to its low-carbon profile, the venue aims to be a low-waste facility, sending zero operational waste—not a single plastic cup or pie wrapper—to landfill. The stadium’s design will also go above and beyond in its inclusivity, paying special mind to not only the limitations presented by physical barriers but, according to a press statement, “barriers experienced by people who are neurodivergent, experience mental ill health, who are deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing and people who are blind or partially sighted.” To that end, the facility is aiming for Gold Standard certification from Attitude is Everything, a charity that aims to improve access to live music events for deaf and disabled individuals. As the Guardian has detailed, security is also a top concern in light of the 2017 terrorist bombing during an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. In advance of the planning process, OVG has worked out a security strategy with the Greater Manchester Police, and notes that visitor safety will be “central to the design of the venue.” Construction is expected to take three years, provided that OVG Manchester Arena clears the planning stages.
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Just a Little Bit Hokie

Virginia Tech reveals plans for inaugural building at Innovation Campus in Alexandria
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has released an early look at the first of several academic buildings planned for the school’s upcoming Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia. Per a press announcement, new renderings of the glass-sheathed, 300,000-square-foot building were filed with the city earlier this month as part of the Development Special Use Permit submittal process. Designed and engineered by Detroit-headquartered SmithGroup, the campus’s inaugural building, Academic 1, is expected to break ground in 2021 and open to Virginia Tech students and faculty in the fall of 2024. The building will be dedicated to research and instructional spaces for graduate-level programs in Computer Science and Computer Engineering as well as other “select” programs. “Experiential learning environments within this building will be designed to enhance the Virginia Tech experience,” according to the school, and include “flexible multi-purpose areas, research and testing labs, and maker space.” Lance Collins, incoming vice president and executive director of the Innovation Campus, referred to the building in a statement as a “bellwether for what we are trying to achieve through our new campus, creating a place that provides the space and environment to foster collaboration and the creation of bold new ideas.” Topped with a photovoltaic array and clad in a metal- and glass-heavy facade with integrated solar cells, the building’s distinctive form was calibrated for maximum solar power generation. In addition to harvesting energy from the sun, it will also feature wastewater energy exchange and geothermal energy systems. In addition to the aforementioned ultra-sustainable features, connecting to surrounding (future) parks and green space on the campus played heavily into the building’s design. And because this is Virginia Tech, the building could potentially incorporate the same grey dolomite limestone—the famous “Hokie stone”—that has defined the architectural landscape of the school’s Blacksburg campus since its beginnings in 1872. Academic 1 is obviously a far cry from the main campus’s bevy of historic, Hokie Stone-y Collegiate Gothic buildings, but SmithGroup and university staff are reportedly “exploring the use” of the material in the new building’s base as a way to “balance the glass and metal facades with the warmth and solidity of natural stone.” In early 2019, WTOP News reported that the campus would be “Hokie stone optional.” “We will really work to build buildings consistent with the look and feel we’re going for,” the Washington, D.C.-based outlet reported Brandy Salmon, managing director of the Innovation Campus, as saying during a 2019 panel. “Probably something modern in design, without being too modern—and just beautiful places to be.” Noting that the use of Hokie stone would not be mandatory at any Innovation Campus buildings, Salmon added: “I would imagine there will be at least a touchstone of Hokie Stone here. You’ll certainly have the opportunity to come and touch stone, if needed.” In addition to Academic 1, the Innovation campus, located two miles from Amazon’s new HQ2 complex at National Landing and nearly 300 miles from Blacksburg, will include three other buildings situated on four acres within phase one of the innovation-centric North Potomac Yard mixed-use development, which will eventually encompass 65 acres. In addition to Virginia Tech’s Amazon-adjacent new campus, phase one of North Potomac Yard will also include commercial and retail-topping residential space. Virginia Tech first announced plans for its Innovation Campus as part of the state’s bid to lure Amazon to the D.C. metro area during the tech giant's headline-grabbing quasi-search for a home for H2Q.
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Extremely Online

Op-Ed: Coronavirus might give us the internet we’ve always wanted
There was a time when the internet, then new, and untested, was widely welcomed as a revolutionary technology that promised to alleviate—even fix—many of the evils then affecting late modern societies. That brief, juvenile spell was followed by almost 20 years of remorse and misgivings: from the early 2000s to this past month the internet, now ubiquitous and inevitable, has been seen by many with mistrust and suspicion. This is now changing again for obvious, contingent reasons. In just a single generation, our perception of the new electronic technologies of information and communication has already gone through two sudden and violent reversals of judgment. The second U-turn started a few weeks ago, and, albeit due to the coronavirus pandemic, it does not yet have a name. The first U-turn, which started in March 2000—20 years earlier almost to the day—is in the history books. It is known as the dot-com crash. For the benefit of younger readers, who will not remember it, here follows a brief recap of that momentous story. Around the mid-1990s, many started to claim that digital technologies were about to change the world—and to change it for the better. Architects and designers were enthralled by the creative potentials of the new digital tools for design and fabrication; digital mass-customization (the mass-production of variations at no extra cost, as advocated by Greg Lynn and Bernard Cache, among others) promised a complete reversal of the technical logic of industrial modernity. At the same time, sociologists and town planners were trying to make sense of a new information technology with the potential to upend all known patterns of use of urban space, and of cities in general: the internet was still a relatively new concept (many still called it "the information superhighway" or the "infobahn"), yet some started to point out that, with the rise of the internet, many human activities were inevitably poised to migrate from physical space to what was then called "cyberspace" (i.e., again, the internet): Amazon sold its first book in the spring of 1995. In the years that followed every company with a dot and a "com" in its name, as per its URL, seemed destined for the brightest future. So was the internet in general, and with it, many then thought, the world economy. As the late William Mitchell pointed out in his seminal City of Bits (1995), many things we used to do in physical space can now be more easily and more efficiently done electronically: think of e-commerce, e-learning, e-working (or remote working, or telecommuting), etc. One proverb frequently cited at the time went: for every megabyte of memory you install on your hard disk, one square foot of retail space downtown will disappear. Strange as it may seem today, everyone at the time thought that was a splendid idea. The valuation of all dot-com companies (companies doing business on the internet, or just saying they would do so at some point) soared. Between January 1995 and March 2000 the NASDAQ composite index, where many of these young companies were quoted, rose by almost 600 percent. As the then-chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, Alan Greenspan, famously said, that extraordinary surge was not all due to "irrational exuberance": valuations were rising because the internet made our work, in general, more productive, and many things easier to find, buy, or sell, hence cheaper. Thanks to the internet, we were told, we were all doing more with less: more work, more reading, more teaching, more learning, more researching, more interacting, more dating—you name it. The electronic transmission of data costs so much less than mechanical transportation of persons and goods: think of the advantage of reading a scholarly article from your office—or from your couch!—without having to travel to a faraway library. What’s more, the elimination of the mechanical transportation of persons and goods could be environmentally-friendly (or, as we would say today, would reduce our "carbon footprint"). If all that seemed too good to be true, it’s because it was. The NASDAQ peaked on March 10, 2000. It lost 80 percent of its value in the 18 months that followed. That was the dot-com crash, aka the burst of the internet bubble. Many tech companies disappeared; Amazon barely survived, after losing 88 percent of its market capitalization. The NASDAQ itself took 15 years to crawl back to its peak valuation of March 2000. In the contrite climate of those post-crash years (which were also the post 9/11 years) few still saw the internet as a benevolent, or even a promising, technology. The anti-internet backlash was swift and predictable. As many had warned from the start, technology should not replace human contact; there can be no community without physical proximity. Ideologues and philosophers from various quarters soon chimed in, fueling the anti-technological spirit of the time. Christian phenomenologists, for example, had long held that the elision of human dialogue started with the invention of alphabetic writing: if we write, we use technology to transmit our voice in the absence of our body. For those sharing this worldview, disembodiment is the original sin of all media technologies: after that first and ancestral lapse into the abyss of mediated communication, things could only go from bad to worse; the internet is just more of the same. A few years into the new millennium social media reinvented the internet; in recent times we have learned to fear the media companies' intrusion on our privacy. Furthermore, by abolishing all traditional tools for thoughtful moderation, and giving unmediated voice to so many dissenters, outliers, and misfits, the internet has been seen by many as the primary technical cause of the rise of populism. (That may as well be true, regrettably, although I suspect that if I had been a Roman Catholic cleric around 1540 I would have said the same of the use of the new barbaric technology of print by the likes of John Calvin or Martin Luther.) I write this while self-isolating in my London apartment, like hundreds of millions of Europeans, contemplating the unfolding of an unspeakable man-made catastrophe, created by human error and compounded by political cynicism, criminal calculations, and incompetence. The internet is, literally, my lifeline. It is all I have. I wish I could use it to replace my errands to the grocery store and to the pharmacy—but, as everyone is doing that, Amazon deliveries are now few and far between. Two weeks ago I started to use the internet to improvise classes, tutorials, and meetings, for my students in London and elsewhere. I wish I had started practicing a bit earlier—say, in 1994, following the example of a handful of pioneers like Mark Taylor, then at Williams College. I must also use the internet to read the papers, to keep paying my bills, and to carry out my duties in the schools where I teach. I use it to see family and friends. I may even restart using Facebook, which I jettisoned some 12 years ago (and my reasons for doing so back then are likely still posted on my Facebook page). From my living-room windows I used to see, in the distance, the uninterrupted flow of airplanes gliding into Heathrow, evenly spaced, three or four minutes from one another. I could still see a handful today, oddly—I wonder where from, and who for. Only a few months ago Greta Thunberg still incited us, by words and deeds, to flight shaming; she can rest now—she has won her battle big way, albeit not in any way she would have chosen. It appears that as the carbon-heavy economy of the industrial age (or the Anthropocene) has almost entirely stopped, we may have already staved off the global warming catastrophe—or at least postponed it. Only a few months ago some climate activists were more or less openly advocating the elimination of part of the human population as the only fix to save the planet: well, there you go. Meanwhile, something we have already learned is that internet viruses are less lethal than real ones. The coronavirus traveled by plane, boat, and rail. It was born and bred as a pure product of the industrial age. If a few months back, when this all started, we had already been using more internet, and flying less (as we are doing now, by necessity not by choice), many lives would have been saved, because the virus would have had fewer conduits for spreading. So perhaps, in retrospect, this is exactly what we should have been doing all along. Sooner or later schools, offices, cafes, restaurants, stores, and cities will reopen, somehow. When that happens, we shall be so starved for the human contact we lost, and missed, during our quarantines that my guess is the use of the internet will plunge—at least for a while. But at that point we shall also have learned that the traditional way of working—the mechanical, "anthropocenic" way of working—is no longer the only one. We shall have had evidence that in many cases viable electronic alternatives to the mechanical transportation of persons and goods do exist, and—when used with due precautions, and within reasonable limits—they can work pretty well. Remote working can already effectively replace plenty of face time, thus making plenty of human travel unnecessary: the alternative to air travel is not sailing boat travel; it’s the internet. Service work and blue-collar work cannot yet be despatialized as effectively as white-collar work, but that’s not too far away in the future either; automated logistics, fulfillment, and fully automated robotic fabrication are already current in some industries. Robotic factories are mostly immune to economies of scale, and they can be located closer to their markets, thus reducing the global transportation of mass-produced goods and components. Anecdotally, but meaningfully, I know that some among my friends and colleagues, like Manuel Jimenez Garcia at the Bartlett, or Jenny Sabin at Cornell, have already converted their 3D printers and robotic arms to produce protective equipment for medics and hospital workers—on-site, on specs, and on-demand. Because this is indeed the point; this is what robotic fabrication was always meant to do: where needed, when needed, as needed. The same robotic arm that made a Zaha Hadid flatware set last week can make face shields for medical staff today—10 miles from a hospital in need. No airport needed for delivery. During the Second World war, the brutality of the war effort had the side effect of revealing the effectiveness of modern technologies. Many who had resisted modernism in architecture and design before the war got used to it during the war, out of necessity; then adopted and embraced modernism out of choice, and without cultural reservations, as soon as the war was over. Likewise, the coronavirus crisis may now show that many cultural and ideological reservations against the rise of post-industrial digital technologies were not based on fact, nor on the common good, but on prejudice or self-interest. From the start of the coronavirus crisis to March 23 the Dow Jones Industrial Index lost one-third of its value; the tech-heavy NASDAQ, one quarter; Amazon lost nothing; and Zoom Video, the company making and selling the tool many of us use for online teaching, was up almost 140 percent. That was before the U.S. government and the U.S. Federal Reserve stepped in with a number of stimulus measures, which reflated all valuations indifferently; at the time of this writing, April 1, Zoom Video was still up about 100 percent. This looks a bit like the dot-com crash of twenty years ago in reverse. Perhaps, as many thought and said in the 1990s, and up to March 2000, the internet is not such a bad thing after all. Mario Carpo is the Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett, UCL, London. His latest monograph, The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligencewas recently published by the MIT Press.
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Corona Column

How architecture is exacerbating the coronavirus crisis for minorities and Black Americans
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. The previous edition of the column can be found here.  While the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the entire country, it is hitting certain populations harder than others, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American people. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the CDC released its first national data tracking race among COVID-19 patients, which showed that in March, “the percentage of Black [hospitalized COVID-19] patients (33 percent) was much higher than the percentage of African-Americans in the population as a whole.” Local data from cities and states tracking race among COVID-19 patients showed that the health disparity is even worse in certain areas: In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are Black, though only a third of that state’s population is; “African-Americans account for…72 percent of virus-related fatalities in Chicago, even though they make up a little less than a third of the population,” according to the Times; the virus has killed more people in the Navajo nation than in the much larger state of New Mexico; and, as of Thursday, all the people who have died in St. Louis so far from COVID-19 complications have been Black Why is this the case? The answer could have something to do with architecture, particularly housing. According to public health experts, while other factors, like implicit bias in healthcare and higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, certainly play a role in the racial coronavirus disparities, crowded housing in low-income neighborhoods could be facilitating the spread of the disease and increasing “weathering,” or the wear and tear of environmental stresses on the body, which increases the severity of coronavirus cases. Urban design inequities also almost certainly play a role in transmission—even with social distancing rules in full effect, subway stations in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx in New York City are packed with commuting essential workers. “COVID-19 has been a magnifying glass on the weaknesses in our systems,” said Kimberly Dowdell, principal at HOK and president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA). Though racialized housing disparities are nothing new, the stark death toll of the pandemic is harshly illustrating those disparities’ effects. “There’s a saying that when America sneezes, the Black community catches a cold,” Dowdell said, pointing to an enormous wealth gap between Black and White Americans as one of the main reasons why Black people in the U.S. suffer more acutely during crises like the current one. The Brookings Institution recently reported that in 2016, the net worth of a typical white American family ($171,000) was nearly ten times greater than that of a typical Black American family ($17,150). While a variety of discriminatory policies have sowed the seeds for the current imbalance, racist urban planning has played an enormous part. Redlining, which started in the early 20th century and often continues in some form today, is a term for the once-legal practice of denying investments and bank loans to predominantly Black neighborhoods—banks would outline such areas in red on maps. The practice discouraged investment in Black-owned homes and businesses, which lost value over generations, resulting in not only a racial wealth gap but spatial disparities, as well. Many predominantly Black neighborhoods have fewer grocery stores, are closer to polluting industries, and lack high-quality affordable homes. Even after the pandemic subsides, vulnerable populations will still be at risk from the next crisis and will potentially be in even a weaker state. One answer, Dowdell said, is for communities to invest in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods to decrease the wealth gap and increase resiliency. That kind of recovery will require a mix of policy, development, and design professionals working together, ideally with teams that reflect the communities they’re serving. “Diverse teams are really important,” Dowdell said. “Architecture should reflect the communities that they serve form a racial perspective.” Dowdell pointed to Chicago, where she lives, and where Mayor Lori Lightfoot has focused on the city’s racialized spatial inequality in her mission to eliminate endemic poverty within a generation. “If there’s a team that goes into certain communities, it would be great if there were certain people who were from that community or at least have some level of familiarity with the culture and of the community,” Dowdell said. “For example, if we’re looking at the South Side of Chicago [which is over 90 percent African American], and you don't have African-African team members, that’s a missed opportunity.” Building teams that reflect underserved neighborhoods could be more difficult after the pandemic, as the economic downturn may be harder on architects who come from those areas. “I do think that Black communities are going to have a harder time recovering,” Dowdell said. “It’s going to be a challenge for everyone, but I think that given the wealth gaps, architects of color will probably struggle to get back to where they were.” As jobs, internships, and salaries decline, even if only temporarily, as a result of the pandemic, those without a cushion of family money or who financially support loved ones could have to leave the profession for greener pastures. The racial wealth gap means that Black and other minority architects may flee in greater numbers, damaging diversity in a profession that is already overwhelmingly white. As of 2019, only 2 percent of NCARB certificate holders identify as Black or African American, and less than 1 percent identify as Latino. What can architects do? Dowdell touted NOMA’s national network as a way for architects of color to support each other and find opportunities, including the group’s new NOMA Foundation Fellowship, which offers a stipend and internship for architecture students. NOMA is launching a new weekly web series, “Stay All In for NOMA,” which will help members stay informed during the pandemic. Dowdell also suggested that architects get involved with local NOMA chapters to organize and advocate for city and state planning policies that invest in underserved neighborhoods. For those already working on projects advancing social justice, NOMA is partnering with the NAACP and the SEED Network advocacy group on the Design Awards for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI), which will recognize excellence in those categories. “No matter what,” Dowdell said, “an architect can do something.”  In other corona news from this week, AN covered new hospitals and healthcare spaces deployed for the pandemic, and the AIA’s new assessment tool for adapting existing buildings into coronavirus treatment sites. The crisis continues to demand innovative thinking, and in Florida, autonomous vehicles are delivering medical supplies. For the housebound, we also highlighted many exhibitions you can check out from home, including robot-assisted gallery tours, a French show exploring AI and architecture, virtual Frank Lloyd Wright tours, and a virtual exhibit on a balmy shore. We picked some books to catch up on, too. Enjoy, and be well!
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Sunken Fare

CRÈME serves up some Bangkok street culture at New York’s latest Thai haunt
For the design of Wayla, a new eatery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood, local practice CRÈME took its cues from the lively street markets that rope across Bangkok. Jun Aizaki, the founding principal of the Brooklyn-based studio, worked with a close-knit team of restaurateurs and investors to develop this multifaceted project. His infusion of objet d'art sourced from Thailand’s famous flea markets is an ode to the bustling metropolis.  Reminiscing on the design of the space, Aizaki recalls a time before social distancing, when he conjured up a unique combination of architectural elements that encourage gathering. “It’s everything we can’t do right now.” With a limited budget, he opted to play up the tenement building’s vernacular characteristics—the deliberately visible water pipes; raw, unpainted brick walls, and monolithic concrete floors. “These elements became unwittingly part of the environment, a surprise that we intentionally emphasized to distinguish the space and tie it all together.” These motifs recur throughout as an overarching aesthetic framing a myriad of community spaces. Read the full profile on our interiors and design website,  
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Opening Up

NBBJ’s Olympic Sports Center blossoms in Hangzhou, China
Visuals of Hangzhou, Chinas, multipurpose sports center have finally been released ahead of the 2022 Asian Games. Located within China’s eastern Zhejiang province, the lotus petal-shaped structures were completed in 2018 and have hosted various events while undergoing additional interior upgrades, according to architects NBBJ. Designed by NBBJ in partnership with CCDI, the center features two circular stadiums—one large and one small—set across a 4.3-million-square-foot site and a three-story platform. The main stadium, built to Olympic-size proportions, can hold up to 80,000 people for a variety of events including football and track and field. It’s connected to the nearby 10,000-seat tennis court via a ground-level plaza, gardens, and sunken courtyards, which cover an extensive network of underground retail, restaurants, and a cinema. From the platform and sports venues, visitors glean views of downtown Hangzhou's Central Business District or the Qian Tang riverfront. After breaking ground in 2011, the construction project experienced a few setbacks, including construction delays, and was supposed to be finished as late as 2015. The architect’s complex vision, created using generative parametric scripting, involved prefabricating the petal panels that encompass the stadia exterior in an effort to optimize the use of steel and reduce waste. NBBJ claimed that connecting the steel shell and the concrete bowl of the main stadium lowered the amount of steel framework as well. The 56 total petals used on-site act as trusses for the structures.  The Olympic Sports Center isn’t the only major development coming online for the 2022 Asian Games. Construction work just began on a net-zero sports park by Archi-Tectonics, !melk Landscape Design, and Thornton Tomasetti. The 116-acre development will include a table tennis stadium, a training facility, a shopping mall, and field hockey stadium linked via a series of parks and wetlands. 
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The Future is Florida

Autonomous vehicles safely transport emergency medical supplies in Florida
Overworked and understaffed, America’s healthcare workers have had to think outside the box to receive necessary medical supplies to combat the novel coronavirus crisis while minimizing its spread. Thanks to a partnership between the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) and autonomous mobility companies Beep and NAVYA, a fleet of autonomous vehicles have recently been put to work by transporting COVID-19 test kits from a drive-through testing site to Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus in Jacksonville, Florida. Professionals on both ends of the route handle and secure medical supplies and samples on the vehicles before sending them off free of drivers and passengers. “During a time of rapid change and uncertainty, the ability to think innovatively alongside the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, NAVYA and Beep during the pandemic has strengthened all of our teams through community collaboration,” Kent Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said in a press statement. “Using artificial intelligence enables us to protect staff from exposure to this contagious virus by using cutting-edge autonomous vehicle technology and frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients.” The initiative launched on March 30, with four autonomous vehicles on routes distant from pedestrians and automobile traffic as the latest product of JTA’s Ultimate Circulator program, originally set up in 2017 to determine the feasibility of converting the Jacksonville Skyway into a network of autonomous vehicles in 2017. “Our innovative team saw this as an opportunity to use technology to respond to this crisis in Northeast Florida and increase the safety of COVID-19 testing,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford. A video presented by Mayo Clinic demonstrates the technology successfully traveling the journey between the two locations safely and on time, a task being closely monitored by members of the initiative operating from a mobile command center. According to Smart Cities Dive, around 150 tests a day are being transported using the vehicles, which could also be adapted to perform other necessary duties for Mayo Clinic deemed unsafe for human travelers. Despite the apparent success of the program, time will tell if other cities across America, most of which have not yet invested in autonomous vehicles, will want to adopt the novel method of safely transporting emergency medical supplies.
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Speaking Up

Innovation in Arkansas shouldn’t be overlooked
A powerful combination of natural resources and local initiative is pushing one southern state to the forefront of architectural innovation in the country. In Arkansas, a place that’s far from the profession’s traditional epicenters in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, big things are happening. In Bentonville, Wheeler Kearns Architects just repurposed a defunct Kraft cheese factory into The Momentary, the contemporary offshoot of the Moshe Safdie–designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Over two hundred miles south in Little Rock, Studio Gang and SCAPE Landscape Architecture are working together to renovate and extend the Arkansas Arts Center, a 104-year-old cultural institution attached to MacArthur Park. Construction on the 127,000-square-foot project broke ground last fall. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a massive research complex, the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation is slated to come online in 2022 courtesy of Grafton Architects, and last year the school finished the country’s largest mass timber building, Adohi Hall, a 202,027-square-foot dormitory designed by a team led by Leers Weinzapfel Associates. Topographically, Arkansas varies widely from its forested and rocky northwest corner to the eastern wetlands that follow the Mississippi River. Fifty-six percent of the state is covered in forestland. From the mountainous Ozarks region in the northwest to the deep-soil Delta in the southeast, the state’s diverse wood basket supplies yield high-quality forest products, along with 27,000 jobs in paper production and wood-related manufacturing. According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, some of the state’s largest employers include Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Weyerhaeuser, and WestRock Corporation, each owning at least two manufacturing facilities or more within the borders of Arkansas. The timber industry is one of the state’s biggest economic drivers. The Walton family, a.k.a. the founders of Walmart, Inc., is another. The Walton Family Foundation has made it its mission to develop high-design public buildings and community gathering spaces for the state’s Benton and Washington counties, home of Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville. Since Walmart made the latter its home base in 1971, it’s required all collaborators and retailers to set up shop in the area as well, thereby forcefully growing the population of the city year after year. The ripple effects of Walmart’s investment are already being felt around the state. While Adohi Hall might hold the title of America’s biggest mass timber building now, Gensler’s design for Walmart’s new timber-structured Home Office in nearby Bentonville will surpass it with 2.5 million square feet of mid-rise office space and amenity buildings. Canadian manufacturer Structurlam announced in December that it had bought an existing building in Conway, Arkansas, for $90 million and will retrofit it into a mass timber facility so that it can, in part, supply Walmart with the 1.1 million cubic feet of timber products needed for the project. Hardy Wentzel, CEO of Structurlam, said that latching onto a large-scale construction project at the start of a new site investment is a dream come true. “It really helped solidify our desire to move to Arkansas in our first U.S. expansion. I wanted to anchor my investment with a large contract and Walmart was the perfect opportunity.” Structurlam isn’t the only timber manufacturer expanding into the state. Texas CLT recently reopened a defunct laminating mill in the southwest city of Magnolia where it produces CLT products from southern pine and Douglas fir. Walmart, however, doesn’t compete with hardly anyone—especially in Arkansas. For the last six years since 2015, the Foundation has utilized its burgeoning Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program to get major firms working to reshape the region such as Ross Barney Architects and de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Other firms slated to do future work include Architecture Research Office, Deborah Berke Partners, MASS Design Group, Trahan Architects, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects. Last summer, LTL Architects completed an early childhood education center in Bentonville and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects was chosen to create a 50-acre cultural arts corridor in Fayetteville. The latter project will thread through downtown near the city’s recently-opened performing arts center, TheatreSquared, designed by Marvel Architects. When asked about her first impression of Arkansas and the Design Excellence Program’s work to fabricate these places with consistent new construction, Lissa So, founding partner of Marvel, said the initiative, which “seeks to preserve a sense of place by encouraging quality design of public spaces,” according its website, doesn't feel contrived. “Arkansas feels like home to me,” So told AN. “I grew up in Upstate New York and I love the close-knit community and emphasis on connecting with nature.” So sees the 50,0000-square-foot TheatreSquared—which has attracted much buzz since opening in August—as part of a cultural renaissance in Northwest Arkansas. The project embodies Fayetteville’s desire to develop its arts-related offerings and get more people interested in downtown. In 2006, it adopted a citywide master plan with zoning updates and street enhancements that enabled these goals. “Arkansas thinks of itself as the epicenter of arts between Chicago and Miami and if you look around, it feels that way,” said Jonathan Marvel, principal of Marvel Architects. “When it comes to building the city of Fayetteville itself, there’s a significant amount of attention and pride devoted to craftsmanship and ownership here.” The local design community is also rife with regional pride and uses the state’s abundant resources like timber and stone to build structures that speak to local designers’ mission-driven ambition, according to Chris Baribeau. Baribeau is the design principal and cofounder of modus studio—one of the teams behind the $79 million Adohi Hall and the university’s new corrugated aluminum Sculpture Studio. Much of the firm’s work involves designing K-12 schools for Arkansas’ rural communities, which fulfills its bent toward helping underserved populations. “There’s a real opportunity here to do something that’s meaningful,” he said. “We can prove that our approach to design and construction is actually for the betterment of people, not just about making beautiful objects or celebrating ourselves. There’s certainly a strong contingent of architects in Arkansas that believe in that ethos and work hard to make a difference here.” To many young architects like Baribeau, Marlon Blackwell is at the heart of this approach to design. Blackwell has worked in Arkansas since 1992 and is the most recent recipient of the American Institute of Architect’s highest honor, the 2020 AIA Gold Medal. If anyone has observed and influenced the changes that Arkansas has experienced in the last 30 years, it’s him. His eponymous firm’s seminal projects, such as the Keenan TowerHouse, completed in 2000, and the St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church, finished just over a decade later, shaped what became a new vernacular in Arkansas, one that’s continually broken down preconceived notions of what buildings look like in the American South. To bridge the gap of recognition that the state deserves, Blackwell, like other area firms, promotes projects from other practices and preaches about the culture of working in the region. “Many of us are standing on the shoulders of great native architects like E. Fay Jones and Warren Dennis Segraves,” he said, “but the difference between our work and theirs is that we are now taking on the public realm. There are many younger firms out there willing to fight the good fight and push progressive thinking on major civic projects. It’s a continual battle, but much of our recent success has also come from an enlightened clientele.” Whether it’s the university or the Walton family providing opportunity in Northwest Arkansas or arts organizations, the public school system, or business development districts looking to invest in the state’s southern half, projects are aplenty. As part of the architectural profession, Blackwell said, it’s his responsibility to demonstrate that every one of those opportunities deserves good design. “Our mission is to provide alternative models that change the benchmark of reality for folks here,” he added. “The more examples you can point to, the more reality is improved.” Take the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation, the focus of a design competition facilitated by the University of Arkansas. Timber is a dominant focus of study at the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, where students get to work with a cast of high-profile professors like Blackwell, who shares his passion for sustainable materials, and Stephen Luoni, who directs the award-winning University of Arkansas Community Design Center. Since Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, came to Fayetteville from St. Louis in 2014, he’s been working to deepen the school’s timber research program. A major part of this is the Timberlands Center, which will expand the university’s ability to undertake research projects, MacKeith said. The school already operates out of its longtime home Vol Walker Hall and the Marlon Blackwell Architects–designed Steven L. Anderson Design Center. “So much of what we’re doing across the school is emphasizing the relationship of thinking to making and the ambitions of our students have become larger in scale, tools, and techniques,” MacKeith said. “We’ve outgrown the capacities of what we can do in our existing building.” In mid-March, Grafton Architects, led by 2020 Pritzker Prize winners Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, won an international competition for the Timberlands Center, besting 68 other entries and five other shortlisted firms: WT/GO Architecture, Dorte Mandrup A/S, Shigeru Ban Architects, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, and Lever Architecture. The competition was partially funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. To MacKeith, the momentum that the university has built over the last five years is due in part, because Arkansas is a small state and the school’s reach of influence extends all the way to the top. “We saw an opportunity where design education could be a benefit to the state’s greatest natural resource and my approach has been to make sure that the governor, the state legislature, as well as investors, and people at companies in Arkansas, understand that we can be part of the forest ecosystem,” he said. “Generally speaking, our students are quite concerned about the world they are going to be practicing in and living in and they want to be able to act responsibly. As a public land grant university, that’s why we work so much with people outside the corners of our campus.” It’s this open-minded ambition that is pushing a distinctive architectural agenda in the state. Chris Baribeau added that there’s an undertone of respect across Arkansas for the critical thinking and people-first attitude that local architects are bringing to projects, though he acknowledged that it’s taking some work to get that same respect on a national stage. Arkansas is speaking up.
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Terreform, Berke, Wines, and more remember the late Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the second of a two-part series; the first can be read here Jie Gu, director, lead urban designer, Michael Sorkin Studio “Jie, can you wiggle these buildings and make them sexy?” “Jie, can you let me have some fun?” “Jie, I had a dream last night. I think we need to try something new.” “Jie, I will be in on Saturday, leave me something not boring.” Michael, I miss the dynamic “creatures” you directed me to model. Michael, I miss the tremendous beauty of your red-colored sketches. Michael, I miss your utopian dreams for sustainable cities. Michael, I wish I could have spent more time with you. “Jie, if I go, you must use our legacy to keep going in the direction that seems best.” These were his last words to me, and they will resonate with me forever. Makoto Okazaki, former partner, Michael Sorkin Studio Like Matsuo Bashō, the most famous haiku poet of Edo-period Japan, Michael was inspired by his many journeys. The last email I received from him—on February 5th, 2020—was about a hospital in Wuhan built in just ten days to treat those infected with COVID-19. It was located within the area where we had, in 2010, designed a masterplan, what we called Houguan Lake Ecological City. In the same email, Michael expressed his disappointment over having to cancel a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips, which took him all over the world. On one occasion, he joked to me that a secret of his happy marriage was traveling alone a lot. I took this as advice! Wherever he was, Michael would send his inspirations and sketches back to the studio in New York City. We would develop them into a design proposal—not without some miscommunication—then toss it over to him. Back and forth, until we landed on something both strange and fantastic. We were thrilled by the whole process. Michael, you’ve now left on another journey. We all miss you. Deen Sharp and Vyjayanthi Rao, co-directors, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research Michael fizzed with ideas, his energy always captivating and inspiring. You could walk into his office to talk about a book project that we at Terreform had underway and walk out with instructions to contact a dozen different people about three more. Somehow amid this frenzy of activity, Michael always managed to maintain a laser-like focus on the Terreform mission of producing research to achieve more just, beautiful, and equitable cities. Somehow in this flood of ideas and instructions, proposals and counterproposals, Michael would always get the project done and the book (it always ended in a book!) printed. Terreform was founded in 2005 as a place for connecting research, design, and critique on urgent urban questions and using that research in the public’s interest. UR (Urban Research), founded in 2015 as Terreform’s publishing imprint, was the vehicle to make ideas accessible and truly public. With Michael at the helm, both platforms produced an inordinate number of proposals, books, reports, articles, symposiums, and launches. All were self-initiated, and Michael, initiator that he was, has left all of us at Terreform with plenty more to do. Most urgent is completing his—and Terreform’s—flagship project, New York City (Steady) State. The project’s central proposition is that the city can take responsibility for its ecological footprint. With New York City as his laboratory, Michael led several designers and social scientists in formulating designs and policies that could catalyze metabolic changes to critical infrastructural systems. The aim was to achieve a “steady state” of self-sufficiency within the city’s political boundaries. Ever the contrarian, Michael turned to steady state economics—a radical approach in a world addicted to growth and wilfully blind to its toxic consequences—to fashion an equally radical political vision of cities as central units for ensuring social and ecological justice. NYC (Steady) State was conceived as a series of books focusing on food and waste systems, energy, and mobility as the four key systems drastically in need of redesigning. Just last month, Michael was making final edits to Homegrown, the first book in the series and one focusing on New York City’s food production, consumption cycles, and distribution systems. His devotion to the project was so fierce that even after being hospitalized he sent emails urging us to complete and publish the volume. Beyond New York, projects were incubating in and about practically every corner of the world, all guided by students, friends, and admirers of Michael's. Their ideas were seeded or sharpened in their encounters with Michael at Terreform's 180 Varick Street office, where practically every workday ended with a visitor dropping by to say hello, being introduced to the crew, and sharing ideas over drinks. Terreform’s research projects have taken us to many places and brokered many friendships. For instance, Terreform has a lively group of friends in Chicago hard at work on South Side Stories, a collective project that shines a light on activist groups in the South Side and their struggle to reposition the Obama Presidential Center from a magnet of gentrification to catalyst for equitable, evenly dispersed urban development. Set in another conflict zone, the Terreform/UR book Open Gaza will add to Michael’s already substantial contribution to the Palestinian struggle for social and spatial justice when it is published next month. Our research projects, along with UR’s many internationally focused book projects, are primarily vehicles for showing how critique and design can speak the same language. For Michael, Terreform’s unique mission lay in developing an interdisciplinary dialogue that could be embraced by theorists, practitioners, and activists alike, and enable them to share new ways of looking at and imagining the world. Even as it hewed close to the standards of the university, Terreform sought to democratize these forms of knowledge beyond it by creating an accessible platform to address urgent issues in a timely and nimble fashion. We know we can never fill the huge absence that Michael leaves us. We are nevertheless determined to carry on Michael’s enormous legacy, to complete the large number of projects that are already underway, and to continue the work of urban research for greater social justice, beauty, and equality in our cities. Click here to learn how you can support Terreform. UR books are available for purchase here. James Wines, artist and architect The tragic loss of Michael Sorkin, as both a dear friend and premier voice for urban design on the international architecture scene, is still impossible for me to accept. At 87, I thought I would have been long gone before this, and so never anticipated experiencing the shock and despair I am feeling right now. Michael’s work in design criticism, theory, history, and planning—particularly his efforts to shape the future of cityscapes—was inclusive and visionary; indeed, he was an indelible fixture in global thinking on these topics. He was one of those rare disciplinary figures whose voice was synonymous with the profession, so that it is impossible to think about the condition of architecture and urbanism today without Michael’s ideas as pivotal points of reference and beacons of wisdom. His absence is inconceivable. While the endless fruits of his creativity will remain in museum and university archives to nourish future generations, an enormous part of the communicative value of Michael’s work was his participation in public dialogues. In this sense, he was like a great musical performer who made wonderful recordings; but the full measure of his talents was best experienced in concert format. Michael played both the revolutionary thinker and the consummate public speaker, a performance unmatched in architecture. As friends, professional colleagues, and career-long skeptics concerning all manifestations of design orthodoxy, Michael and I had a bottomless reservoir of art and design issues to debate during our thirty-plus years of dialogue. In terms of primary emphasis, we were both committed to solutions for the public domain and how to best encourage interaction among people within cityscapes. I often used to comment, when introducing our appearances on symposia, that Michael took care of the larger issues in urban design while I followed up with solutions for the small stuff under people’s feet. As our discussions unfolded, this was invariably the scenario that played out: Michael would cover the master plans, civic strategies, economics, and infrastructure, and then I would insert ideas for the pedestrian amenities of walkways, seating, plazas, gardens, and play spaces. Whereas I could hold my own in the presentation of visual material, Michael’s verbal eloquence always stole the show. I can recall so many lectures and conferences where I would find myself so enthralled with Michael’s delivery that my own faculties failed when it came my turn to speak. He was the ultimate impossible-act-to-follow on any podium. Michael and I had that kind of nurturing friendship where we could meet in an explosion of discourse on some hot topic, or just sit quietly at dinner and experience the reinforcing comfort of saying nothing. Of all Michael’s many talents, the pinnacle was his acerbic wit, with which he skewered the pomposities of our profession and politics of the day. Not only was his trenchant humor invariably on target, it was always articulated in such a way that inspired the opposition to re-think an issue. It is especially ironic that Michael Sorkin—a major advocate of integrative cities and people interaction—passed away during a time of global pandemic, when millions of urban dwellers have retreated into protective isolation. For this reason, I want to end this tribute with a quote on his work from my 2000 book Green Architecture:
Michael Sorkin might appropriately be called a visionary with a heart. He has understood that, with the universal buzz about people living in cyberspace and communicating primarily through global wavelengths, this is already a reality and just another convenient set of tools that will soon be assimilated into the realm of routine. In this respect, computers are just like every other exotic technology that has nourished science fiction hyperbole and ended up as nostalgic curios in antique auctions. In designing for the future city, Sorkin has acknowledged that people are weary of looking at digital screens all day and sit-coms all night; so why on earth would they want their neighborhood to be another extension of virtual reality? The fact is that people need and value human interaction more than ever because of computer technology. In the Sorkin city, they walk, talk, sit on stoops, tend their gardens, and breathe cleaner air. Preserving this desirable reality is the basic goal of sustainability and the primary urban design challenge of the future.
Moshe Safdie, principal, Safdie Architects For several decades, Michael Sorkin has been a unique voice in architecture. In a period of competing schools of thoughts, transitioning from one “-ism” to another, his critical voice was clear and constant, unwavering, with a focus on the impact of architecture on peoples’ lives and well-being; on the principles that must sustain urban life. He spoke about morals, values and ethics as others reviewed architecture as an ongoing fashion parade. Michael’s commitment to the idea that architecture must be in the service of those for whom we build, led him to strip the discourse of architecture from jargon and private lingo; expressing ideas clearly and articulately to the general public. As a critic at The Village Voice, he reached many outside the profession. He became propagandist for architecture, both within the profession and to the public at large, expanding horizons of the impact of our built environment has on our planet. Michael was a great and passionate teacher. I vividly remember his attendance at design reviews at the GSD, where sometimes faculty comments verge on the esoteric. Michael responded with surgical precision, getting to the essence of a design, and doing so in plain-talk. In his practice, both in Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform, he was a prolific provocateur, embracing scales from small neighborhood parks to entire cities. The studio produced numerous proposals. Alas, not enough were realized, but the impact on the current generation is profound. It is not often that we find, in one person, an architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, critic and writer. I will miss his voice, cut-off suddenly and untimely, at a time when it is most needed. I hope that the coming generation will embrace the professional ethic his life represents. Deborah Berke, partner, Deborah Berke Partners, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture Michael Sorkin was a great critic, inspired teacher, and a brilliant thinker. And happily for me, he was my friend. We would have a drink together once or twice a year and talk about New York. From old New York to the New York we loved to the New York we missed to the New York we hoped for in the future. Michael was a searing and insightful critic, all the way back to his days at The Village Voice, as well as in his many books and in his more recent criticism for The Nation. He was also an insightful teacher—he taught at Yale twice, first in 1990 as the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport visiting professor, then in 1991 as the William Henry Bishop visiting professor. He brought these same teaching skills to his strong leadership as the director of the master of urban planning program at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College (CCNY). He was also one of the most learned and well-read people I’ve ever met. His interests were diverse and his memory was expansive. Michael argued for the greater good in every aspect of the built environment—from the smallest detail of a building to the largest gesture of a regional plan. He will be missed. His convictions, his voice, and his heart are irreplaceable. Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University I can still rerun lines in my head verbatim from some of Michael’s Village Voice pieces—especially the ones I just couldn’t stop rereading while howling with laughter. His send-up of the Charlottesville Tapes was a true classic, a teddy bear to reach for in the most desperate moments of trying to survive postmodernism. Michael was an arsonist to be sure, yet he also wanted to rebuild something of value and commitment in the place of pretension and posturing. He held out hope for all engaged in architecture to his last moments—as the bright moral light on the horizon that he was—that architecture could still be an instrument for building community. When Reinhold Martin and I looked to launch our experimental Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream project in 2011, amid the ongoing foreclosure crisis, we turned to Michael, inviting him to participate in the opening panel discussion. He offered cogent analyses of our all-too vague brief as well as suggested lines of attack for making architecture that mattered. Along the way he also offered the audience gathered at MoMA PS1 and online a very moving description of his own upbringing in Hollin Hills, Northern Virginia. Hollin Hills was a place where Americans cultivated living together, Michael said, in language that starkly contrasts with the language of intolerance that has since invaded American life, virus-like. Ironically, I think he feared this virus more than the one that took him from us. Michael left us right when we needed him most. With his lucid intelligence, sense of purpose, and biting satirical way of writing, he could cut away the flack even as he focused us on the essential. Nothing he wrote is dated, even if much of it was provoked by immediate events. To reread his pieces is to be in conversation with one of the most truly original and free-thinking minds of architecture. I can’t imagine how anyone will fill the gap, but the texts will continue to delight us and offer refreshing insights. (Think how he knew, for instance, to appreciate Breuer’s Whitney at the moment when fashionable opinion was dead-set against it.) There are many ways to spend our evenings apart at the moment. I, for one, have found a superb tonic for these dark times: pour a glass of bourbon in Michael’s memory and prop open your favorite collection of his writings. We will miss you for years and years to come, Michael. Vanessa Keith, principal, StudioTEKA Design When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.” In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect. Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone. More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her! Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of architecture and urbanism, Princeton University School of Architecture It is too soon to bid farewell to my friend and colleague Michael Sorkin, whom I knew since we were students together at MIT. The last time we saw each other, in late January, we simply hugged each other goodbye: he was due to fly to China, I to Athens. It is indeed a silent spring now that he is gone! Yet his legacy lives on. He leaves a profound and lasting impact on public awareness, on architectural practice, on political commitment! His call to action remains. Michael Sorkin was the conscience of architecture, a visionary change-maker, dedicated educator, engaged author, and imaginative designer. He never backed down from opposing points of view. Rather, he called us all to live better in the world, to mend the city of inequity and injustice. He helped us build solid relationships through his edited books, a forum he built for voices to rise up together in solidarity. He was truly the root from which sprung our dedication to a socially responsible architecture. Michael’s pen brilliantly and humorously elevated the level of architectural and urban criticism into a new art. He was always writing for a better city yet to come. His concern was how to build a city of freedom, diversity, authenticity, participation, intimacy. Let his words speak!
“For me, writing has been the extension of architecture by other means both polemically and as fuel for my money pit of a studio. I write because I am an architect.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “Architecture cries out for a reinfusion of some sense of responsibility to human program as a generative basis for both its ideology and its formal and technological practice, but gets it less and less.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “[T]he new city is little more than a swarm of urban bits jettisoning a physical view of the whole; sacrificing the idea of the city as the site of community and human connection.”—Variations on a Theme Park (1991)
He pleaded for a return to a more authentic urbanity, “a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our best expression of a desire for collectivity.” The goal was, and is, “to reclaim the city is the struggle of democracy itself.” And it is a struggle over contending voices!
“[T]he City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and propinquity./ Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and production are the reasons for the City.” —Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude (1993)
Michael’s critical writings on the politics of architecture live on, be they about the utopian schemes for the World Trade Center or the reconstruction of New Orleans, or the engagement of Palestinian and Israeli voices in the future of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He wrote about the battle for freedom, global and local responsibility, the environment, even as he addressed the milieu of architecture, making appeals for inclusion, for connectivity, for sharing, and more. In this silent spring of isolation that robs us of his voice, his pen, his friendship and humor, listen to the small murmurs arising, the tributes that come in from far and near. Witness his influence great and small. From the soil he has nourished with his commitment and action will spring forth—amid ongoing contestation—a better city. Listen to his call! This dear Michael, our Michael, is your enduring legacy.
Sharon Zukin, professor emerita of sociology, Brooklyn College and City University Graduate Center Michael Sorkin was an architect’s writer and a writer’s architect. He had a brilliant wit, a ready command of politics, history, and principles of design, and a passionate commitment to social justice. He wrote in plain English and published prolifically. He scorned hypocrisy, shunned opportunists, and acted to build a better world. Although he had peeves—venal real estate developers, corrupt politicians, celebrity architects, that tin-plated hustler Donald Trump—Michael wasn’t peevish. He could not tolerate intolerance. He was impatient with himself, but he was also a generous teacher, colleague, and friend. During all the years that I knew him (I want to write have known him), I never understood how he could travel so far, write so much, or launch so many projects with so many people and always bring them to completion. Yet his genius ranged most freely, and his rage was most keenly charged, when he wrote about ego and power in the city that he loved: New York. I admired Michael as a writer before I knew him as either an architect or a friend.  I had been a devoted reader of his architectural criticism in The Village Voice during the 1980s. At the time, New York was in transition, moving from widespread deprivation to Reaganite glamour, yuppie glitz, and localized gentrification, even as fiscal austerity penalized the Rust Belt of the outer boroughs and quarantined communities of color. Michael cut through the hype to the complicit collusion of the real estate industry and government agencies; I learned a lot from reading him. Although he and I walked the same streets—and lived in the same neighborhood, Greenwich Village—his streets were more layered than mine because he knew more, had a better eye, and directed his critiques with pinpoint clarity. Who could ever catch up with him? The elegant essays that make up the book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan—shaped by the walk from his home to his office—are my favorites in Michael’s considerable oeuvre. He starts with the stairs in the Old Law tenement where he and Joan, his wife and life-partner, lived for many years. He recounts the difficulties he has had climbing those stairs, especially on crutches after surgery, and then segues into a brief but exact description of their construction. This leads him to reflect on other, grander stairs. The long, straight flights of stairs in late-nineteenth-century industrial buildings that formed a “tectonic loft vocabulary” within the cultural syntax of New York. The elegant double staircases in the Château de Blois. The capacious stairs in the MIT dorm designed by Alvar Aalto, made wide so students would stop to talk to each other. Long before Prada stores and tech and other “creative” offices sprouted them, Michael had already taken the measure of a staircase’s possibilities. “Architecture,” Michael drops into his conversation with the reader, “is produced at the intersection of art and property.” He exhumes the grid plan from its origins in the fifth century BC and relates it to the well-known scheme for laying out potential profit-bearing plots of land throughout Manhattan. Adopted in 1811, the grid not only set New York’s major money machine in motion but also set the course for its buildings, their heights and morphologies, and, yes, the stairs inside them. Which naturally makes him consider the pitch of the treads at the pyramids in Chichen Itza, only to return, once more, to his New York brownstone. This is—was—typical of Michael in writing as in casual conversation: erudition wrapped in humor that didn’t allow pomposity. Like Jane Jacobs, whom he greatly admired, and in whose honor he founded a lecture series at the Spitzer School of Architecture, he was a citizen of both the Village and the world. Like Jacobs, too, he saw the world in the city—but he also saw the city in the world. Michael traveled constantly, giving lectures, pitching projects, taking his students on field trips to South Africa one year and to Cuba another. During his career, he wrote about many different cities. Wherever a community of architects, activists, and urban designers protested a plan, or struggled to turn back an egregious intrusion of monumentalism into a skyline or streetscape, Michael was there. You could count on him to fire broadsides, mobilize the troops, and persuade strangers to join him. A few years ago, he persuaded me and others to write a short essay for a collective book he was putting together with people in Helsinki. This group strongly opposed the city government’s plan to contract with the Guggenheim Museum, then still in its expansionist phase, to build an expensive branch on a stretch of waterfront better left for public use. With these collaborators, Michael organized an anti-competition for design ideas and made us scholars into a jury. This mobilization, echoed by the popular opposition within Helsinki, helped to sink the Guggenheim plan. (Or, at least, it forced the city council to reveal its lack of funds.) The last time I saw Michael, one month before he died, he asked me to come by his office. We talked about a Hungarian artist’s book project on luxury apartments for which we were both writing essays, dished some dirt about various cultural figures on the South Side of Chicago, and looked at the old photographs of Michael’s family on his shelves. We laughed about the double portrait of Joan and himself in front of the Taj Mahal that he had painted in Vietnam; Joan, considering it trashy, would not allow it in their home. Michael asked if I could recommend someone who could write about race and class in the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago for a book he was planning for his publishing house UR, and then asked if I would write something for yet another book he was planning, on smart cities. Although he was not in the best of health, a frailty that the virus would exploit, he still pushed forward.  He was only prevented from taking another trip—to Africa—by the emerging blockade of travel restrictions. My last email from Michael came one week later. He heard me talking about my new book on the radio and immediately sent me fan mail. This, too, was Michael: he acted on friendship. Almost twenty years ago, he and I edited a book of essays by New York urbanists where we tried to put together our abundant sorrows and critical thoughts about the World Trade Center. The words Michael wrote about the fallen Twin Towers surely apply to him. He was, in all respects, “the Everest of our urban Himalayas.”
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History, erased

Large section of Berlin Wall demolished to make way for condos
Just several short months after the 30th anniversary marking the fall of the Berlin Wall, a nearly 200-foot remaining section of the concrete blockade was razed to make way for a luxury condo development in the northeastern borough of Pankow. While not particularly touristy compared to wall remnants found in central Berlin such as the East Side Gallery, this particular stretch of graffiti-clad wall embankment, hidden away in suburban Pankow, was one of the largest surviving sections of the 96-mile-long Berlin Wall and one of the last pieces of the Hinterlandmauer, or inner wall, remaining in the once-divided German capital. As Artnet notes, the Hinterlandmauer was built in the 1970s, a decade after the main wall, as a reinforcement barrier with the Pankow section running parallel to a now-shuttered railroad line that connected Berlin to the Polish border city of Szczecin. While not protected as a historical site, Smithsonian Magazine noted that the Berlin Wall Foundation did reveal plans to preserve part of Pankow’s overlooked inner wall—which stood about 11 feet high and was erected roughly 1,600 feet from the main wall—last fall ahead of the city’s reunification anniversary celebrations. An October article published in weekly magazine Berliner Woche directly mentions the potential preservation scheme, while also noting proposed plans to turn the disused stretch of railway tracks adjacent to the inner wall into a “cycling highway.”
“Today the hinterland wall is surrounded by trees and bushes. This part of the former border security system is only known to residents and obviously a number of graffiti sprayers. The Berlin Wall Foundation and the DDR Museum are currently working to ensure that this section is maintained. The chances are pretty good because the property is already owned by the state.”
As Der Tagesspiegel reported, the Berlin Wall Foundation and other historical groups were unaware of plans to demolish the 196-foot-long section of inner wall. Upon learning the news, they were left “horrified.” “The partial demolition of the continuous piece of hinterland wall on the Dolomitenstraße is a clear loss of original wall remains,” Manfred Wichmann, a curator with the Berlin Wall Foundation, explained to German daily Der Tagesspiegel. “This was a testimony to how deeply the border regime of the GDR intervened in the everyday life of the people in East Berlin.” City officials, however, seemed largely unsympathetic to the outrage of historians and preservationists. “No protected status was determined by the monument authorities; the foundation had obviously campaigned too late to preserve it,” City Building Councilor Vollrad Kuhn told Tagesspiegel. Der Tagesspiegel also noted that just months earlier Wichmann and others had stressed the vital importance of preserving more obscure remaining sections of the wall. Sören Marotz, exhibition director of the DDR Museum, also played up how the upcoming bike path could help to meaningfully increase exposure to Pankow’s inner wall. “This shows that such historical locations and new usage concepts go well together,” he said. Wichmann noted that just under a mile-and-a-half of original Berlin Wall segments are still standing in Berlin proper and although the demolished stretch in Pankow was not part of the main wall, it was a significant loss nevertheless. “They are disappearing more and more,” said Wichmann. As noted by ABC News, a plan to demolish the famed East Gallery in 2013 to make way for a luxury high-rise development along the Spree River was “met with outrage and public protest.” Still, some segments of the East Gallery were ultimately removed.