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No Timeline Yet, Though
A James Turrell “Skyspace” pavilion will land at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The City of Philadelphia's Historical Commission approved the installation of the modern pavilion last month, paving a spot for the artist to build on an iconic rocky outcrop behind the museum. The pavilion is being built with Philadelphia-based KSK Architects and is a part of Turrell’s Skyspace series. Every Skyspace varies, but they all feature a proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling and computerized light installations that are meant to evoke meditation and contemplation.
This new pavilion will be a free-standing structure with an opening in the canopy for a framed view of the sky. A twice-daily show at sunrise and sunset with colored lights will be projected onto the underside of the canopy. There are already two other pavilions on the outcrop, and Turrell’s will be the third—a modern, 21st-century piece. It is being paid for by an anonymous donor and is only the second commission the museum has installed (the first being Sol Lewitt’s garden composition).
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the pavilion was initially denounced as an “alien spaceship” by one Historical Commission member; a National Park Service official also warned that it could ruin the iconic landscape. (The site overlooks the historic Fairmount Water Works.) After several changes, including blending the canopy more into its environment and obscuring the lights, the pavilion gained approval from both commissions.Despite initial objections, Dan McCoubrey, head of the commission’s Architectural Committee, said that “it’s a very logical place for a pavilion,” as reported in Plan Philly. “It’s a pavilion that’s contemporary in style. We have a rustic pavilion, a neoclassical pavilion, and now a wonderful contemporary pavilion.”
Inga Saffron's article in the Inquirer pointed out that while the museum did get approval from the Art and Historical Commissions, there was little public engagement process for the pavilion.
There are more than 80 Skyspace installations across the world, including Turrell's first Philadelphian one in the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House. There is no set timeline for the project yet.
FXFOWLE, !melk, ARUP
Philadelphians: How should architects revamp 30th Street Station?
$100 million pledged for Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing interstate cap and waterfront park
PORT Urbanism is positioning itself to fill a very particular niche in the world of city making. The office is neither a landscape firm nor an architecture firm alone: It approaches projects with a vision that ranges from grand scheme master plans down to design at a human scale. With the recent addition of a new partner, it now has the pedigree and experience to engage in the high-stakes projects that are so often handed to firms many times its size. More and more often those projects involve the waterfronts of postindustrial cities across the country, and with a name like PORT, the firm is not surprisingly ready for the challenge.
PORT’s new partner, Megan Born, comes to the firm from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), where she spent eight years as a designer and project manager. While at JCFO, she was lead designer on the much-anticipated Waterfront Seattle Program master plan, as well as project designer on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Hong Kong. Her expertise will complement that of PORT partner Christopher Marcinkoski, who was a senior associate at JCFO before cofounding PORT. Marcinkoski, a licensed architect and a Rome Prize Fellow, also contributed expertise in waterfront design, as he was project lead on the Qianhai Water City district of Shenzhen, China, while at JCFO. Both work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia—Born as a lecturer and Marcinkoski as an associate professor of landscape architecture and urban design.
Currently working with the ambitious young R2 developers in Chicago, PORT is in the process of envisioning the future of Goose Island. An industrial island in the middle of the Chicago River’s North Branch, Goose Island is poised to become one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods. Currently, it is completely zoned for industry, but as the surrounding neighborhoods quickly develop, the smart bet is on it becoming more programmatically diverse. PORT’s master plan takes into account the uncertainty of the island’s future while proposing improvements that will benefit whatever eventually happens there.
The island was formed by a canal that was dug to straighten out the river, a common occurrence in 19th-century Chicago. Now, however, that canal is no longer navigable. PORT imagines that this wet, and currently polluted, stretch of water can become an integral and unique part of the river’s rehabilitation into a recreational corridor. It is clear that it is only a matter of time before this prime location, just minutes outside of the downtown, will be more than a sleepy maze of shuttered warehouses and factories. PORT and R2 plan to be there to guide the way.
“Some of the largest attributes of water and waterfronts are their scale and connectivity,” explained Andrew Moddrell, partner and cofounder of PORT. “You always have this edge that you can’t completely occupy: the water. If you can connect the parcels along this edge, you’ll be able to set up the means of an accessibility that is uninterrupted and that unlocks new territories of the city. Previously all of these places were productive industrially by maximizing this connectivity. Now they are ripe again to be reconnected.”
Though PORT may be making a name for itself with waterscape projects, what defines the practice is its particular approach. Whether a waterfront, and urban park, or a former industrial district, PORT is not interested in simply drawing large arrows on maps and saying how great it would be to have a bike share program in the area. Instead, it does the math, talks to the stakeholders, and designs a way to achieve their vision, down to the individual’s experience. This separates them from other landscape firms that might only focus on the space around the buildings, as well as from the urban planner who so often provides bullet point guidance without a true design component. Add in the fact that two of the partners are licensed architects, and the firm’s thorough approach begins to make sense. There are few firms that are able, or willing, to take on the complex types of projects that PORT has made its bread and butter.
This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.
Building for Community
Francis Kéré’s diverse work featured at Philadelphia Museum of Art
Berlin-based, Burkina Faso–born Diebedo Francis Kéré is far from a typical architect, and his current one-man exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on display through September 25, is also far from typical.
Kéré, 51, was born in Gando, an agricultural village in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, which has one of the world’s poorest and least educated populations. The first son of the tribal head of Gando, he was the only child in his village permitted to attend school, which he did in Burkina Faso’s second largest city, not far from Gando. He apprenticed to a carpenter there and in 1985 received a scholarship for a training program in Germany. After taking night classes in Berlin to earn his high school diploma, he studied architecture at the Technische Universitate and established his architecture practice there in 2005.
One of his earliest projects—which won him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 and a prominent role in MoMA’s 2010 exhibition, Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement—is the 1999–2001 primary school he designed for Gando, which illustrates the cover of MoMA’s exhibition catalogue. It consists of three detached, rectangular classrooms, constructed of adobe and cement bricks, hand-made by locals; the school is covered with a corrugated metal roof and a dry-stacked ceiling of clay bricks that lets hot air escape from the classroom interiors.
According to the MoMA catalogue—which describes the construction of the school as “truly a community endeavor”—some Gando workers who built the school subsequently became skilled laborers on other projects, while local families’ interest in the school skyrocketed, with the enrollment of children who previously did not attend school from surrounding villages.
Kéré’s work in Gando continues. It’s illustrated in the Philadelphia exhibition with photographs, and actual building materials and tools, such as clay and wood samples, machine-pressed and hand-formed bricks, and laterite stones. He has designed teachers’ housing and an extension of the primary school, both complete, while a primary school library and a center for sustainable construction technologies and research are under construction.
Tall kiosks throughout the exhibition feature photographs of Kéré’s past, present, and future projects in Africa, including the Center for Earth Architecture in Mopti, Mali, and the Obama Legacy Campus in Kogelo, Kenya, birthplace of President Barack Obama’s father, as well as his work in Europe and the United States. The former includes a Camper pop-up store at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany; an installation at this year’s Fuorisalone in Milan inspired by the social and spatial dynamics of a typical African village; and the repurposing of former military barracks in Mannheim, Germany, into a hub for local engineering industries, now under development. His only U.S. project so far is the Place for Gathering, a “seating terrain” of locally-sourced wood that was designed for visitors from around the world attending the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Also unusual in the Philadelphia exhibition is the subject matter and presentation of three videos, all shot in Africa and never displayed before. One video about a recently built school in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, depicts many stages of the project, all performed by locals without the use of heavy machinery. Seating here is provided by chairs made in Philadelphia, using the same materials (steel rebar and plywood) and design as Kéré’s chairs for Burkina Faso schools. Another video, which depicts overhead enclosures—including tree canopies, traditional thatch, and modern roofs made of steel trusses—was shot skyward and is shown on a large monitor hanging from the ceiling; a viewing platform below encourages visitors to lie back and observe. The third video, projected from the ceiling directly onto the floor below, explores the concept of shadow, whether in a classroom with chalkboards and desks, or under a baobab tree, and how shadows facilitate learning. One can walk into the projection, literally stepping into the gathering place.
Visitors pass the final part of the exhibition, a site-specific installation called Colorscape, as they enter the exhibition’s primary gallery, Suspended from the museum’s ceiling are steel frames threaded with hundreds of pieces of Philadelphia-made lightweight cord in many different colors. The rectilinear layout of the frames represents the formally-planned grid of William Penn’s Philadelphia, while the paths and spaces carved from the mass of strings represent the organic grid of Gando.
Those passing through the variously colored elements also can hear the Sounds of the Village, audio recorded in both Burkina Faso and Philadelphia, the former including sounds of the wind, birds, and chickens, the latter sounds of local streets and a Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. Just as Kéré enlists local people to work on his projects in Africa, Philadelphians—including University of Pennsylvania architecture students, museum staff, volunteers, and visitors—helped construct this installation.
In Gando and other agrarian societies, children learn from their elders, who teach them orally; they also learn by doing. Similarly, since he started his practice, Kéré has aimed to communicate design and architecture simply and directly, to be understood by African laborers not educated in reading sophisticated plans or architectural drawings, as well as by children. All these concepts inform the Philadelphia exhibition, stimulating thought and visual pleasure.The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building for Community runs through September 25, 2016. For more on the exhibit, visit here.
University City, a neighborhood in central Philadelphia, on the Schuylkill River, is in for some major changes in the coming decades, thanks to a new redevelopment initiative from Amtrak with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), BrandywineRealty Trust, and Drexel University. 30th Street Station will be the center point of the overhaul, which is part of a vision to build a dense urban neighborhood over a rail yard along the river.
The redevelopment site consists of a total of 175 acres in University City, 88 of which are occupied by the rail yard. The report and renderings released in the 30th Street Station District Plan are the culmination of a two-year study of the site, which extends east of Drexel’s campus, between Walnut and Spring Garden streets, and northeast from 30th Street Station.
The ambitious plan will be put into place over the course of 35 years, starting with capping off the existing Amtrak rail yard to accommodate a proposed 10 million square feet of development. The area will see a total of 18 million square feet of new development and will include housing for ten thousand residents. It will also offer 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to an individual corporate or institutional tenant.
Currently, 30th Street Station serves as one of the central hubs for Amtrak trains on the East Coast and is also a stop on the SEPTA Regional Rail line. The station building, along with the rail yard, is owned by Amtrak and was last renovated in 1991. One prominent feature of the station is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial, a 28-foot bronze sculpture of Michael the archangel.
The project is expected to cost $6.5 billion, with $2 billion going to infrastructure investments and the other $4.5 billion to private investment. Among the infrastructure improvements may be the relocation of a ramp for the Schuylkill Expressway in favor of an intercity bus terminal. A new pedestrian plaza will surround the existing train station.
Preliminary renderings put emphasis on expanding parks and public spaces, as well as adding high-rise commercial and residential buildings to the area. According to the official report released by the district, an opportunity exists for the plaza around the station to become a “central civic space,” akin to the one at city hall. The station saw 11 million passengers last year, and the district expects ridership to double by 2040, following Amtrak and SEPTA improvements. The development counts on this ridership to anchor growth around the station.
The name University City was coined as a marketing tactic, in the 1950s, as part of a gentrification effort, to encourage faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and, to a lesser degree, Drexel University to move there.
This redevelopment isn’t the first sign of growth for the neighborhood. Much of University City is a designated “Keystone Innovation Zone,” a program started by the state of Pennsylvania to encourage start-up companies to populate Philadelphia. The program offers tax breaks of up to $100,000 annually for businesses younger than eight years old operating in the Innovation Zone. New companies in the science and research fields are also drawn to the incubator at the University City Science Center, which is in the process of a major expansion. According to a recent report, firms that were incubated at the Science Center bring $12.9 billion to the Greater Philadelphia economy each year.
Amtrak’s first steps are expected to be finalizing the design of the pedestrian plaza and receiving permission from PennDOT to relocate the highway ramp. More detail on the plan can be found here.
Make No Small Plans
Inside the diverse practice of Chicago- and Philadelphia-based PORT Urbanism
It is sometimes difficult for people who encounter PORT Urbanism’s work to know whether the projects are hypothetical or practical urban proposals. Despite this confusion, PORT would tell you that all of its work is practical, if not sometimes fantastic.
With small offices in Chicago and Philadelphia, PORT Urbanism fits into a niche of designers that are not typical urban planners and not strictly architects. As its name would suggest, it works at the urban scale, engaging with city governments and large-scale developers to envision near and far futures for public spaces.
AN visited the firm’s Chicago office, which seats four in a small space on the ninth floor of the Burnham and Root–designed Monadnock Building. The office walls are plastered, floor to ceiling, in bright renderings, small models, site photos, and marker-laden site maps. Partner Andrew Moddrell and two employees make up the Chicago office, while the Philadelphia office is comprised of partner Christopher Marcinkoski and one other employee. Moddrell and Marcinkoski started PORT in 2012. With the support of academic positions at the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, they were able to practice on their own terms.
Despite PORT’s small size, it is no stranger to large and complex projects. After being chosen from a request for proposal for a Denver park design with Denver-based Independent Architecture, a NIMBY battle ensued. The project was eventually moved and redesigned for a new park in a neighborhood with a community that appreciated the project. PORT is now moving forward through design development with an improved plan.
Presented at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Big Shift envisioned adding a new coastline and additional land east of Millennium and Grant Parks in downtown Chicago. While dismissed by many as too far-fetched, the project struck a chord with critics and the public. “If we had proposed putting an island in Lake Michigan, then nobody would have cared,” Moddrell said. “But when we ground it in the precision of an infrastructural hierarchy and proposed repositioning of Lake Shore Drive, extending boulevards, and turning Grant Park into a Central Park, and pitch it with a straight face, it is not just architects screwing around for other architects.” Moddrell stands by the idea, however grandiose, as a serious, though speculative proposal.
Carbon T.A.P. (Tunnel Algae Park) New York, New York
Winner of the WPA 2.0 competition, the Carbon T.A.P. envisions a carbon-harvesting algae park attached to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The speculative project proposes to use carbon dioxide released by cars passing through the tunnel to feed algae that can be used to produce oxygen, biofuels, bioplastics, nutraceuticals, and agricultural feeds. Linked to the algae production is a large-scale public space in the form of a swinging bridge. Part of the rationale behind the project is that with the introduction of an innovative industrial infrastructural typology—carbon-reducing algae farms—a new civic infrastructural typology can be realized.
The Big Shift Chicago, Illinois
The Big Shift was originally conceived as an entry to the Art Institute of Chicago’s show Chicagoisms. It was developed further for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. The Big Shift proposes to move Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive east and add hundreds of new acres of land in order to expand the city’s downtown and produce hundreds of new acres of park along the lake. Making no small reference to Chicago’s history of reconfiguring its lakeshore, which was mostly fabricated after the 1871 fire, the Big Shift aims to produce trillions of dollars of new real estate. Despite its large upfront infrastructural costs, the plan highlights the advantages of a lakeside park that is three times the size of the current park and of 30 new city blocks of tax-paying, job-producing real estate.
City Loop Denver, Colorado
City Loop is a $5 million public park planned for the City of Denver. Comprised of a continuous ribbon of program and activity space, the Loop is designed to encourage healthy lifestyles and active play. A series of tubes, colorful paths, and diverse activity pods stretch over the half-mile loop, providing for every age group and taste. Along with physical health, the park aims to promote social and cultural well-being as a civic and community space. The full team working on the project is PORT, Denver-based Indie Architecture, Indianapolis-based Latitude 39, Boulder, Colorado–based engineers Studio NYL, Denver-based metal fabricators JunoWorks, athletics consultant Loren Landow, and Tulsa, Oklahoma–based contractors Site Masters Inc.
Goose Island 2025 Chicago, Illinois
In an ongoing collaboration with Chicago developers R2, PORT’s Goose Island 2025 addresses the large industrial Goose Island on the near North Side of Chicago. A planned manufacturing district, Goose Island is now in the middle of a quickly developing part of the city. The island itself, though, has seen little development due to its designation as a planned manufacturing district and the city’s lack of an overall vision. R2 and PORT’s plan looks at the possibilities of the island as it continues as a place of industry, as well as anticipates a future in which some of its land may become available for other programs.
Saving the Saucer
Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Welcome Center undergoes a retrofit
With its limited financial resources, Philadelphia can’t save all the buildings in the city that deserve protection. But one structure that city officials are preserving is the 1960 Fairmount Park Welcome Center at JFK Plaza/LOVE Park, a round pavilion that locals have dubbed the “saucer” due to its Jetson-like qualities.
Designed by Roy Larson of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson, the building renovation is part of a $16.5 million upgrade to LOVE Park, at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and North 15th Street, well known for its Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. The work is being described as a retrofit rather than a pure restoration.
Local firm KieranTimberlake will head the Welcome Center upgrade and prepare the building for use as both a visitor center and setting for a food and beverage operation. Hargreaves Associates is the landscape architect leading the park makeover, slated for completion by spring 2017, and Pentagram is the graphic designer.
The Welcome Center is getting energy-efficient glazing, a green roof, upgraded systems, and improvements to make it more accessible to the disabled. As part of the project, Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy commissioned Chromoscope, a ceiling mural by husband and wife artists Tom Drugan and Laura Haddad of Seattle, under its “percent for art” program.
According to the artists, who are working with local lighting design firm The Lighting Practice, the ceiling mural is made with aluminum panels printed in saturated colors with archival ink. The image is composed of distinct patterns in separate colors, layered and blended to create an abstract pattern. In daylight, all of the layered images will be visible at once, resulting in an abstract pattern.
At night, red, green, and blue LED lights will transition through a variety of hues, durations, and sequences on the mural. The timing, speed, and type of color fades can be composed to create a variety of effects for different times and events. As the light color changes, the imagery changes, resulting in a kinetic optical effect that appears to animate the structure itself.
“The art reinstates the pavilion’s original lighting concept as a ‘lantern,’ but will be visually dynamic and compelling at all times,” the artists said. “From a distance, the dynamic pattern will embody the motion and modernist power of the original Welcome Center, which was conceived as an emblem of futurist ambition.”