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What is a facade?

Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas contemplate the emotions behind architecture at Facades+ New York
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As two of the foremost contemporary Italian architects, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas know a thing or two about the trends reshaping international architecture today. As the day-one morning keynote speakers at AN’s Facades+ New York conference on April 4, the veteran design duo spoke about their four decades of experience creating boundary-breaking projects across the globe, why the right materials help evoke positive emotions in their buildings, and why they reject the term “facade.” Over 500 AEC practitioners gathered inside the Metropolitan Pavilion to hear the Fuksases, founders of Studio Fuksas, present the details behind 20 structures that for them, define the firm’s design sensibilities and best demonstrate its vast portfolio of building typologies and structural forms. “What is a facade for us?” Massimiliano Fuksas asked the crowd. “We don’t like the name ‘facade.’ We’ve never done a facade in our lives, much less just a plan.” Fuksas explained that a building’s exterior is simply something that the architect discovers as the project concept develops with the design. He said a piece of architecture is like a sculpture that is drawn from a mass and is formed through research, trial, and error until a final work of art is realized. To Massimiliano Fuksas, the end result is something mysterious. One thing that the architects do aim to have control over is emotion. In the case of Studio Fuksas’s projects located in dense urban environments, such as the 2010 Admirant Entrance Building in the Netherlands or the 2010 Rome-EUR Convention Center, the light and surrounding contexts reflected through the glass curtain walls project a happy tone for visitors both outside and inside the buildings. They expose the buildings’ skeletal envelopes, which allow people to clearly see the structures’ raw materials. “For the convention center, we built a container using a steel structure and a double glass facade that encloses the cloud, which you can see from the outside,” said Massimiliano. Studio Fuksas’s 2009 St. Paolo Parish Complex in Foligno, Italy, though a concrete cube, still utilizes light through unique cutouts that don’t fully brighten the entire interior, but instead create a thoughtful, soft environment for reflection. Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas noted that the facade of the chapel is sliced at the bottom with a glass entrance. A visitor’s gaze moves from one side to the other side of the building in an effort to understand the windows across the various faces. Prior to designing the church in Central Italy, the Fuksases completed the massive, New Milan Trade Fair of Rho-Pero, which features pavilions of glass and mirrored stainless steel. The "veil," an undulating spinal column that covers 505,000 square feet atop the elongated building, is reminiscent of natural landscapes like waves, dunes, and hills. “Here we used a different kind of facade on the central axis,” said Massimiliano Fuksas. “When you pass through the stainless steel parts of the building to the glass, you feel happy. This is like sunshine.”   One of the most important components of Studio Fuksas’s work is sustainability. Details are designed to boost energy savings and reduce carbon emissions throughout buildings' lifetimes. Of course, this is a key aspect of designing advanced facades, and one that all of the Facades+ New York speakers showcased through their work. The Gensler team behind the recently completed renovation of Manhattan’s Ford Foundation building, along with Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers, spoke about how to best maintain and improve the envelopes of mid-century icons. Representatives from Columbia University, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Permasteelisa Group discussed the newest additions to the university’s Manhattanville campus, all which have vitreous skins. Toshiko Mori, who gave the day-one afternoon keynote speech, challenged the crowd by expanding the topic of facades to the greater building envelope and the importance of the fifth facade, the roof. All these exterior elements, she explained, have a monumental impact on the performance and identity of a piece of architecture. Other symposium talks featured experts in net-zero building enclosures, climate responsive facades, and the changing international regulations in envelope construction. Juergen Riehm, founding principal of 1100 Architect, served as the co-chair of Facades+ New York and moderator for every panel.
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Going Up, Way Up

Western Europe's tallest tower could have sheep grazing at its base
A 1050-foot-tall tower reminiscent of New York’s 432 Park could be Western Europe’s next tallest (occupiable) building—and it could be dropped into a rural Danish village of 7,000 people. The decision to build Bestseller Tower in Brande, where the building would be visible from 37 miles away in every direction, may seem counterintuitive at first—but Brande is also where the international fast-fashion company Bestseller is headquartered. To boot, it’s also the hometown of Bestseller’s founder and Denmark’s richest man, Anders Holch Povlsen. Danish firm Dorte Mandrup, no stranger to landmark projects throughout Europe, is the designer behind Bestseller Tower and has chosen a strong grid facade, as opposed to a more delicate glass curtain wall that could have disappeared into the surrounding countryside. The building will contain offices for the fashion company, a hotel, and conference spaces, while a “village” of glassy, greenery-topped retail pavilions at the tower’s base are expected to display Bestseller’s numerous clothing brands. Although Bestseller Tower will top out at over 1,000 feet, rivaling the Eiffel Tower, as planned it will only be 45 stories. Assuming the building won’t be using construction tricks such as including height-boosting mechanical voids, that means each floor will reach a whopping 23-feet-tall on average. Surprisingly, the tower isn’t facing much opposition in Brande, at least on the surface. The town council voted to approve the project last month and construction will begin this year, putting the tower on track to meet a 2023 opening. “The project has not raised any concerns or resistance from any of our municipal council board members,” said mayor of Ikast-Brande, Ib Lauritsen, when speaking to Danish broadcaster DR. “It will undoubtedly be of the greatest significance for the city of Brande, but I do not doubt it will affect the whole of Central Jutland.” That approval is likely why the project is back in the news cycle, as plans were originally unveiled back in 2017.
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Is There A Chance The Track Will Bend?

Canada hops on the Hyperloop train with Montreal-to-Toronto study
Hyperloop routes are spreading all over the world, at least theoretically. The government of Canada is the latest to get on board, as Transport Canada, the national transportation agency, put out a request for proposals (RFP) on March 26 to study the feasibility of building such a system to connect Montreal to Toronto. While no Hyperloop systems have been built yet, despite an endless string of competitions and proposals, the benefits are enticing enough that state and country governments are constantly studying the idea. By digging or elevating sealed, airless tunnels and propelling pods along on electric “skates,” hyperloop systems could hypothetically transport passengers or cargo at over 600 miles per hour. Those kinds of speeds would allow passengers to travel from Toronto to Montreal in only 39 minutes, or Toronto to Vancouver in only three hours. The system promises to be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than high-speed rail or the magnetically-levitated trains found across Asia. To better understand whether the technology can scale, the government is judging proposals on the following criteria:
  • The hyperloop concept can be transformed into a viable technology that is safe for passengers and the communities where the tubes traverse
  • The hyperloop technology cost is comparable or is significantly more affordable than conventional high-speed rail systems or developing maglev technologies
The deadline for proposals is May 10, and Transport Canada hopes to aggregate as much existing hyperloop literature as it can while receiving answers to its pressing engineering and economic concerns. Questions about the potential projects abound. For instance, are hyperloop pods intrinsically limited to carrying 28-to-40 passengers? If a train breaks down in a pressurized, no-oxygen environment, or if the power goes out, will the pods’ life support systems be able to operate on battery power long enough for the train to reach the next station? Will trains running in urban areas be forced to travel at lower speeds? Why would this system cost less than its competitors, if there's no real-world data to go on? Other than these important questions, the authority is also looking to examine whether the technology can be adapted for freight transport, and what sort of regulatory oversight would be required to manage a Hyperloop system.
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The Architect-Developer

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

Jamaica unveils winning design for its new Houses of Parliament in Kingston
Jamaica’s new Houses of Parliament will be designed by a team led by local architect Evan Williams of Design Collaborative. The group beat out 23 other teams, including ones with Adjaye Associates and Adrian Smith, in an international competition. "Out of Many One People," the name of the winning proposal, will be constructed in Kingston’s National Heroes Park. The team submitted a circular, monumental design reminiscent of a stadium. It features diagonal bracing on the exterior and includes surrounding landscaped areas for sports and cultural activities. Set within an 11.4-acre piece of parkland, the project is part of a master plan to redevelop downtown Kingston. Jamaica launched the competition last May to find an architect to design the 160,000-square-foot building that will house both the legislative and executive branches of government. Gordon Gill, a partner in Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and a native of Jamaica, served as the competition patron. To enter the race, there was one strict but unique rule: Eligible teams had to be led by a citizen of Jamaica, residing locally or abroad, who is also a registered and licensed Jamaican architect and capable of being the project’s architect of record. The teams also had to contain “at least 50 percent Jamaican citizens or persons of Jamaican heritage.” Twenty-four teams entered, including groups from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Turkey, Serbia, Iran, Trinidad, and Guyana. Five finalists were selected last fall, but “Out of Many, One People” won out. The jury called it a “grand and heroic gesture.” The entry was a collaboration between architect of record Evan Williams of Design Collaborative Architects and Town Planners, lead designer Damian Hines of Houston-based firm Hines Architecture + Design, as well as Christopher Bent and Gregory Lake. Their submission was also selected as the People's Choice winner.  The competition organizers, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) hope the government will line up funding in time to begin construction in 2021. Other finalists are listed below. View their submissions here.  Second place: "The Grand Verandah"  Team leader: Ravi Sittol of Atelier-Vidal Ltd. of Jamaica. Team: Atelier-Vidal Ltd./Adjaye Associates, including Vidal Dowding and David Adjaye. Third place: "Ubuntu" (“I am because we are”) Team leader: Damian Edmond of Form Architects in Kingston and Trinidad, West Indies. The team included Edmond and Franz-Joseph Repole. Fourth place: "National Flower" Team leader: Stephen Facey, chairman and CEO of PanJam Investment Ltd. and Jamaica Property Company Ltd. Team: Facey, Hugh Dutton, Laura Facey Cooper, Jenna Blackwood, and Patricia Green. Fifth place: "A National Veranda" Team leader: Guenet Anderson of GSA Architects and Planners in Jamaica. Team: Anderson, Emerson Hamilton, Adam Bridge, Lee Edgecombe, Dwhyte Batson, Cheryl Hamilton, The Edgecombe Group of Hyattsville, Maryland., CTA Consulting Engineers and DCI Architects of Rockville, Maryland, SK&A Group, Moya Design Partner, Hamilton Associates, AMAR Grou, and Alter Urban Architecture of Washington, D. C.
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Going Up, Going Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 But it’s not just Europe. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svigals+Partners on designing for 21st-century loss and gun violence
Memorial projects seem to be coming online at a faster pace than ever before due to the fatal events our country has experienced in the last three years. Such rapid production of commemorative architectural spaces appears to immediately bring healing and hope back to the communities and victims where these tragedies have occurred. While it’s more important than ever to honor the countless lives lost from social violence, terrorism, and natural disasters, to Svigals+Partners, the process of memorial creation, sometimes slow and complicated, exposes the heart of the design. The firm recently released renderings of a new memorial garden dedicated to victims of gun violence in New Haven, Connecticut. Led by the company’s Director of Art Integration Marissa Mead and Associate Principal Julia McFadden, the (tentatively-named) Healing Memorial Garden will soon be built at the base of West Rock, a monumental boulder that bounds New Haven. Born from the vision of Marlene Miller Pratt, a school teacher whose son was shot and killed over 20 years ago, the landscape is the result of her many years spent advocating for a communal place to remember her child’s life. She connected Yale University's Urban Resources Initiative and other mothers who’ve suffered similar losses to jumpstart her long-awaited vision. After countless hours of community engagement, Mead and McFadden, the latter of whom was responsible for the redesign of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, discovered that this particular memorial effort has further embedded into them the value of listening. AN spoke with the architects about modern monument design and why they herald conversation and collaboration as the foundation of memorial creation. AN: What drew you both to get involved in this project? Julia McFadden: When this came our way, I was working on a side project—a competition entry for the Sandy Hook Memorial, a tragedy that also resulted from an act of gun violence. I believe experiential design and public art define what a memorial is today, two things Marissa and I specialize in, so this, along with our personal interests, was important to us. I’m also particularly attracted to social justice issues and concerned about the allocation of resources that create economic segregation in neighborhoods, such as unequal community policing. That method was actually born in New Haven and then dropped nationwide, which led to more disproportionate levels of communities of color being sent to jail. Marissa Mead: I’m also interested in creating meaningful environments for people by engaging them in the process and helping to tell stories. As director of art here at Svigals, I aim to create places where we want to be and places where we’re inspired. This has been an ongoing process of raising awareness in the area both about the memorial and education on gun violence. AN: Prior to rethinking designing for school safety at Sandy Hook, had either of you been involved in projects that were birthed out of community tragedy? MM: No, but at our firm, we’ve developed over time a very inclusive and collaborative process for the early stages of our building projects. That’s been hugely successful in school projects. We learned we have to get people together to listen to each other from the start. They need to feel heard and comfortable to share opinions. That’s how we get them to hone in on most important aspirations for the school. AN: What do you both think are the challenges of designing memorials for 21st-century loss? JM: Our impulse to memorialize is a very human kind of thing we’ve seen throughout history. We want to recognize and pay our respects to losses that have occurred by leaving teddy bears and heart balloons at the site of car accidents and house fires. I’m not sure we as a society fully understand what that impulse is all about, but the history of commemorating death is obviously evident with cemeteries and grave sites, which are static tributes. Nowadays, we see through working with people like Marlene that people want these memorials to be interactive.   Today’s memorials dedicated to these types of loss are different than say, memorials around war. Those are typically planned as we expect death from war. I think historically Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial shifted the purpose of what a memorial could serve since the deaths exceeded what was initially projected. The challenges of designing around tragic events today are that we’re constantly trying to balance transitory commemoration versus more permanent sculptures set in place. To me, what leads us to build a permanent memorial is the communal need to remember something for a longer period of time. There must be a recognition that there’s a lesson to be had for current and future generation in memorializing this subject. It must find greater purpose and promote a larger message that has meaning for a broad range of people to tap into some larger universal themes. AN: What about designing memorials that honor America's harsh past years after the fact? MM: A hurdle in highlighting more historic issues is that perceptions may be challenged. People should be encouraged to recognize that the history they’ve learned may be incomplete. It takes some time to get past the layers of defensiveness and/or shame and arrive at acknowledgment. Acknowledging the past is a mechanism that helps us more fully understand the present, so we can begin collectively to heal from painful, even catastrophic, events. In the case of the Newport Middle Passage Port Marker Project, which I’m helping with, a driving reason to create a memorial is to bring stories to light which have been previously hidden. Newport, along with nearly all other major ports in the eastern U.S., has not publicly acknowledged how the city built its staggering wealth. Rhode Island alone participated in the trafficking of over 100,000 enslaved individuals, and the proud historic buildings of Newport were made possible by the trade of human beings. But these truths are not at all evident in the city. It’s an incomplete history, which leads to an incomplete understanding of the continuing impact that slavery has on our communities. A theme repeated in the visioning workshop I helped lead for the Middle Passage committee is that injustice is not was. There is work to be done. AN: We’ve noticed many memorial projects announced in the last year, some of which have fast-paced construction goals. What do you think about this newfound attention to both memorial commissions and competitions? JM: To me, the process is and can often be the point of memorial making. If a project moves too fast or doesn’t get the right input, you’re going to miss some major opportunities and the memorial will have a stifled response that isn’t fully formed. The best memorials create a visceral bodily experience that doesn’t depend on reading a plaque. You feel something because your senses are engaged, and I think it takes a long-term input process to solicit the needs of the community you’re designing for. With the Healing Memorial Garden, we’ve been really conscious about what you’d see, hear, feel, and smell on the site. Through a variety of design components, we want people to connect to the memorial through both their head and their heart. MM: That’s not easily achieved if we don’t know the emotions people want to be expressed through the design. If the design happens in a vacuum, it’s the wrong design. It’s short-changing that front end of memorial making which really is so critical. I truly believe grief compels people into action—they want to be involved. While the final, completed memorial might be the ultimate goal, the journey to get there is healing in its own way. That’s why I think when a memorial project comes online, the commissioning team would start a qualifications-based solicitation process of designers, instead of a full-fledged competition. That way designers are chosen based on their merits and experience, as well as their knowledge of a community, and willingness to truly understand what those people are going through.
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SAVE THE EGG

Historic Oklahoma City "Egg Church" is in danger of being demolished
The Egg Church. The Church of Tomorrow. An “honest architecture” that’s forever contemporary. Since its opening around Christmas in 1956, these are a few phrases that have been used to describe First Christian Church, a historic, organic modernist building in Oklahoma City. Designed by the then-young local firm, Conner & Pojezny, the 32-acre project quickly became a state treasure and was lauded as a major engineering feat by Life Magazine, Newsweek, and Architectural Record. The dramatic, concrete domed church—which has a mid-century Jetsons look—is newly in danger as its current owners aim to sell it to a buyer with plans to demolish the community icon. Oklahoma’s News 4 reported that dozens of demonstrators crowded outside First Christian Church last week in protest. Those in attendance included the executive director of Preservation Oklahoma and members of Okie Mod Squad, a group led by one of the church's architect's granddaughters, Lynne Rostochil. Representatives told News 4 they’re worried the building might be knocked down once it's successfully sold; the property went on the market in 2016 and only recently snagged attention from buyers when the asking price was drastically lowered from $8.2 million to $5.65 million. The broker behind the sale hopes it'll become a mixed-use development.  Many mid-century structures around Oklahoma City have come under threat in recent years. One of those was Founders National Bank, a Bob Bowlby–designed structure that boasted two, 50-foot exterior arches, It was leveled last October. Like R. Duane Conner and Fred Pojezny, who designed First Christian Church, Bowlby came out of an era in which architectural education in Oklahoma was transforming the industry. Bowlby studied at the University of Oklahoma under the direction of famous American architect Bruce Goff who was internationally known for his expressive, organic designs and for creating an innovative program with the school’s architecture department. Because of Goff's widespread influence, as well as the work coming out of Oklahoma A&M where Conner and Pojezny graduated, the city benefited from a slew of forward-thinking pieces of architecture, many of which have just surpassed or are nearing historic-designation age, meaning they’re potentially endangered if not in use. In order to protect First Christian Church, a Change.org petition started by Okie Mod Squad has been circulating that urges city council members to officially landmark the building, a designation that would require future development on the site to go through a public approvals process. Rostochil noted in a February post that thought the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, this “in no way protects it from being demolished.” The move only now qualifies it for tax credits to repurpose or restore the structure.   The efforts of the “Save the Egg” protestors have resulted in a city council meeting happening on Tuesday, according to News 4, where local lawmakers will discuss whether or not the church can potentially be declared a landmark. If identified as such by the Historic Preservation Commission, then the new buyer would not be able to make significant changes to its original design without prior approval from the city's Historic Preservation Commission. The protections would include the entirety of the Edgemere Park property, not just the iconic, egg-shaped main sanctuary. Conner and Pojezny designed three additional structures on the church’s campus, including a four-story education building and a small fine arts complex known as the Jewel Box Theatre, the city’s oldest, continuously-operating community playhouse. It took the architects three separate tries over several years to come up with the current design for the $2.1 million development, which the church’s renowned minister, Bill Alexander, wanted to be a “Church for Tomorrow.” In an old newspaper clipping cited on Okcmod.com, the design team said they aimed to take a “decided departure from conventional church construction” by building an “honest architecture” that would make it forever contemporary.  For residents in Oklahoma City, not only does First Christian Church reflect the history and character of the region’s modern architectural landscape, but it also serves as a place of spiritual solace and refuge in tough times. In October of 1995, families gathered there after a terrorist struck a downtown federal building, killing 168 people and injuring over 600 others. The bombing remains one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history and to many locals, First Christian Church stands as a memorial to community healing.
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Second Life

Peter Eisenman's Cidade da Cultura buzzes back to life
On a recent early morning visit to Peter Eisenman's Cidade da Cultura I found not one, but two cafés open and buzzing with the chatter of government administrators and entrepreneurial types getting ready to start their workdays. In Spain, and in particular in Galicia, the northwest region where Cidade is located, cafes are the most reliable measure of civic life. Even the smallest village will have its one café-bar (it is common for the same establishment to function as both), where Galicians gather to share gossip and life stories (Galicians are great storytellers). It’s not entirely unreasonable to refer to Cidade as a village—it is after all a “city” of culture, its site, at 173 acres, larger than the Vatican. And like any city, it has had its share of political and economic imbroglios. Not too long ago, the project was left for dead after failing to meet promises to be “the Bilbao of Galicia,” an iconic building that would bring both cultural and economic success to the city and region. In 2015, an article in La Voz de Galicia, a regional newspaper, declared that “not even the Apostle can save it,” alluding to the reputed burial place of Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The old city is an important Catholic pilgrimage site, second only to the Vatican, and Cidade da Cultura was supposed to be another stop for the couple of million visitors that make their way to Santiago de Compostela every year. Indeed, in 2015 it seemed that only a miracle could save the project. Galicia’s government commissioned this ambitious six-building project in 1999 when Spain was going through a real estate boom (Spain is divided in autonomous regions, and so it’s the regional government that makes budget allocation decisions). But by the time the first two buildings opened in 2011, the boom had ended and the project was an easy target—why build such a large, expensive complex when resources are scarce? Construction of the project was eventually halted, leaving behind four largely empty buildings and two “caries,” or cavities where the two missing teeth should be. But Cidade is no longer empty and things are looking up. There are many outdoor events in the fair weather months between April and September, the surrounding ramped surfaces of the roofs forming a kind of amphitheater for the performances in the center. And all year round there are employees from both public and private entities working in Cidade, the people that keep those two cafes in business. When I met with Cidade’s director Ana Isabel Vázquez Reboredo, she reiterated what she had previously stated in interviews since she started in this position two years ago, that her goal is to make Cidade into a resource for the entire region of Galicia, not just the city of Santiago de Compostela where it’s located. Santiago de Compostela is the famous pilgrimage city, and Cidade has become a kind of architecture pilgrimage for students and architects. A new highway entrance promises to make the project more accessible to national and international visitors. Cidade is now a fifteen-minute drive from the airport, and from there, Madrid is a one-hour flight and Paris and London only two hours away. Twenty years on, two of its buildings remain unbuilt, but both its plaza and the four buildings already completed are vibrantly inhabited. There are many outdoor performances in the fair-weather months between April and September, the surrounding ramped surfaces of the roofs forming a kind of amphitheater for the performances in the center. There are also employees from both public and private entities working in Cidade, the people that keep those two cafés I mentioned earlier in business. The project is being used, but much of the original programming has changed. For example, the “Hemeroteca,” or newspaper archive, had originally been given its own building but is now housed in the library. What was originally the Hemeroteca is now the “Centro de Emprendemento,” a business incubator facility. And how does the architect feel about this? In a recent conversation with Peter Eisenman in his office in New York, he was excited to see the spaces in his project utilized in new ways. “The idea of the project was always to offer a framework for new cultural ideas that are constantly emerging,” he said. The project is a case study in the complexities of a large project that has to negotiate local, regional, and international socio-cultural and socio-political concerns. Is the project benefiting the people already living in Santiago de Compostela? Can the region of Galicia feel ownership of this project even though it’s tied so closely, in both location and design, to one city? And how do you get there? One westernmost coastal town in Galicia, Finisterre, was the Roman Empire’s “end of the earth,” and even today getting there still feels like a pilgrimage, completed only by the most faithful. The undulating hilly landscape that makes Galicia so picturesque is also what makes it impossible to get anywhere in a straight line. The A-9 highway wraps around the Gaiás hill where Cidade is located like a ribbon, and driving to it I felt like I was engaged in some baroque dance with it, moving around it in arcs at one hundred kilometers an hour until finally arriving, if not at the end of the earth, at the culmination of a worthy pilgrimage. Maria Sieira is an architect based in New York City. She worked for Eisenman Architects on the Cidade da Cultura during its design development. Currently, she teaches architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and in the Compostela Institute summer program in Spain.
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Nano-scale Interventions

Rogers Partners reveals a futuristic factory for the Brooklyn Navy Yard
A 150-year-old shipbuilding factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard is getting ready for a second life as the East Coast headquarters and production center for the nanotechnology company Nanotronics. Rogers Partners has revealed plans to convert the Navy Yard's two-story Building 20 into a manufacturing hub by slotting flexible “pods” behind the building’s historic brick facade. The renovation of the 34,000-square-foot building will gather spaces for design, engineering, and fabrication under one roof. Nanotronics aims to create an all-in-one platform for product development and to speed up the traditional research and development approach. Rogers Partners worked around the spatial constraints of the long, narrow industrial building by clustering pod spaces around the boundary walls, leaving the center of the building open. A two-story public gathering space will run the length of the building and leave the jumble of historic beams and trusses exposed, while a figure-eight of second-story catwalks will crisscross the gap. At 300 feet long and only 88 feet wide, the design team kept the center of the ground-floor clear to leave as much space for circulation as possible. The milling and assembly spaces, and technology, sales, and development offices have been laid out on the first floor. The second floor will hold offices for Nanotronics’s upper management as well as the engineering and design groups; the upper-level pods have been skewed and rotated to carve out walkways on top of the workspaces below. Why use a modular pod system? The need for climate-controlled and soundproofed workspaces, combined with the building’s tight programmatic requirements, meant that the fabrication components had to be isolated from the office spaces, and vice-versa. The new Building 20 is only one piece of a rapidly growing Navy Yard revitalization, as the campus is on track to double in size by expanding production facilities vertically. Rogers Partners expects the $11.4 million renovation of Building 20 to be completed within a year.
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MALLrats

Jennifer Bonner's MALL isn't afraid to break out of the box
MALL stands for Mass Architectural Loopty Loops or Miniature Angles & Little Lines, among other variations. Just like its ever-changing moniker, MALL’s work is constantly shifting. Founded by Jennifer Bonner in 2009, the Boston-based studio develops collections of projects that iteratively build from one to the next. As a graduate of Auburn University’s Rural Studio and Harvard Graduate School of Design—where she currently serves as faculty—Bonner channels her love of the American South and uses her teaching to experiment with new typologies and invent new modes of architectural representation. Her colorful, out-of-the-box approach to design is just one of many reasons why she is named one of AN Interior’s top 50 interior architects. AN associate editor Sydney Franklin spoke with Bonner about stepping away from tradition and what’s next for MALL. AN Interior: What would you say are the driving forces behind your aesthetic project? Jennifer Bonner: As you probably noticed from looking at my work, each of the projects are very different formally. At MALL, we begin by working on a conceptual and intellectual project first, and the formal emerges out of these considerations. I am against producing an overall “MALL aesthetic” and much more interested in many architectures. Yet within a single project, the process I’ve set up for my office is to work through many iterations around singular ideas—never discarding any, but creating a cute collection. You can see these collections in the work of Domestic Hats and Best Sandwiches. The latter is a colorful spatial experiment questioning how architecture might stack, in which we are interested in reimagining the extruded midrise office tower. AN: So these collections allow you to explore multiple new typologies? JB: Each of my larger conceptual projects has the potentiality to question paradigms, which is what I’m most interested in. Take the roof forms in Domestic Hats and Haus Gables, a single-family house opening this month made from one of the original Domestic Hats models. I believe the roof plan can be an instigator of space rather than using Le Corbusier’s free plan and Adolf Loos’s raumplan. Here I was looking to expand different roof typologies, which is a topic I dove into while teaching at Georgia Tech. AN: You’re also keen on expanding your use of unique materials, textures, and colors in your formal projects. JB: Yes, I really want to keep pushing the boundaries of materiality. I’m currently working on this through a project called Faux Brick, a distant cousin to the Glittery Faux-Facade study I developed in 2017. In preparation for this year’s Bauhaus Centennial, I’ve studied a pair of houses by Mies van der Rohe in Germany where I argue that authentic bricks are used as a fake structural strategy. In this project, we’re trying to figure out how the rendering and other representational techniques involving bad bump maps and bad meshes might create new faux-brick facades. AN: How has your experience teaching and living in different places like London, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Boston informed your work? JB: As someone who has one foot in academia and one foot in practice, it has been exciting to absorb all of these cities into the way I imagine architecture. Having grown up in Alabama and recently living in Atlanta, I have decidedly made an effort to work on architecture in the American South. It is not by accident that my first architecture, Haus Gables, is located in Atlanta. AN: For Atlanta, Haus Gables is a really avant-garde residential design. It’s made of cross-laminated timber and features quirky exterior and interior finishes. How were you able to make it so different? JB: It’s completely self-funded without a traditional client—so my partner and I have taken on all of the risk. It was important for me that the design be as radical as possible in my first built work, and not diluted by many external factors. Radical, however, does not mean there wasn’t a fixed budget (which there certainly was). Throughout my career, I’ve worked with several clients associated with the public realm, such as institutions and galleries, but that kind of client is different from, say, a client who wants you to design a house. AN: So you want to design and develop your own projects too? JB: I wouldn’t call myself a developer just yet. But I’ve always been into what John Portman did in Atlanta in the 1960s as an architect who both developed and found financing for his projects. By doing this, he was able to produce a new typology, the super atrium, which I’m not sure he would have been able to accomplish so early in his career if he had faced typical constraints.