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Bringing up Beanie

Anish Kapoor's New York bean is finally rising at 56 Leonard
Long live the new bean: The long-delayed New York version of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Chicago (colloquially known as The Bean) is finally rising at the foot of the Jenga-like Herzog & de Meuron’s (and executive architect Hill West Architects) 56 Leonard in Tribeca. Prep work for the mirrored sculpture began last summer, as the sculpture’s outline was marked out on the concrete plaza below the tower. Installation proper began in October, and the piece, a bean similar to Cloud Gate but squished below 56 Leonard’s mass, has steadily been arriving in pieces since then. Although the building above was completed in 2016, the bean, which was always intended as part of 56 Leonard (featuring into renderings as far back as 2008) has been repeatedly delayed. As Tribeca Citizen explains in an excerpt from fabricators Performance Structures, Inc. to the building’s developer in 2018:
The Leonard Street sculpture requires equivalent accuracy and precision, but with an added component. Cloud Gate was assembled in Chicago from the finished plate sections and support framework, built at our facility, and then all the joining seams were welded together on site. After the seams were welded, they all needed to be ground down, and the seam zones sanded and polished to match the rest of the plate surfaces. This on-site seam welding was very laborious and extremely costly. […] [...] In order to make the Leonard Street sculpture installation more expeditious, and to save costs, it was decided to build the precision components such that they could be tightly fit together, with the seams thereby becoming nearly invisible hair line cracks. This concept was successfully tested in a sample piece produced by us, and presented to the Artist for his approval prior to beginning the project.
In addition to needing to mill and test extremely precise, interlocking metal plates, each segment will need to be bolted to the concrete plaza, then a system of tension cables for each section will need to be installed and properly calibrated. This will allow the bean to sway with the wind and expand and contract safely with fluctuations in temperature. Although at the time of writing the sculpture is sitting approximately half-finished with the exposed opening covered in plywood, it looks like 56 Leonard will finally be finished.
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Set in Stone

An interview with archaeoacoustician Steven J. Waller

Steven J. Waller practices archaeoacoustics, an emergent subdiscipline of archaeology that studies the sonic dimension of archaeological sites, including a location’s capacity to produce resonance. Waller’s research focuses on rock art. He was the first to theorize that echo, when interpreted by ancient people as spirit beings living in rock, was a motivational factor in rock art image placement. In preceding a science of acoustics, rock art, in Waller’s conception, begins to function as a tool for phonetic transcription or proto-recording, pointing toward the ability of materials to talk back to us—if only we listen.

Emma McCormick-Goodhart: What are the prevalent architectonic and sonic characteristics of rock art sites in the American Southwest?

Steven J. Waller: Much of the rock art in the Southwest is sited in canyons and on cliff faces, rather than in deep caves. A canyon is almost like a cave without a roof on it. Sound still bounces around; it’s just that in deep caves, it’s much more reverberant or resonant. Reverberation is like a thunderous sound, whereas in shallow shelters—canyons or cliff faces—it’s more like a distinct echo that speaks back to you, sometimes with multiple repeats. Shelters are interesting, because they can act like a parabolic reflector, just as antennae dishes focus sound and help to magnify it. There’s a place in Chaco Canyon [in northwestern New Mexico] called Tse'Biinaholts'a Yałti (Curved Rock That Speaks). An artificial mound was built at the focal point of this curved cliff face, and you can actually get an echo that’s louder than the original sound, because it focuses it. There’s a legend associated with a spirit being that’s in the rock. In fact, there’s a whole mythology about portals that open up into a spirit world. Sound reflection helps to give that illusion. It’s like when you look in the mirror, you look in the mirror—and sound reflection gives that same illusion of depth. Even though you can see the rockface, what you’re hearing is depth, as if there’s something beyond there: a chamber or something, where spirits are living. It’s an interesting illusion of space. In the Great Gallery at Horseshoe Canyon [in northern Utah], for instance, it’s like the paintings speak back to you. Sound reflection, as a general phenomenon, would have been inexplicable to ancient people—whether it was a distinct repeat, or a reverberation that blurs together like thunder—because they didn’t know about sound waves. Instead, they had a supernatural explanation for this phenomenon. Hearing it as communication with the spirit world, they sought these spirits deep in caves or way up on cliffs, where sound appears to come from.

How did you “hear your way” into this theory?

I don’t think that it was a Flintstone kind of sound system for their music; I think that it was spiritual. I made my discovery, by accident, at the cave of Bédeilhac, in France. I was standing outside of the cave, waiting for my wife to get a sweater from the car, and I asked myself, if I were a caveman, why would I go deep inside the cave? Why would I only decorate certain chambers? Why would I only depict certain things—and what was taking her so long? I yelled, “Hey, Pat,” and the cave spoke back. My subconscious heard that echo not as an echo, but as a voice speaking back—and I instantly remembered learning about the legends of echo spirits that live in the rock. My subconscious realized ancient people would’ve heard it like an echo spirit calling back to them, calling them into the cave. That was in 1986, and I’ve been going to as many caves and canyons as I can ever since to test my hypothesis about the correspondence of sound and rock art. The more places I go to, the more I hear it.

You argue for the preservation of soundscapes at sites of rock art. Can you elaborate what’s at stake in facsimile production?

It’s a natural offshoot of my theory: the realization that a rock art site is not simply the panel of images, but also the experience of the sound environment around it, which is, I think, what inspired the rock art. There’s effort dedicated to documenting and “preserving” rock art, which to me means keeping the original, but to a lot of people means making copies. They’ll spend months recording every stroke, yet they make no effort to document or study the sound. I think that if they’re making a facsimile or replica and they want people to have a realistic experience, it has to include sound—it has to be audiovisual—or it’s going to be misleading. Lascaux II is completely misleading—it might as well be your living room. The sound is dead. They gave no thought to acoustics at all, even though millions were spent reproducing the shape of the cave to the centimeter, and art to the brushstroke. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical replica of the cave; this can be accomplished with virtual reality.

What might explain this recurring sonic omission?

I think that it’s twofold, at least. One is that we, as modern people, know about sound waves and reflections. We know what an echo is, so it’s trivialized. It’s such a contrast to how echoes were viewed in the past as spiritual phenomena, revered to the point of worship. There are legends around seeking echo, like the Acoma migration story. They would go to places and test for echo, and if the echo was no good, then they would move on. The legend describes a place just to the east of Acoma, where they found the perfect echo. The land area of the Acoma tribe has the Petroglyph National Monument [outside Albuquerque, New Mexico] at its eastern boundary, and it is one of the strongest echoes I’ve ever recorded. There’s also another myth: “The white man calls it an echo; these are witches that live in snakeskin and inhabit sheep. That’s where the echo spirit lives.” Some legends don’t call it an echo, but a “talking rock.” The other thing is that the very name of the thing that we’re studying is rock art, so the attention is focused on the “art,” or the visual. I think it’s more interactive and audiovisual, because of the evidence I’ve collected showing the correspondence between locations that were selected and their sound reflective intensity—so it seems like they purposely chose places with the best echo and reverberation. I don’t think that the art was an afterthought, but an auxiliary part of the ritual.

You’ve written about the percussivity of stone tool production as another source for interpretative “mishearing.”

When you’re flint knapping and making stone tools, those percussion noises—when they echo back—sound like hoofbeats. That’s why certain engravings are of hooved animals. They might’ve even purposefully chosen places like that to make their stone tools, thinking that it might endow tools with magical qualities reinforced by spirits. You could also speculate that that’s how they discovered making tools; that they were banging rocks together to make echoes, and some of them happened to break. Some people have been looking at the tonal quality of some of these blades. It makes you wonder how much sound impact was important for stone toolmaking.

Sound is still physically measurable in rock art sites. Sound doesn’t fossilize, per se, but might it be useful to think of sound as a living fossil layer—a form of what UNESCO would term “intangible heritage”?

That’s an interesting way of looking at it, because it’s not that the sound itself can still be heard, but that the structure of the place—the characteristics of the rock, and the shape—still produces the same phenomenon as it did then. Any effects of erosion add statistical noise or statistical uncertainty, but I think that most of these places are spatially similar enough now to how they were in the past that you can figure the sound is going to be quite similar. You’re not hearing the same airwaves as our ancestors, but the same acoustic response. I try to apply my scientific methodology and hypothesis testing as a basis for arguing for the conservation of soundscapes in order to study rock art not just with our eyes, but with our ears, too.

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Ice Cold

Alaska’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center is rethinking how the Circumpolar North builds

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) describes itself as “an industry-based, nonprofit corporation created to facilitate the development, use, and testing of energy-efficient, durable, healthy, and cost-effective building technologies for people living in circumpolar regions around the globe.”

Aaron Cooke, the architect who leads the Sustainable Northern Communities Program at the CCHRC in Fairbanks, Alaska, is at the front lines of helping northern communities in developing solutions for homes in extremely cold climates. Cooke spoke to Matt Shaw, AN’s executive editor, and Stephen Zacks, AN contributor, about technologies and prototypes being developed to conserve energy, recycle heat, rethink building envelope systems, stabilize homes situated on melting permafrost, and ensure supplies of fresh air. As the communities of the Circumpolar North adapt to climate change, their solutions hold lessons for carbon-neutral designs in the temperate zone while providing a pointed message about post-colonial regional design.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What are the main areas of research for the CCHRC?

Aaron Cooke: Our largest program is the Building Science Research program, which deals with testing and researching the suitability of different techniques and products for the physical environment and cultural environment of circumpolar peoples. We also have a design program, the Sustainable Northern Communities program, that aims to take some of the building research and find real-world or holistic building applications. We design prototype homes that we test with occupants living in them for various periods of time. Then we have a smaller program called Policy Research, which aims to aid policymakers and governmental entities but also looks at the code amendments that northern communities need to consider. Most northern places have small populations, so they don’t have their own building code; they’ll take a building code from the temperate region and add amendments specific to the physical environment in Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Between those three programs, we try and stay at the forefront of regional design for the Arctic and subarctic climates.

Can you talk about the challenges of the extreme terrain and cold weather in the north?

The north has two primary challenges that it has to face constantly. We have an antagonistic physical environment that is very hard on buildings. Oversights in detailing or failures to plan small appropriate details in construction do not fail small in the Arctic: They always fail big, because it’s a zero-forgiveness environment. But in addition to our physical environment, the north has always faced a postcolonial problem. Every Arctic country in the world is governed by a capital city that is not in the Arctic—and that goes for Russia, Canada, Alaska, everywhere. So, there’s underrepresentation in the design field, and in policy and building code. Importing technologies, assumptions, and best practices from the temperate zone without thorough vetting causes us as many problems as our physical environment does. The idea of what a home—or a public building or a school—looks like and how it should behave is often based on temperate models, and we then have to retroactively make them Arctic. There have been famous attempts to make an architecture for the north, but there's been very little impetus to create an Arctic architecture from the north. It generally comes at us from the south, and we have to manage it somehow.

Are there things that you’re learning from traditional methods of conserving heat that go into your research, or is the group mainly developing new technologies?

It’s generally developing new technologies, but it’s also giving a platform for traditional wisdom, because people have lived here for a very, very long time and have come up with innovative ways of building in the north. You’re trying to make traditional communities aware of new technologies applicable in a harsh physical environment, and then you’re also trying to be receptive and a good listener when people are saying what has worked or hasn’t worked in the past. As an example, we did an eight-sided house for a community in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska called Quinhagak. It was a very windy place: Although it only got about 24 inches of snow a year, the snow would drift in houses to the point where you couldn’t get out of the windows or in the door. We did some pretty complex wind drift studies, and we came up with this eight-sided house. We went out to the community to see if they were interested in building a prototype there to test it, and they were. We gave an analysis of winds, vector diagrams of how we thought the snow would self-scour away from the house, and I remember being in the community building and saying, “This is the shape I think that would be best for this region.” Someone stands up and said, “We used to make our houses that shape, we used to know that. It’s only in the last 50 years that we’ve started making square boxes, and [snowbanks] started drifting in.” Some things we’re discovering, and some things we’re remembering, I guess.

What are some of the new technologies you’re developing or working with? Are they materials-based or are they wall sections?

I’d say a very large bulk of our work could be divided into three fields. One is envelope design: We need warmer envelopes, and we need materials that go together in wall design differently. Arctic villages often don’t have heavy equipment, so you’re trying to find materials that can be constructed without cranes or trucks, or any of the things that we assume are going to be on job site. We also are looking at how things are transported when we choose our construction materials. When I was in architecture school, I never once had a class on sourcing materials. We assumed that the materials are going to show up at site; we’d choose them based on how they perform once they’re assembled.

In our region, about 40 percent of overall construction costs are in shipping. But we don’t take a course on how to choose materials based on how they ship, and the shipping companies are smart: The barge season is short, the air strips are short, and if something’s heavier than it is big, they charge you by weight. If something’s bigger than it’s heavy, they charge you by volume. If the barge gets delayed, you don’t build next month, you build next year. Most of our economics can be boiled down to how we get our materials to site and how we select them based on their appropriateness for shipping. In envelope design, a big part is to create a materials package that can be shipped and easily brought to a very remote location.

Besides envelope design, we work quite a bit with foundation design. The Arctic is one of the fastest changing regions in the world. There are a million models, and they all contradict each other, but one thing is for sure: We have a lot less sea ice than we used to, and that is creating unprecedented coastal erosion that is forcing our communities to relocate. Land that has been permanently frozen since the last ice age is melting in very unpredictable ways and causing massive foundation failures. It’s not hypothetically happening sometime in the future, it’s happening to us now. Those are very expensive problems, so foundation design is something that we’ve been working quite hard on. One of the easiest things to get funding for is how to design foundations for the degradation of permafrost. The third tier of what we research is mechanical systems: how to provide heat. We’re always looking for heat that is more efficient, heat that is more clean and reliable. That’ll never go away, no matter how much global warming occurs. The Arctic will always be one of the colder places on the earth, and we’ll always have a winter in which we need heat somehow.

Are there solutions that you’ve come up with, or ideal systems that you’ve developed?

A paradigm shift has happened in foundation design in the Arctic during my short career. When I was studying to be a specialist in northern design, the basic rules for permafrost foundation design were if the ground’s frozen, keep it frozen, and if it’s thawed, keep it thawed—that’s foundation design in the Arctic. In the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, when they were putting more modern and larger buildings in the Arctic, as we were urbanizing, most of the building failures were because the building was leaking heat into the ground around the base of the foundation and melting the permafrost, creating a sinkhole. The building then had this foundation failure, and that was why most of the emphasis was on keeping the ground frozen through installation. But now the permafrost is melting even if we do everything right. Even if we perfectly thermally isolate our building from the thermal regime of the soil, it’s still melting out from under us in many circumstances, and the circumstances aren’t something that we’re able to easily predict. Since the research center is focused mostly around housing, we want adjustable foundations that the occupant can adjust without specialized knowledge—very simple mechanical foundations that can be leveled as the ground drops away or floods or heaves.

What does that look like?

It can be as complex as a kind of a Buckminster Fuller–style space frame, where you’ve got triangulated points that can be hand ratcheted, or it can be as simple as car jacks on top of columns that are pounded into the ground. We’ve tested no fewer than a dozen types of adjustable foundations. We’re mostly looking at threaded rod and things that can be jacked with a cheater bar in a circular motion or with what’s basically a glorified wrench. We haven’t given up on trying to keep the ground frozen. For larger buildings, we’re still using thermosiphons and technology that takes advantage of state change and chemicals that have a boiling point around 32 degrees Fahrenheit so that they can move heat away from the ground. We’re also looking at ground source heat pumps—or geothermal, as it’s commonly called in the Lower 48—to move heat from the ground to the house for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

What does fieldwork look like? Is it mostly working with communities, or testing experiments?

It’s both. Almost every year we’re building a prototype home somewhere with a local construction force. We train the local carpenters on new construction techniques. Living in an experimental house means there needs to be quite a bit of follow-up. We try to make a good, close relationship with the occupants so when there are problems with technology, they can call us, and we can get on a plane and head out there. I always require a resident of the experimental home to be on the crew, so that they fully understand the systems that are different than the rest of the houses in the village. That way, we have an above-average success rate with new technology acceptance and more pride in the construction. It’s like Habitat for Humanity for building scientists.

What are the main differences between the prototypes and traditional buildings?

The prototypes always have an envelope that we’re testing that’s different than a two-by-six wall or a structural insulated panel, which are the two most common types of walls out there already. They always have a foundation type that we’re trying to test, whenever we know that the ground is going to be volatile. We’re also looking for new mechanical systems, because rural Alaska is by and large an economically depressed region. There are large rates of poverty and overcrowding. We’re always trying to lower the heating bill and create efficient mechanical systems and healthy indoor air quality, while lowering the amount people have to pay for fuel.

Are you going out to sites and living in extreme conditions yourself?

Oftentimes when we’re building a house in the summer season, and we’re in a village that’s small enough that there’s no real lodging, we’re just sleeping on the gym floor at the school while school is out and building with the local crew. This summer, we oversaw the building of 13 homes for a community that’s relocating entirely because their original community site’s falling into the ocean now that there’s no sea ice anymore. The fall storms have been eating about 80 feet of shoreline a year, and they’re being forced to relocate the entire community. In that case, when we were building the first prototype home over there at the new community site, there was nothing there. We were just basically camping and getting our water and dealing with our own waste, and trying to stay warm through the season. Sometimes it’s a very remote field camp, and then other times it’s just hanging out at the school at night.

Is there an ideal wall section that you’ve developed at this point—or if not, what are a few examples of improvements?

One thing that almost all Arctic and northern walls need to have in common that makes construction more challenging is you absolutely need a complete thermal break in the walls. That flies in the face of every stud wall we’ve ever built. Generally, a stud wall has a structured component, and then in between the structural components is insulation. But that means, of course, that the structure is leaking heat. At the inside, the two-by-fours are in the warm; at the outside, the two-by-fours are in the cold. That might get you through the winter in the temperate zone, but it absolutely doesn’t work in the Arctic. We’re always trying to make sure that nothing that touches the inside of the thermal envelope is also touching the outside of the thermal envelope. We’ve done walls where we’ve used two-by-four studs and then had a gusset plate made of something like PVC or OSB that holds the cladding up, and then we fill it with something so that the stud doesn’t reach all the way through the thick wall. We were looking at spray-applied polyurethane for a while; you can spray past the stud and make this adobe kind of shape as a way to avoid thermal bridging of materials. The double-wall that could all go up at once added efficiencies to the framing of thick-walled structures. We’ve also looked at an older Canadian technique, recently updated, which involves reframing a two-by-four wall, sheeting the entire outside of the wall in rigid installation, and lapping the joints, not allowing any of the framing to touch the outside of the wall. This is called the REMOTE wall technique, and it would be a good fit for temperate regions with hard winters too.

What are the main challenges to energy-efficient retrofits of existing buildings?

The retrofits are a large part of our work. When you create a giant impermeable coat over your old building, the first thing that almost always happens is your indoor air quality suffers. When we do retrofits today, we’re always trying to approach indoor air environment and thermal comfort at the same time, because the understanding now is that a lot of times when you add R-value to a wall, you’re tightening the house, and you’re going to have to come up with a mechanical solution to address ventilation and fresh air.

Are heat-recovery ventilation technologies a method for bringing in fresh air and ventilating moisture without losing heat in the process?

Certainly there should be no such thing as waste heat in a place this cold, and heat recovery ventilators have been one of the technologies that have made the most progress in the last ten or 15 years.

What is a heat-recovery ventilator, exactly?

It is a method of solving the problem of fresh air being colder. You’re in a house, it’s very cold outside—say it’s 30 degrees below zero outside—and you don’t want to open your windows. You want to keep all the heat that you possibly can in your building. What that means is the carbon dioxide goes up, and anything your furniture is off-gassing becomes more concentrated. You’re not getting the air changes that you need to be a healthy human when you’re scared of the cold air coming into the house.

There’s a branch of mechanical engineering that is concerned with taking your wonderfully warm but dangerously dirty indoor air and allowing the wonderfully clean but dangerously cold outdoor air to rob the heat from it without mixing with it. That’s the question: How do we steal heat from our used air and then get it out of the house so that we can get fresh, clean air inside, but have it be warm enough that people will use that system?

The prototype in Anaktuvuk Pass looks strikingly different than other approaches. Is there a break from the past that you’re exploring, or is there a radically new wall section that you’re trying out there?

It was a wall section that we had not tried before. Anaktuvuk Pass is fly-in only. They have no roads or barge delivery. Construction costs are extremely, prohibitively expensive there. We had been working with a spray-applied polyurethane applicator to see if we could create a wall that was a two-by-four steel structure that would be built inside out. We put the interior sheeting on the stud, and then we’d spray foam out and keep spraying past the foam to create that thermal break. The look that you see there—they’re a kind of dumpling, adobe look—is all based on the thermal requirements. It’s pretty far north. The other thing is that the residents there wanted to try a building where the foundation was on the ground. We use that polyurethane foam to create a raft, and the raft basically floats on the permafrost and bridges it if any movement occurs. The spray foam comes in barrels and expands to 30 times its size when it comes out of the gun. We can fit the barrels on the plane, and we can fit a lot more R-value per cubic foot on that plane because it’s going to expand once it gets to the site.

Can you talk about any problems that you might anticipate in the crafting of policy around the Green New Deal mandates meant for temperate regions that could have a potentially harmful effect on you?

Ten or 15 years ago, there were a lot of adaptations that needed to be made for, say, a LEED system when it finally came north. The research center tries to incorporate environmentally conscious building practices into everything we do—we’re the farthest north LEED Platinum building in the world. There are certainly things that don’t apply: There was a time when permafrost was considered a wetland by professionals from the temperate zone, and in the south, you can’t build on a wetland. Here that would mean you couldn’t build on 70 percent of Alaskan soils—think about a land area bigger than the state of Texas that you’re not allowed to build anything in. Simple things like that. The other thing is the passive house ideal: Getting to 90 percent off fossil fuels in the Arctic is possible, but for the last 10 percent, the returns are just not there. Ninety percent has to be good enough, and then we have to realize that sometimes our heating is going to have to come from somewhere else.

For all the theories of architecture and design, and all the isms out there—Classicism and deconstructionism, and all the isms that exist—I believe in regionalism in architecture because I live in a place where it’s necessary. Regionalist architecture manifests itself when and where it’s most necessary. It’s no mistake that it tends to be in places like deserts and the Arctic, places where if you ignore regional inputs to design, you ignore them at your peril. Your building will fail.

In your collaboration with the Royal Danish Academy, how did their experience in extreme environments and yours overlap or inform each other?

I try to work in a pan-Arctic sense because we are all trying to solve similar, difficult design problems, but we’re doing it alone because the polar region is spread-out with a lot of different governments involved. The centers of design learning are also very far from us. There is no accredited degree in architecture north of 60 degrees latitude in North America. You’ve got to go south to get your degree, and then come north and unlearn quite a bit of what you learned in school. The Royal Danish Academy’s Architecture and Extreme Environments program recognizes this, and it does a very good job of engaging underrepresented regions in design discourse.

I can remember taking my first construction methodology course while I was getting a master’s degree in Ohio, and we were talking about foundation design, and the professor—who was a very good professor, a good architect—was teaching us about how to get our foundations below the frost line. It was my first year of school, and I asked, “What do we do when we can’t get below the frost line?” He said, “Well, don’t build there. That’s a bad site.”

So, we have this familiar problem. We want to engage universities in our design growth. We want young, smart people to care about this place and move here or return here and practice architecture here. But again: Every university that is interested in saving the Arctic is located outside the Arctic, and this is a textbook postcolonial problem, right? We get approached by universities all the time; it’s very in vogue right now to save the Arctic. The icecaps are melting, polar bears are going extinct—there are plenty of reasons that Lower-48 universities are suddenly interested in us, and we need them. We need the attention of the young designers who want to solve some of the difficult problems we have. But the question is always, are you willing to send your studio here, or are you going to try and solve the problem from South Florida?

University architecture programs, from our small rural perspective, bring a lot of resources. The unspoken worry in Alaska is that we are very far from the rest of the world. A lot of disaster relief funding is federal. It’s been undeniably challenging that we’re the first part of the world to be dealing with these massive community shifts due to climate change, but it’s also good to be at the beginning of the process. The instant the rest of the population has to deal with it, too, there’s not going to be any money left to move tiny little Alaskan villages. Once New Orleans and San Francisco and Manhattan have a climate change problem, that’s the end of our help. We’re trying to figure out how to handle these moves now, and what we’re going to do when the resources to handle them get diverted to larger population centers. That’s the Arctic problem.

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Eco Park-Friendly

Zaha Hadid's long-awaited plan for an all-timber stadium in England approved
Last week, Eco Park Stadium by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) was finally approved for construction in Gloucestershire, England, after years of delays. The new home of the Forest Green Rovers F.C. will bring carbon-neutral facilities to the local community while maintaining the natural qualities of the existing site. It is the first soccer stadium in the world to be built entirely out of wood.  Although ZHA won the competition to design the stadium in 2016, this was the firm’s second attempt in getting the design approved. In June, the same planning committee denied the proposal due to noise, traffic, and impact on the environment. Alterations to win approval included a revised landscape strategy and increased matchday transport.  The 5,000-seat stadium is the world’s first UN-certified, carbon-neutral football club and almost every element is made of sustainably sourced timber which, in the firm’s words, “is highly durable, safe, recyclable, and beautiful.” In a recent press release, ZHA even mentioned the aspiration of the stadium being carbon negative “with the provision of on-site renewable energy generation.”  The club itself will provide every seat with unrestricted sightlines and fans will be as close as 16 feet from the pitch. One of the recent modifications in the application was a swap for one grass pitch to an all-weather pitch that has access to local clubs. The design anticipates the club’s future growth.  The chair of the club and owner of green energy firm Ecotricity, Dale Vince, told The Architects' Journal: “When you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important, and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest carbon content of any stadium in the world.”
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A House Divided

Where do the Democratic frontrunners stand on housing?
Although the 2020 election is a year out at the time of writing, and the first Democratic primary in Iowa is two months away, the battle to become the Dem frontrunner is becoming increasingly brutal. As the campaign field is winnowed on what seems like a daily basis, and a once sprawling cast has been cut back to a handful of mainstays and self-financed billionaires, we've aggregated the housing views of the top six Democratic contenders. Whoever wins the next presidential election will have the ability, and mandate, to reshape the American housing landscape; and in turn, how our cities develop. (For brevity's sake, President Trump's housing plans have not been included, as they will likely remain the same. This may change over the course of the presidential campaign proper.) Of course, because housing, urban development, and construction are issues intertwined with livelihood, race, climate, trade, and a myriad of other issues, each candidate's approach can't be examined from just one angle. Joe Biden While former Vice President Joe Biden has not released a housing plan writ large, he has announced a goal to house all formerly incarcerated people as a part of his Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice. His announcement promises to direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to require all contractors to allow formerly incarcerated people in their facilities. This implies that HUD is building much at all at this point, whereas the reality is that so much funding has been drained away from the department over the years that what is created through federal grants is a paltry drop in the bucket. The department's total budget is $42 billion; more than half of that goes towards rental assistance, $3.3 billion for Community Development Block Grants, and $2.78 billion for public housing capital projects. Not only is this figure inadequate for the housing needs of people of low-to-moderate means in general, it wouldn’t even meet the needs of the formerly incarcerated. Biden’s plan also argues for more funding for transitional housing, something previously cut by the Trump administration. However, by addressing such a narrow part of the general problem of housing, Biden tends to inadvertently suggest how little he is conscious of the actual problems of housing in the U.S.; as the New Republic put it, based on what he has plans to do, Biden should be president for five minutes. That doesn’t mean that Biden’s policies might not indirectly improve housing conditions for those in need of assistance. His Plan for Rural America for instance, talks about improving the middle class and investing in rural places. But the details are more about improving trade policies to help farm exports, which might benefit large agribusiness more than small farmers. Biden also talks about providing microloans for beginning farmers and aiding sustainable farmers with access to markets by having federal programs buy from them directly, which are so small-bore and marginal as proposals as to reinforce the notion that Biden has awfully few ideas when it comes to rural housing initiatives. Perhaps the most promising areas of Biden’s policies that could be relevant for housing are his Plan to Invest in Middle-Class Competitiveness, which is essentially an infrastructure bill, and his Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, which is essentially a policy in support of the Green New Deal resolution. Biden talks here about directing HUD to increase the energy efficiency of low-income housing, which wouldn’t expand the housing stock; however, it would increase the federal energy standards for appliances and building equipment, accelerating the adoption of stricter building codes. The knock-on effects of these could hold real promise for improving the quantity and quality of housing, if legislated well, but there are huge gaps here in terms of addressing the incentive structures that cause the housing stock to remain unaffordable to half of American households. Biden mentions increasing the funding of the New Market Tax Credit (a tax incentive to build in low-income communities) to $5 billion to support Community Development Financial Institutions. This is still a drop in the bucket for a nationwide program and totally insufficient to support the needs of small-and-medium-size cities—for instance, it's estimated that the New York City Housing Authority could need up to $68.5 billion in repair costs alone by 2028. Elizabeth Warren As one would expect from her “She’s Got a Plan” motto, Warren has a relatively substantial set of policy proposals for how to create affordable housing. Her Safe and Affordable Housing plan hits back at a number of factors causing distortions in the housing marketplace to the detriment of lower and middle-income earners. The plan sets a top-line goal to reduce rents by 10 percent, but her argument is initially premised on the mistaken assumption that prices are a function of supply and demand. In the very next line, Warren correctly acknowledges the contrary: Market incentives are producing higher-end housing that is more profitable but doesn’t meet the needs of at least half of the population. In response, Warren has introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act in the Senate, legislation that would invest $500 billion over ten years to build, preserve, and rehabilitate up to 3.2 million units affordable to lower-income families. This goes a long way toward injecting capital into a part of the housing market that banks don’t lend to and that has been starved for access to federal loans and grants for decades. Some of the smaller aspects are relatively minuscule but may be marginally helpful, such as providing capital to black communities and underwater mortgages, trying (again) to force banks to lend to low-income communities in line with the long-ignored Community Reinvestment Act, and offering incentives to municipalities to loosen restrictive zoning that limits lot sizes and requires parking, driving up costs. At the same time, Warren has put forward a plan to protect and empower renters, a group largely ignored by the American dream of homeownership that turned into a nightmare during the mortgage-backed securities crisis. Thirty-percent of homes are renter-occupied in the U.S., with 57 percent owner-occupied and more than 10 percent vacant either annually or seasonally. Warren wants to use the $500 billion in federal housing subsidies as a prod to force states and municipalities to adopt a federal just cause eviction standard, a right to lease renewal—effectively a sort of federal rent control if done right—protections against construction evictions, and protecting tenants’ right to organize. To the extent it could be effectively written, passed by Congress, and enforced, this legislation could substantially change the trajectory of housing costs. Apart from that, Warren has a number of clean energy policies that would impact the housing sector; in particular, the ambition of creating a zero-carbon building standard by 2023, a mandate to move toward 100 percent zero-carbon new buildings by 2028, a subsidy for retrofitting existing building through tax credits, access to financing for moderate-income households, and direct federal grants. Bernie Sanders True to form, Bernie Sanders' housing plan is articulated in broad, sweeping strokes, premised on ideas of economic justice. “Housing for All” is simple and to the point: “In the richest country in the history of the world, every American must have a safe, decent, accessible, and affordable home as a fundamental right.” It’s also comprehensive in addressing the problem, analyzing the shortfall of 7.4 million units of housing affordable to the lowest-income households. Sanders' plan identifies seniors and people with disabilities as particularly vulnerable, in addition to those affected by rising prices and the failure of wages to keep up with prices in cities and rural areas. Also true to form, Sanders does not shy away from addressing the costs: $2.5 trillion over 10 years to build nearly 10 million permanently affordable housing units. The breakdown is distributed through a $1.48 trillion investment in HUD’s National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, focused on building permanently affordable rentals and providing assistance to first-time homeowners. He proposes allocating an additional $400 billion towards the construction of two million mixed-income social housing units, $410 billion to fully fund Section 8 rental assistance for the 7.7 million rent-burdened households nationwide, along with $70 billion to rehabilitate and decarbonize public housing. Sanders would ask Congress to repeal the 1999 law that prohibits using federal funding for new public housing. In rural and tribal areas, Sanders has proposed adding $3 billion to the Indian Housing Block Grant Program to build, preserve, and rehabilitate affordable housing in sovereign tribal lands, and $500 million for affordable developments in rural areas, along with regulations protecting existing units from conversion to market-rate housing. Sanders’s platform includes measures for combatting gentrification, exclusionary zoning, segregation, and housing speculation. Like Warren, he would protect existing tenants by implementing national rent regulation, specifying limits to annual increases of no more than a three percent annually or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index, with waivers for significant capital improvements; a “just-cause” requirement for evictions, and a right to counsel in housing disputes. Sanders has proposed a 25 percent "flipping tax" and a two percent empty home tax, but the rest of this part of the platform is fairly weak compared to the direct language elsewhere, as it leverages access to federal funds to incentivize jurisdictions to pass their own inclusionary zoning laws. Also like Warren, Sanders has included a robust set of policies to achieve reduce energy consumption in homes, aiming for 100 percent sustainable sources of electricity and a zero-carbon building sector by no later than 2030. This would be achieved by weatherizing, handing out grants for retrofitting, replacing mobile homes with zero carbon modular units, replacing gas heat with electricity, and subsidizing HVAC replacements with energy-efficient equipment. Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg’s language is measured, reasoned, and clear, making concerted arguments that are rooted in unifying, centrist values. “Security means ensuring every American family has safe, affordable housing” is the headline under affordable housing in his list of campaign issues. But in spite of that, his platform on affordable housing is extremely narrow, oriented around what he calls the Community Homestead Act, a part of his set of proposals for how to redress the history of redlining and discrimination against Black homeownership. Somewhat like land banks in cities with a history of housing vacancy and abandonment, Buttigieg proposes to create a national housing trust that would purchase abandoned properties and redistribute them to qualifying families in pilot cities. Sounds extremely limited, and the bigger problem—as anyone familiar with land banks knows—is that abandoned properties are generally stripped of anything of value. They typically sit empty for many years and lack building services, the building envelopes and rooftops often needs expensive rehabilitations, and they have other serious problems that make them inordinately complicated and time-consuming to fix compared to new construction. Beyond that, Buttigieg lists in bullet points the goals of ending homelessness for families with children, national funding for affordable housing construction, and expanded federal protections against eviction and harassment of tenants, but he provides no detail how to achieve any of them. Michael Bloomberg Mike Bloomberg’s campaign includes proposals for new housing and an earned income credit under one headline policy, perhaps acknowledging that wages and affordability are inevitably linked. As one might expect, his pitch to primary voters leans heavily on his record as mayor of New York City, claiming a legacy of pioneering programs to allow New Yorkers to “gain access to housing and build house wealth” (He doesn’t say which New Yorkers or how many, and certainly some people got rich and were able to buy homes during his administration). An “expansion of funding for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit…would add hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing over ten years,” claims the Bloomberg campaign. This policy will be familiar to New Yorkers, who recall the city aiming to create or preserve 250,000 units of affordable housing during five years of his administration. This same target, more or less, was the ambition of every mayor since Koch in the 1980s, including Bill de Blasio. We don’t know if Bloomberg achieved it or not, but the campaign's literature quotes an official crediting him with creating 165,000 units during his 12 years in office. Homelessness had significantly increased by the end of Bloomberg's third term, however, and the city had lost more affordable housing than it had gained. This proposal is somehow even less ambitious but stretched thinner, and on a national scale. Bloomberg has also called for an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, which would especially help single families with children, and an increase in the minimum wage, which would theoretically address the income levels of households, while leaving untouched the market incentives that tend to push up prices. At $15 an hour, a single-income household would be earning $31,200 a year, which is around one-third the income needed to rent a typical apartment in New York City. Andrew Yang Despite Yang’s excitement about some shipping containers he encountered during a campaign stop in Las Vegas, with apologies to Lo-Tek, the future of housing is not discarded cargo shipping containers, nor is it at the center of his proposed housing policies. That said, the incident does capture the infectious tech optimism of the Yang campaign, a sense of hopefulness about finding data-driven or engineering solutions to problems. Yang's argument for what he calls human-centered capitalism is an argument for regulating markets in a way that serves public interested goals rather than profit-making. Unfortunately, his thinking about housing policy doesn’t take how profit-making functions in the actual housing market into account. Yang’s proposed housing policy falls under the category of zoning, and focuses on the need to eliminate zoning limits that supply-siders think are the main reason why housing is expensive. Free up restrictive zoning and money will magically flow through the invisible hand of the market to fill the affordable housing gap, the thinking goes. As we know, in reality, all things being equal, the market tends to supply housing to the highest income earners, because it favors higher profitability when there are no other regulations or mandates in place. Yang uses San Francisco as a model of how restrictive zoning prevents new housing from being created, but that is a gross oversimplification of San Francisco's problem, and it suggests that historic preservation, protection of neighborhood character, and a human scale can be easily sacrificed for greater density, rather than using other constraints and incentives to produce a more balanced housing market. Zoning is one tool among many, but by itself, it’s not sufficient.
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Affect in the Greenhouse

Love in a Mist (The Politics of Fertility) deftly blends design with pregnancy politics
We might look back on 2019 as a year of perpetual crises, should we survive their enduring damages. The Amazon rainforest burned for weeks under a far-right populist in Brazil, as land long-held by indigenous peoples was effectively cleared for cattle. At the moment of writing, there is ongoing, large-scale and violent civil unrest in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, and Iran. Even limiting our attention to the American news cycle, as we often do, it's difficult to cultivate hope for a future which, per the U.N. Emissions Gap Report, may not exist without significant infrastructural change. Millennials are increasingly opting not to have children, if not for financial insecurity, then out of an acute anxiety over the diminished prospects for life on earth. The contested appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court (to pluck one item from the trash fire of this year in American politics) has ensured a bleak outlook for the future of Roe v. Wade as well. Women dressed as Atwood’s handmaids protested a stylized dystopia of forced birth that is, in some ways, already real for poor women in states with no practical access to abortion services. Architects often feel called to address these political terrains as the conceptual and material grounds for design solutions, as if architecture is not already implicated and architects are not human actors also living under these same existential conditions. The objects in need of solutions are so immense, so out of scale, and so tangled in intersecting forces, that it’s difficult to do more than call attention to them—to try to express the unspeakable. Love in a Mist (The Politics of Fertility) is an ambitious show currently on view at the Druker Design Gallery at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design that acknowledges the urgency and complexity of an endangered reproductive future. And yet, it reaches for hope in the face of possible extinction. Conceived by the architect Malkit Shoshan, the show assumes an activist posture to address a nuanced set of concerns around the body, fertility, and seemingly detached environmental crises. By assembling research, activist artifacts, artistic works, and a deep bibliography of feminist texts, Love in a Mist locates resistance and hope in interconnection and its enunciation. As Donna Haraway pleads in her science-fiction work Children of the Compost, cited in the exhibition text, we can and must articulate new forms of relation to each other and the earth—it’s a matter of inter-species survival. The domination (and depletion) of the environment and the control over human reproduction are intimately entangled, Shoshan argues. At the fulcrum of fertility (engineered by synthetic hormones or controlled through conservative legislation), women and nature are recognized as mutually domitable objects. It’s a problematic alignment, but the show works through that tension with care. The exhibition was instigated as an urgent response to the sharp increase in anti-abortion legislation known as “heartbeat bills,” some of which were signed into law in Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia this year. The exhibited work builds on the scholarship of Lori Brown, whose study of the landscapes of U.S. abortion access is presented in takeaway texts and series of infographics. From this legal ground, the sequence of the show quickly expands that predicament to an ecological scale with research on the history of synthetic estrogen. Diethylstilbestrol, or DES, had been prescribed to women suffering miscarriages beginning in the 1940s. Understood to reduce pregnancy complications and loss, its harmful effects weren’t known until the 1970s, when DES was linked to clear-cell carcinoma in women and girls. DES had also been used as a growth hormone in livestock feed and caused breast and cervical cancer in those consuming estrogen-laden poultry and meat. Introduced into the agricultural ecology, DES contaminated the surrounding land, water, and plants. Hyperproduction is an acceleration of death. The content of the exhibition is organized into four distinct chapters: Reproductive rights, accelerated growth, extinction, and compost. This framework is spatialized into a linear sequence of four wood-framed greenhouses, beginning with the heartbeat and finding its way out through the compost bin. The greenhouse is the primary architectural device in the design of the show, also by Shoshan. She acknowledges it as a “natural container” for the content on view; it’s an obvious reference to the greenhouse effect, and also a literal technology for the cultivation and control of nature. The framing also stands in for the less discernible spaces of fertility that Love in a Mist tries to access—including brick-and-mortar and mobile clinics, crisis pregnancy centers, and state legislatures, as well as fields, forests, and swamps. Multimedia work enlivens the information-rich exhibition environment. A video by Desirée Dolron shows swamps in Texas overtaken by a disruptive weed. Audio recordings of Northern California woods by Bernie Krause over nearly 30 years testify to a depleted “biophany.” Diana Witten’s documentary Vessel shows the travels of Women on Waves, whose portable abortion clinic is also represented in the show. Yael Bartana’s trailer to What if Women Ruled the World fantasizes an international government of women against an apocalyptic backdrop. Tabita Rezaire’s Sugar Walls Teardom is a vibrant video document in the compost section which acknowledges the contribution of black womxn’s wombs to advancements in biomedical technology. The work, in the end, is thoroughly documentary but it maintains an effective pulse. Rather than directly taking up representational concerns, as feminist exhibitions so often do, it leans into the artifacts and techniques of fertility politics. For that reason, the distinct outlier of the show is a figural womb sculpted by Joep van Lieshout, a Dutch architect who also collaborated with Rebecca Gomperts on the Women on Waves clinic. It makes a static object of a living organ, one we’ve come to understand as influenced by so many external forces. Love in a Mist finds recourse through the living. Named for a flower whose seeds were once ingested for their abortifacient properties, the exhibition puts as much faith in the home remedy as in the clinical procedure. Making kin, to borrow Donna Haraway’s prescription for earthly survival, must remain a matter of choice. The exhibition is on view through December 20.
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ACADIA

ACADIA 2019 showcased the state of digital design
The presentations and activities at this year’s ACADIA (Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture) conference gave attendees a glimpse of potentially disruptive technologies and workflows for computational architectural production. The conference was held this year in Austin from October 24 through 26 and was organized by The University of Texas School of Architecture faculty members Kory Bieg, Danelle Briscoe, and Clay Odom. The organizers collected papers, workshops, and projects addressing the theme of “Ubiquity and Autonomy” in computation. Contributors reflected on the state of architectural production, in which digital tools and methodologies developed in the boutique, specialized settings at the fringes of the profession a generation ago have now become commonplace in architectural offices—while at the same time, new forms of specialist computational practices are emerging which may themselves soon become mainstream. While each participant grappled to position themselves in the cyclical and ever-advancing framework of technological inheritance and transference, the most encouraging efforts can be described in three categories: Expansions, subversions, and wholesale disruptions of the computational status quo. The expansionists claimed new technological territories, enlisting emerging and peripheral technologies to their purposes. The subvertors sampled the work and scrambled the workflows of their predecessors, configuring novel material applications in the process. Disruptors actively sought to break the techno-positivist cycle, questioning the assumptions, ethics, and values of previous generations to leverage computational design and digital processes to advance pressing and prescient political, economic, and ecological agendas. Expansionists appropriated bleeding-edge technologies, or those newly introduced to the discipline, to stake new terrain in design and construction. The conference was the first of its kind to host a dedicated session on the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in design. This machine-learning system pits two forms of artificial intelligence against each other—one AI acts as the creative “artist,” generating all the possible solutions to a given task, while the other acts as the “critic,” selectively editing and curating the most appropriate responses. After training the networks on archives of architectural imagery, panelists put the GANs to work on evaluative and generative design tasks, alternately generating passably authentic floor plans, building envelopes, and reconstructed streetscapes. The workshop sessions, hosted by a suite of computational research teams from several architectural offices, demonstrated possibilities for adopting emerging technologies with familiar platforms, adopting and adapting tools like Fologram and Hololens to more familiar software platforms and fabrication methods. The subvertors, familiar with the expected uses and applications of given tools, would offer intentionally contradictory alternatives, short-circuiting established workflows and celebrating the unintended consequences of digitally enhanced platforms. A project from MIT researchers Lavender Tessmer, Yijiang Huang, and Caitlin Mueller entitled “Additive Casting of Mass-Customizable Brick” is a good example of the subvertors’ approach to interrogating workflows, enlisting precision-equipment for low-fidelity effect. As the current state-of-the-art in custom concrete formwork employs costly and time-consuming workflows to task CNC routers or robotic arms with milling, the MIT project is a critical alternative. Instead of shaping the mold, the project mobilizes the mold, achieving a wide variety of sculptural concrete “bricks” using standard cylindrical forms wielded by a robotic arm, while leveraging the ability of liquid concrete to self-level. The molds are shifted to preset positions while the concrete sets, allowing the sequential states of self-leveled concrete to intersect in complex geometries. The process is surprisingly delightful to watch, as the robot controls seven molds simultaneously like a drummer with a drumkit. The unexpected combination of high- and low-tech recalibrates possibilities for the robotic craft. Other researchers swapped out expected materials to produce unexpected results. Vasily Sitnikov (KTH) and Peter Eigenraam (TU Delft) teamed with BuroHappold to produce IceFormwork, a project that uses milled blocks of ice as the unlikely forms for casting high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete. Ice, the team argued, is a preferred, environmentally neutral alternative to industry-standard EPS foam molds, which produce a vast amount of waste. Ice molds, the team demonstrated, are easy enough to make (with some help from a reliable water source and a repurposed refrigerated ISO container). Airborne particles suspended by the ice-milling process are harmless water vapor, unlike the dangerous foam dust requiring ventilation equipment and other protective measures. When it comes to de-molding, the ice can simply be left outside to melt. While these investigations showcased new ways to hack the assembly process of cast building elements, their choice of concrete as a material contradicted a growing consensus in the panels; that designers should actively seek alternatives to the glut of concrete in the building industry, given the high ecological cost and high carbon footprint of concrete manufacturing in the context of an accelerating global sand shortage. Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme (MAEID/University of Innsbruck) offered one of the more radical alternatives with their project “Soil 3D Printing.” The team is using hydrogels—non-toxic, biodegradable adhesives—as binding agents injected into loose soil, to form alien landscapes of networked, earthen structures that portend a near-future where biocompatible, organic additive manufacturing processes restructure geotechnical landscapes and planetary geology. The provocations of the disruptors—who radically repurpose computational tools beyond perceived disciplinary constraints—raised profound questions about the potential for design technologies to enable and enact larger societal transformations by lining up global supply chains, material economies, and non-human constituencies squarely in their sights. Jose Sanchez (Plethora Project/Bloom Games/USC), in the presentation he gave while accepting the Innovative Research Award, presented his work leveraging computation and game design to critically examine and transform economic and ecologic realities. Sanchez has developed a series of game environments which force players to navigate wicked problems in contemporary cities, to confront the complexities, contradictions, and paradoxes of urbanization, logistics, and manufacturing. Sanchez described the continued focus in his work on efforts to "optimize for the many"—as opposed to the few—in a period of increased economic inequality, re-assessing the predominant use of digital technologies over the past few decades to enable complex mass-customized assemblies. Sanchez, in his own work, and in projects like Bloom with Alisa Andrasek (Biothing/Bloom Games/RMIT), has been exploring the potential of digital technologies to disrupt mass-production models through high-volume production of serialized and standardized “discrete” architectural components. In a similar vein, Gilles Retsin (UCL/Bartlett) argued for a reconsideration of the labor practices and digital economies enmeshed in, and implicitly supported by,  a building industry that has not yet come to terms with automation. By focusing on the ability of digital tools to combat material waste, Retsin argued, a generation of digitally savvy architects have ignored the potential of automation to address wasted labor. Through speculative research and small projects, Retsin is hoping to disrupt the building industry, increasing the capacity of architects to design and implement new platforms for project delivery which can combat exploitative practices. As expansionists pointed out where to look for the next big advancement, subvertors demonstrated how existing tools could be used differently. Disruptors were some of the few to ask—and answer—why. Stephen Mueller is a founding partner of AGENCY and a Research Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University College of Architecture in El Paso.
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Should we?

Re-imagining the Avant-Garde re-examines the state of the field
“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/electronic age,” Warren Chalk, member of former British architecture studio Archigram once said. Chalk's quote epitomized Archigram's outlook and approach—daring, brave, looking firmly into the future, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Archigram and its contemporaries of similarly brilliant names (Ant Farm, Superstudio and Archizoom) have since been canonized as being part of an elite group of supposedly Avant-Garde architects. But if that was the crème-de-la-crème of 50 years ago, what is the equivalent today? Re-imagining the Avant-Garde, on show at Betts Project in East London, might have the answer. If you want to see some good drawings, this is the place to go—not surprising given the star-studded exhibitor list: Ant Farm, Pablo Bronstein, Peter Eisenman, Sam Jacob, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, and Aldo Rossi, to name a few, are all on show and none disappoint. Neither do the smaller studios: UrbanLab, WAI Think Tank, Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR), and Office Kovacs. Those exhibited are either mentioned in or have contributed to a special edition of AD Magazine which takes the same name as the exhibition at Betts Project. British duo Matthew Butcher and Luke Pearson, both academics, writers, and designers guest co-edited the magazine and co-curated this exhibition. "Avant-Garde" used in relation to architecture today brings to mind the work of Archigram et al., all of who sprouted from the fervent experimental ground of the 1960s and ’70s. It's through this moment in architectural history which Re-Imagining the Avant-Garde attempts to frame contemporary architectural practice and thought. So how does the historical and contemporary sit next to each other? Rather comfortably, it turns out. As images and models, all arguably fall under the umbrella of Pop Architecture; British critic Reyner Banham's definition holding true. Take Belgium firm Office Kersten Geers' Border Wall, for example. The studio helped popularize the collage style of architectural representation a few years ago and it's a useful medium for Border Wall. Here it is employed to highlight tensions between territories—in this case, a walled forest in the middle of a desert divided by a fence. The desert landscape is a blurry image, while the tree trunks are conveniently hidden, all of which consequently obfuscates any sense of scale, adding a layer of ambiguity to the piece. Other exhibitors reference the Avant-Garde architectural canon explicitly, like WAR for example, who projects its architecture through a comic strip akin to the drawings of Archigram. L.A.-based Office Kovacs, run by Andrew Kovacs, meanwhile provides a palimpsest of readymade architectural artifacts in Miniature maze, a work that draws on the archive of affinities found in Kovacs' blog of architectural b-sides. As these works are displayed next to photos of Ant Farm's famous touring truck, and with other ’60s radicals in mind, it's evident that the contemporary practices on show are producing work that is just as visually arresting as their predecessors. But what's the difference between then and now? "Yes, ’70s utopian groups have influenced us—it's obvious, no? The difference is that we work out there in reality," Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of the Berlin-based raumlabor told AN editor-in-chief William Menking in his article for the issue of AD Magazine. Like all good exhibitions, Re-imagining the Avant-Garde provokes more questions. Is this the Avant-Garde reimagined? Why are we being asked to re-imagine the Avant-Garde in the first place, is it the hope of stumbling upon another wave of Avant-Garde architects? Very few, if any, realize they are part of an Avant-Garde, even if they have Avant-Gardist ambitions (see Chalk's quote). The term is, for the most part, applied through a historical lens. We only realize there was an Avant-Garde once it has been and, sadly, gone. We might even find that the more we search for an Avant-Garde, the more it will evade us. When Abbot Suger worked with his Master Masons on the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 12th-Century France, he probably didn't expect the Gothic-style church he commissioned to end up defining the built landscape of Medieval Europe. Far less did Suger realize that he was part of an architectural Avant-Garde (or equivalent seeing as the phrase emerged some 700 years after). Defining a historical Avant-Garde imposes restrictions on a supposed contemporary Avant-Garde. Also writing in the same issue of AD Magazine, critic Mimi Zeiger argues that "The work of Italian radicals Superstudio [and others] provides endless fodder for appropriation," which is the case with much the work on show at Betts Project. Furthermore, the elite Avant-Garde club which Butcher and Pearson refer to is essentially an all-white gentleman's club. "Re-imagining the avant-garde might seem celebratory at first but unless radically re-contextualized and critiqued, it can be a trap. Old biases and omissions are reinforced: canons crystallized, hierarchies hardened, patriarchal practices protected," adds Zeiger. In light of this, instead of aspiring to be part of an Avant-Garde, today's architects should forget about the term altogether and strive to make a more sustainable planet. Much as how Chalk imagined building for an "atomic/electronic age," a similarly forward-thinking vision will surely prove to be Avant-Garde in time. Re-imagining the Avant-Garde runs through December 21.
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Design On Par

AN chats with GOLF's expert architecture editor, Ran Morrissett
For 40 years, Ran Morrissett has been hooked on golf course architecture. Arguably one of the most underrated and hidden fields of design, the professional world of creating and maintaining golf courses is surprisingly complex and rather storied. North Carolina-based writer Morrissett, who started studying the topic seriously for Golf Club Atlas, a website he founded with his brother, has just been named the first architecture editor at GOLF Magazine Growing up, his family of four would travel to world-class courses abroad in England and Scotland, or places closer to home such as Harbour Town in Hilton Head, South Carolina, or Pinehurst No. 2, a 1907 design by famed course architect Donald Ross in North Carolina. It was during these vacations that comparing and contrasting—aka critiquing—golf courses became a tradition. Cut to decades later, and Morrissett has made it his own unconventional career.  AN sat down with Morrissett ahead of the GOLF’s release of its annual Top 100 course rankings, where they compiled the best places to play on the planet. As Morrissett's first major project with GOLF, the classification system reveals which of the some 30,000 courses around the world, both private and public, boast the best design. It wasn’t exactly a daunting task for Morrissett, however, who at 56 years old has held tee times in over 35 countries and visited some of the most revered courses ever made. We asked him about his nascent role and what makes great golf course architecture.  AN: Tell us more about your origin story and why you’ve dedicated your life to studying golf courses. RM: In my twenties, I found it was becoming increasingly harder to have meaningful conversations with people on golf course design. At the time, the internet didn’t exist and there wasn’t any great writing on golf course architecture. That all started to change when the Donald Ross Society was established in 1989 to help preserve his courses and the Classics of Golf started republishing the finest architecture books from the late 19th and early 20th century.  Newspapers were also only covering the major events in golf, mostly within the PGA Tour, and they’d profile these insanely difficult and long courses that were set up to challenge the best, not the average player. My brother and I didn’t think that was enjoyable so we started the Atlas online to provide a platform for people who just wanted to play for fun and connect with others. We found that thousands of people shared our viewpoint.  So everyone became a critic on how to improve the physical set up of the game? Yes. At one point—and you could argue it’s still true—the definition of a good golf course was how tough it was. That’s not what we thought. A hard golf course can beat you up and demoralize you. To be honest, the absolute easiest thing in the world is to build a hard golf course.  Why? It’s harder to make a course that everyone will enjoy playing regardless of their skill level or age and one of the largest determining factors for that is the way it interacts with nature. In a similar way that Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture harmonizes with nature, good golf courses do the same. For example, if you go to the Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska, by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, this minimalist design pays tribute to the existing natural environment, which is a design ideal. How Coore & Crenshaw found eighteen holes and connected them so flawlessly to make the course a delight to walk amongst this huge expanse of rolling sand dunes is amazing. One of the greatest architects of all time, Harry S. Colt, said the ultimate test of a golf course is: Will it live? His designs are among the most timeless because they seem as if they were almost born out of the ground, as opposed to man impaling design features onto the Earth. That's what makes them attractive and keeps people coming back.  Another reason why Sand Hills, in particular, is so successful is that it drains well. Some say great architecture is about drainage. The more sand content in the soil, the better the property will drain, which directly impacts and extends the course’s playing season. What is the most challenging part of designing a golf course? The responsibility that golf architects have is enormous because they are working with such big blocks of land. Think about it: If you build a poor golf course that doesn’t provide any enjoyment for anybody or doesn’t drain well, you have essentially ruined 100 acres of land. It’s not going to live if it can’t find an audience that will use it.  Another challenging aspect for both the architect and the player is the hole location. The architect has to consider how a player will approach each hole as it moves throughout the green. Courses that have flexibility are inherently more interesting than courses that are just linear and ask the same thing shot after shot, day after day.  How has Golf Club Atlas grown? We’re in every corner of every great golf nation. I have friends around the world that I try to meet when I travel and they come to me when they want to play Pinehurst, a mecca for golf. This year, my wife and I will probably have entertained 300 people from all parts of the world. It’s important to connect with others in golf because like a building, a golf course is a living thing. You can’t walk away from it and think it’ll be fine without any help. Golf courses are reliant on people who will dedicate the time to study them, understand their heritage, and find the right consulting architect to maintain it.  When we started Golf Club Atlas there were hundreds of courses being built each year, so we wrote a lot about new construction. Now there are fewer courses being built and many architects are turning to restoration work. What is the biggest issue architects face when restoring aging courses? One of the main problems is how to address the overgrowth of the 80- to 100-year-old trees on sites around the country. Trees can narrow holes, impede sunlight, and lessen the quality of grass and turf. Moisture issues can occur too if the soil remains damp for too long, causing golf balls to release slower.  Golf is often perceived as a highly exclusive sport. You mentioned the best courses in the world are set on coastlines, which I link to being expensive to play, live near, or get to.  That's comment is coming from your perspective here in the U.S. In the UK, it’s every man's sport. Clearly, you have golf courses here that are extremely costly, but the nice thing about the sport is that—and I say this from personal experience—people love to show off their courses and will invite you to play. I’ve been asked to play at over 2,000 courses. I do wish the U.S. had more of the UK’s inclusion model but part of the reason is that UK courses are built on ideal sites—sandy soil for a climate that’s conducive to great golf and isn’t costly to maintain. This means dues are cheaper too. Heavier, clay soils and weather (including heat and humidity) add to the challenge and expense of maintaining courses in America as opposed to the UK. It sounds like a lack of knowledge on the diversity of the sport is a problem. It’s true. Some of the best courses built in the last 25 years, though, are open to the public. Mike Keiser built nearly 10 of the highest-ranked courses in the world, like Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. Anyone is welcome there. One of the best courses in the U.S., Bethpage State Park on Long Island, is public too. At GOLF, we realize the narrative hasn’t always been the best for golf course architecture. We’re all very keen on trying to highlight courses that strike a balance between being challenging and fun so that they’re inclusive for as many people as possible. Four sterling examples of this in the Top 10 are St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne West, National Golf Links of America, and Royal Dornoch. Can you explain more about your plans as the architecture editor at GOLF?  The magazine has always been broken down into three things: How do you play (instruction), what you should play (equipment), and where do you play (courses). Obviously, my role is to help point people to places where they would like to play. One of the reasons I love the sport so much is that I do my homework and I don’t play poorly designed golf courses. I derive no joy from doing that. If we can get people to where they’re going to have the most fun, then we’re doing a great service to the game. Additionally, if you understand what’s in front of you and what the architect is challenging you to do, then, in theory, you should be able to score better over time. You can literally think your way to a better score.
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Fair Pay for Fair Work

Lawrence Scarpa on paid competitions
The following editorial comes courtesy of the Lawrence Scarpa, a co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa Architects, in response to Matt Shaw's October 24, 2019, article on the value of paid architectural competitions. Matt. After reading your post, “Here’s to Paid Competitions!” about the design competition for the new cafe at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, it reminded me of the many pitfalls surrounding the vast majority of design competitions and the abuse of design professionals that are rarely made public. While the Everson Museum Competition appears to have been equitably organized and includes some compensation, most competitions grossly exploit architects and designers and their valuable skills. Competitions today are a “Client Take All” proposition with perhaps one architect or designer as a winner. Even when competitions are well-compensated, the requirements for deliverables, such as physical models, 3D visualizations, travel for interviews, etc. almost always exceed the amount of compensation offered, by double or more! I have never heard from any architect, EVER, that has said anything other than how much they’ve spent or lost (beyond the compensation) to partake in a design competition. Furthermore, the large majority of design competitions rarely get built. Not because of poor design or any problem(s) with the designer or architect, but because too many clients are quick to hold a competition before they have funding for the project, control of the site, jurisdictional approval, political support, or many of the realities that are necessary to permit and build a competition-winning scheme. Take the recent Guggenheim Museum competition in Helsinki, for example. Many millions of dollars were spent by hundreds of architecture firms around the world with the promise of the “career-changing” commission. Result: No commission and NO BUILDING. (Winning such a coveted commission and seeing it built are about the equivalent of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning). No big deal for the client(s), as they’ve invested very little relative to the benefits they get from the architects' work. Another similar competition was recently held in Bentonville, Arkansas, sponsored by a major foundation that paid shortlisted firms $5,000 each to compete, and again, after the architects spent well in excess of the stipend amount, they were informed that maybe only one of the five sites that were part of the competition might be constructed. Just last week, I was told by a globally recognized firm that they just finished a competition where they were paid $450,000 to prepare a design proposal but had spent almost $2 million to complete the competition submission. Recently, our firm was short-listed for an important commission in South Florida by an unnamed city. When the teams were notified for their interview times, and even though it is against Florida law, they were told that the selection committee was expecting to see design proposals during the interview. No compensation was offered, nor did the rules state that this would be a requirement. I was shocked that a municipal organization would brazenly break the law. Yet no team dared challenge this demand as it would be a sure ”death sentence” and the chance to win the competition would go to zero. Unfortunately, these examples are more of the norm than the exception. To add insult to injury, we have a network of architect-slash-competition advisors that, rather than informing clients of the great benefits that architects provide and how they should be compensated fairly, they instead get paid handsomely by the client to round up the best architecture talent and get them to do extensive amounts of work for competitions at little to no cost. When was the last time you told your attorney that if they represent you for free this time, and that if you like them and their services, you might hire them for future work? Architects should simply say NO to competitions that are: a) Not compensated fairly and/or b) do not have an extremely high probability of being constructed. Furthermore, organizations that hold competitions and do not hire or engage the winner for professional services to construct the building should be held accountable for false advertisement and be required to pay all competitors for the time they spent preparing their competition scheme. By the way, many competitions also require that the architect or designer give up their ownership and copyright for their designs they create Unfortunately, there has been little movement to change this unjust practice surrounding competitions. Britain’s Architects' Journal has at least started a conversation on the issue. They’ve assembled a panel to look at how competitions are being run  and followed up with an article by Ella Jessel titled, “What is Going Wrong with Architectural Competitions?” Derek Leavitt’s blog, “Why Open Competitions are Bad for Architects?” highlights even more poor and unfair practices surrounding design competitions. What is sorely needed is an organization that officially sanctions all design competitions, that have been vetted and proves that they have the ability to pay the design professional in accordance with industry standards and have the funds to build the project they are offering in the competition. Competitions are a massive investment for design professionals, and at the very minimum, they should be treated fairly and given proof that the competition they are about to enter is not just a dream! Architects and other designers rarely talk publicly about this for fear of becoming the Colin Kaepernick of the design world. Competitions in the U.S.A. are a far cry from European and other countries' models, even China's, where rules and compensation are clearly stated at the onset of a competition and submission requirements are more fairly aligned with the expected deliverables. This has started a new and alarming trend for “Design Awards” as well, with so many magazines and organizations starting to charge $500 and more just to submit for an award, but that is another story. It is time for our profession to stand up against this treatment, but more importantly, advocate for the valuable services and skills we provide. It would be interesting to hear from your readers and others about their experiences with design competitions. Hopefully, there will be a few readers brave enough to speak up and hold those who exploit designers accountable.
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Propping it Up

Props breathes new life into Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center
Nearly two decades ago, Zaha Hadid's vision for a building that housed art, but more broadly worked to catalyze an urban redevelopment effort in Cincinnati, was to create a structure that made art accessible to the public. She delivered on her goal as a spatially complex series of stacked galleries piled up high over a tight infill site. Accentuated on the ground level by virtually no threshold between the city and institution, Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) has since become defined by it's airy public lobby, an "urban carpet" that transitions seamlessly from sidewalk floor to gallery wall, and Corbusier-inspired stairways that form a vertical street, tapping into a set of galleries floating seemingly impossibly overhead. It is only fitting that a show like Props could emerge in a space that set out to reimagine the idea of what a white box gallery could be. Props is a set of eight experimental sculptures from architecture-trained mixed media artist Lauren Henkin, who has found new productive uses for underutilized space in the 16-year-old building. Her solo exhibition joins two other compatible shows concerned with spatial awareness: Confinement: Politics of Space and Bodies, and Cincinnati-based photographer Tom Schiff's Surrounded by Art. The trio of exhibitions will remain open through March 1, 2020. Steven Matijcio, former curator of the CAC, and the current director & chief curator at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston curated the work. "Lauren [Henkin] and I wanted to challenge and expand the typical locations of artistic presentation at the CAC," said Matijcio. "By its very nature, Lauren's series of "Props" was meant to skew the habits, conventions, and assignments that coalesce in even the most avant-garde of structures." Each of Henkin's Props is assembled from an ad hoc material palette—concrete, PVC, wiring cable, plaster scraps, and so on. In one case, scrap wood was pulled from the CAC's basement and piles of debris discarded by installers of the concurrent exhibitions. The development of the work relied heavily on photographic documentation, drawing, and visits to the building. Henkin worked between her Maine-based studio, the CAC, and a nearby Kentucky-based fabrication studio. Props intentionally undermines the programming of the CAC's formal gallery spaces. Why have work in the gallery when it can exist outside of the gallery? Lacking any formalized infrastructure for art viewing (lights, art labels, etc.), the work feels at home amid and within the architecture of the building. The pieces dissolve into walls, hug corners, and playfully grow out from the floor. In this regard, the Props do not come off as menacing or insulting in any way. Instead, they feel like discreet, optimistically friendly characters, producing compelling moments of their own that stop us in our tracks. With no labels or signage, there seems to be a real possibility that some of these Props could be overlooked during de-installation and hang around the museum indefinitely. Henkin, whose background is in architecture, says movement is the organizational force underlying Props: "These pieces are meant to be viewed while in motion where the viewer is moving up and around the work." Henkin flips our traditional relationship to art: the work becomes static, while the viewer is set in motion. However, beyond Zaha's stair, Props can be spotted hiding out in spaces less trafficked, like the entrance to the fourth-floor women's restroom or a forgotten corner of a hall leading to a fire stair. Formalized art galleries offer no escape for visitors who become immediately incorporated into the spatial logic of the institution: you must walk up these stairs, and you must view the work in this order. Henkin, Matijcio, and co. offer an alternative to this. You inevitably pass Henkin's work, but it operates as a filter, or primer, for the other work in the galleries. "The element of play, whimsy, and revelry played an important role in the conception and execution of the project. Lauren's sculptural interventions in the CAC are meant to disorient and befuddle, and provoke," said Matijcio. "Some are imposing and seemingly precarious; others are quizzical and slightly comical. Each one is different, but the unifying thread was to reimagine the structure's non-gallery spaces as fertile terrain to reconsider and activate." While this iteration of Henkin's Props likely won't travel elsewhere due to its site-specificity, the show might still have a legacy. The problem that Henkin's show exposes is that austere, raw, underutilized display and circulation spaces of today's art museum do have the opportunity to be more critically used. What would it look like for an exhibition to spill out into these spaces? What trouble would this cause, between issues of security, lighting, and liability? However, what opportunities this could create, to reimagine the broader curatorial flow to the institution! Props beg us to consider and reinvent our normative, intuitive, choreographed movements through the museum, especially in Cincinnati, where 16 years of exhibitions have begun to familiarize and dull this incredibly significant architectural space. In an institution that prides itself as a "non-collecting" contemporary museum showing "work of the last five minutes," Props exist as a welcome sideshow to the CAC's ongoing spirited circus of traveling acts. Henkin reminds us that a white room can fit only so many paintings before overflowing.
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Ghost Forest

Maya Lin will hang a grove of dead trees in Madison Square Park
Architect-artist Maya Lin is bringing a series of spectral cedar trees to New York’s Madison Square Park next year to shed light on the effects of climate change Talk about a timely topic.  On view from June 8, 2020, through December 13, Ghost Forest will feature a grove of regionally-sourced dead trees to stand in contrast to the Flatiron park’s lush summer landscape. The installation will show visitors first-hand the phenomena that occur year-round around the world as trees fall ill and die because of rising sea levels, salt-water inundation, and resource deprivation. Specifically, the trees chosen by Lin will come from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a massive sandy forest on a coastal plain that is afflicted with poor soil. A 1.1-million-acre national reserve, the landscape was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy due to a build up of salt in the soil.  While located very close to the major cities of New York and Philadelphia, little is publicly known about the Pine Barrens and its plight, which is why Lin aims to demonstrate just how close-to-home ghost forests really are and to educate people on how to protect and restore natural ecosystems. The trees used in the installation will help clear the way for the regeneration of the surrounding species and shine awareness on other dying forests in North America, from South Carolina’s barrier islands to beaches along the Oregon and Washington coasts.  Ghost Forest is the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s 40th public art commission. To Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator, Lin’s piece will embody the spirit of the organization. “The Conservancy’s public art commissions are transient by nature,” she said in a statement. “Ghost Forest underscores the concept of transience and fragility, and stands as a grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis. Within a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness, Lin brings her role as an environmental activist and her vision as an artist to this work.” Lin has long-been an advocate for environmental sustainability and has explored climate change in various projects including her What is Missing? series, an ongoing project on the loss of biodiversity which she considers her final memorial.