Remember when architects actually built things? Oh yeah, that was last year. And to commemorate that fact in Northern California, the AIA San Francisco chapter just announced the winners of its 2009 Design Awards. Many of our favorite projects of the year were included, like SOM’s beacon-like Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Stanley Saitowitz’s funky U-shaped Congregation Beth Sholom, and Mark Cavagnero and Paulett Taggart’s cool and sophisticated Sava Pool near Golden Gate Park. Speaking of Golden Gate Park, another big winner was Renzo Piano's California Academy of Sciences, with its rolling green roof, amazing aquarium, and various indoor biomes. Aidlin Darling’s 355 Eleventh Street, a very contemporary adaptive reuse of a turn-of-the-century industrial building in San Francisco’s SOMA district, won in both the Energy + Sustainability category and in the Excellence in Architecture category. Maybe next year we'll be giving awards to renderings? Or maybe just to the most likable architects? Keep your fingers crossed.
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Today AIA/LA's Director of Government & Public Affairs, Will Wright, testified to LA's planning commission regarding a revised sign ordinance controlling the erection of billboards in the city. A moratorium on all new signs was passed by LA's city council in December, while the city's original sign ordinance—considered by many to be ineffective— was passed in 1986. Wright requested that the commission delay a vote and consider a revised ordinance "until comprehensive visual analysis of the proposed regulations is completed." A vote on the revised ordinance is expected in the next few weeks. In a letter to the Commission AIA/LA also recommended that the planning department convene a panel of outside experts or a consultant team with design expertise to work with City staff to review, illustrate, and contribute to the refinement of the draft sign code. "No substantive visual analysis has been completed to date. This is a design issue that impacts the environmental quality, indeed brand, of Los Angeles and nobody knows what it looks like," said AIA/LA President John Kaliski in the letter.
In the wake of the recent presidential election, more people, including architects, have become interested and involved in local and national government. As part of the AIA’s efforts to encourage members to run for or be appointed to political offices or commissions, they recently conducted a survey tallying up the number of active members involved in politics, running the gamut from mayors to city council members and planning commissioners. The results of the survey revealed that there are at least 850 architects, making up more than one percent of total AIA membership, currently holding such posts. According to Scott Frank, Director of Media Relations at the AIA, “the survey aims to get more architects involved in the debate about the role the built environment has within the larger society as well as the smaller community.” Giving architects the opportunity to “have a seat at the table,” Frank told AN, “architects can use their design building and problem solving skills to help enlighten policy-makers on the importance of good design in planning.” The AIA is taking several measures to prod other members to follow in the footsteps of the already 850 active politicos. At the AIA’s Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference (currently taking place now in Washington D.C.) and at the National Convention in San Francisco in April, there will be workshops devoted to the importance of civic engagement for the architectural profession. If architects don’t yet rule the world, they may soon!
First Laurie Olin, now Frank Gehry. That was the news earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that the Santa Monica-based architect had laid off "more than two dozen" staffers involved with Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. What followed was a string of cheers predicting the troubled Brooklyn mega-development's demise. After all, how could it go on without its signature architect? While considering this question, I kept thinking of a comment made by Kermit Baker yesterday, during an interview about the abysmal November billings index. Given what's going on elsewhere in the industry, the termination of a handful of architects may not signal the doomsday scenario the project's critics would like, and instead may be one more credit-related payroll pause like many others around the nation:
What we're seeing, as a result of the credit freeze, is a lot of projects, even a lot of good projects, being put on hold. Once the credit markets begin to unfreeze, though, a lot of this work will come back. You know, "Okay. We got our financing back in place, why don't you get back to work on this." It's very disconcerting because these sudden seizures can be very unexpected. It's hard to own and manage and know how to cope.Hence the layoffs, largely unforeseen, plaguing firms nationwide, a problem we've noted before. Though Baker was not speaking specifically to the Gehry/Atlantic Yards layoffs, he said he was seeing the same sort of "payroll activity" at many of the dozens of firms he surveys to put together the billings index. The upshot to all the bad news, Baker said, is that it is possible that, as credit becomes available again, a number of projects could come back online:
There are some projects that do make sense in this economy. Obviously, the list of ones that don't make sense has gotten longer and the list of projects that do make sense has gotten shorter. But there was a time when even those projects could not get financing. I expect that to change at some point, hopefully in the near future.And while financing could very well turn around for the project, as Baker speculates, the Observer is not so sure it will. Furthermore, the Daily News reports today that Gehry and Ratner may not be on the best of terms, as the architect has not been paid for what the paper reports are still unfinished Phase One designs. Still, the point is that, while the layoffs could be another possible death knell for Atlantic Yards, they could also simply be the economizing of one of many architects in dire straits at the moment. As for Gehry's office not returning phone calls--something the Daily News and others see as a sign that the project is faltering--don't read too much into that, either. The firm is notoriously press averse, even on the most laudatory pieces, almost never returning phone calls.
Last Thursday AN California Editor Sam Lubell (author... ahem... of this post) moderated the first in a series of panels hosted by the AIA/LA called Design Dialogues. The discussion centered around educational design, and panelists included Hraztan Zeitlian of Leo A Daly Architects, John Enright of Griffin Enright Architects, and John Friedman of John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects. Panelists showed off their ambitious plans for new academic buildings like Zeitlian's LAUSD South Region High School #9 (pictured above), which takes design and planning cues from the nearby LA River and its industrial infrastructure; and Friedman's Claremont McKenna Athletic Center (below), a meticulously organized facility with dramatic open spaces and an eclectic facade that is aiming for a LEED Gold rating. Enright presented his St. Thomas the Apostle School project, which creates a new multipurpose room with a cantilevered "urban porch," providing valuable public urban space in a cramped area. All three discussed the challenges of working within the often restrictive educational realm. Perhaps the biggest challenge, pointed out Zeitlian, was not only designing an innovative new scheme that addressed its context, but also responding to the thorough review process of the LAUSD. Enright suggested that keeping costs down allowed for a surprising amount of design freedom on his project. At least until the next round of value engineering.
Without further ado, here are the winners of the AIA LA’s 4th Annual Restaurant Design Awards. The awards were announced on October 16, and judges included architects David Montalba and Michael Hogdson, Joachim B. Splichal, founder of the Patina restaurant group, and LA Weekly writer Margot Dougherty. JURY WINNERS: RESTAURANT Blue Velvet designed by Tag Front Katsuya Glendale designed by Starck Network & DesignARC Mozza Osteria designed by Kelly Architects, Inc. CAFÉ/BAR FOOD designed by Fleetwood Fernandez Architecture LAMILL COFFEE designed by Formation Association & Rubbish Interiors LOUNGE/NIGHTCLUB Elevate Lounge designed by Tag Front PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD WINNERS: RESTAURANT Mozza Osteria designed by Kelly Architects, Inc. (pictured in jury winners section) CAFÉ/BAR Kitchen 24 designed by Spacecraft & Torres Architects LOUNGE/NIGHTCLUB oneworld Lounge at LAX designed by Gensler
As the economic crisis continues to reverberate across the globe, everyone is feeling uneasy. Architects are particularly susceptible because the downturn stems from the housing collapse, which has crept into most ever sector of the construction industry. Not to worry (too much). Last week, the AIA launched Navigating the Economy, a special webpage aimed at, well, helping architects navigate the economy during this time of uncertainty. "AIA leadership felt it was important to keep members abreast of the current economic landscape and offer resources on how they can best respond to any challenges they face in running their business," Matt Tinder, a spokesperson for the institute, explained. The page is broken down into four section. The first two offer an aggregation of articles from outside sources offering advice on management and financing, and the third is a list of links to other helpful sites. The forth, and perhaps most interesting, or at least unique, is original content and resources from the AIA, including podcasts from experts, articles from the institute, listings of helpful events, and other resources. Tinder said the AIA will continue to update the website on a regular basis, so check back often. That is if you need it, which we all here at AN hope you don't.