Continuing the work done slightly south at Domino Park, today developer Two Trees revealed their newest addition to the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, waterfront. River Street will bring a pair of sloping towers designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and a circular esplanade, cove, beach, boat launch and more, courtesy of James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) to the East River end of Metropolitan Avenue. Two Trees described the project as not replicating the same park-on-a-pier typology as Domino Park but instead will slope to meet the water. Thanks to the existing concrete caissons already adjacent to the site at 87 and 105 River Street, BIG and JCFO have been able to propose building into the East River to create a total of six acres of public space. The BIG-designed towers, from the renderings, will loom over the surrounding neighborhood and dwarf the towers at the Domino Sugar Factory complex next door. Totaling 1.2 million square feet across both buildings, the towers will contain 750 market-rate apartment units, 250 affordable units, 47,000 square feet carved out for a new YMCA (with pool), 30,000 square feet for local retail, and 57,000 square feet of office space. An additional 5,000 square feet will be set aside at ground level for a series of community kiosks, which will likely contain amenities for parkgoers and kayakers. Although the towers will be tall—one will top out at 600 feet, and the other at 650 feet—BIG has attempted to soften their impact by “pinching,” pulling, and spreading out the massing at the base. The towers’ stature will have the added effect of framing the Manhattan skyline for those looking down Metropolitan, and Bjarke Ingels claimed that their triangular footprint was designed as a “funnel” for those looking to reach the shore. River Street’s most striking feature, at least when viewed from above, will be the circular esplanade and on-river landscaping mentioned earlier. Instead of lifting the shoreline bulkhead to protect from storm surges as is typical for a coastal development, JCFO wants to implement a series of berms and soft edges to both protect River Street from flooding and increase access to the river. That will include a new public beach (JCFO senior principle Lisa Switkin noted that New York’s waterways are the cleanest they’ve been in a century), nature trails, plenty of tidal basins, both saltwater and freshwater marshlands, an amphitheater, outdoor classroom, and more. As is fitting for the designers selected by Two Trees, the team claims that River Street borrows from the Netherlands model of “embracing the river” rather than trying to block it out. Accordingly, Ingels claimed that the River Street towers would be able to weather a 500-year-storm surge, thanks to the way the landscape would be able to break up the energy of incoming waves and the placement of the towers’ mechanicals on higher levels. When asked about a timeline, Two Trees was confident that they would be able to have River Street approved in the next two years under the current City Council administration, although the project will still need to undergo the mandatory seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). After the ULURP concludes, it should take another five years for River Street to be fully built out. The park and a single tower will be built in the first phase, and the second tower would come afterward. However, according to Switkin, because the project will build on to the East River, they will also need a joint permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Though, Switkin also noted, with the passage of the Living Shorelines Act (H.R.3115) in the House of Representatives earlier this week, federal momentum is building to enable exactly these types of projects. River Street will be entirely privately funded and maintained by Two Trees, similar to Domino Sugar Factory.
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“Everything we do at WeWork should be done with intent and meaning for maximum impact,” said Adam Neumann, the recently ousted CEO and cofounder of WeWork, in a 2018 blog post. “This starts with every space for every member and scales to every building in every city. In 2018, we want to have an impact on the buildings we occupy. In 2019, it will be the neighborhoods WeWork is part of, and by 2020, the cities we live in.” This bombast was characteristic of the businessman known equally for his tequila-fueled screaming bouts and Kabbalah-enhanced executive meetings, whose oversized persona in many ways came to define the company. To meet the megalomaniacal goal of a WeWorld as well as the more quotidian needs of making flexible office spaces, the We Company amassed a large team of architects, designers, and technologists through both hiring and acquisitions. The company was itself cofounded by an architect, Miguel McKelvey, who WeWork’s recently-departed chief growth officer (and then CTO) David Fano claimed rather hyperbolically in a 2015 interview in Architect “built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands.” McKelvey remains WeWork’s chief culture officer. This cultish blind faith is—or was—characteristic of WeWork acolytes. In the wake of a botched attempt to take the We Company public, exposés on Neumann’s excessive spending, unpredictable behavior, and self-dealing, and revelations that the company was more or less out of cash and has little prospect of turning a profit in the near future, confidence has flagged, even among true believers. Once valued at $47 billion, and after an infusion of cash from SoftBank which included an unprecedented $1.7 billion “golden parachute” for Neumann to leave his post, the We Company is now worth "just" $8 billion. WeGrow, the company’s foray into for-profit education led by the former CEO’s wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (cousin to Gweneth Paltrow), will close at the end of the academic year. The fate of its other numerous side projects, such as Rise by We, a gym, and the housing initiative WeLive( which is currently under investigation in New York City for possibly illegally operating as a hotel) are uncertain. WeWork is also likely to divest from the high-profile conversion of the former Lord & Taylor building in midtown. But perhaps most distressingly, the company is expected to lay off as many as 4,000 people this fall, according to some estimates, with untold more to come. But even those plans have been hampered: the company can’t afford to pay severance. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look like we’ll all be living in WeCities in 2020. With WeWork shedding its properties and staff and finding itself on less steady ground day by day, what does that mean for the company’s architects? Uncertainty reigns.“It’s been disheartening to find things out through media instead of the company itself,” said one WeWork employee to AN (the company declined to comment on whether those layoffs might include architects and other design employees). Designer Dror Benshetit, who was hired for WeWork’s “Future Cities Initiative” in partnership with Di-Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze, has been sacked along with his team, according to current and former employees. Fashion designer Adam Kimmel, former chief creative officer, has just stepped down. Most of the architecture and technology higher-ups from Case, the design tech company that WeWork acquired in 2015, have departed in the past several months, including Federico Negro, WeWork's former head of design, and David Fano, former chief growth officer, who left in October. That said, architects inside the company who were willing to speak to The Architect’s Newspaper reported feeling relatively secure in their positions. Creating workspaces is WeWork’s core enterprise, and employees have noted that at conferences given by executives, the work of the architects at the We Company has been largely praised. However, the constant uncertainty and erratic nature of the business has driven many to leave the company in advance of any possible layoffs. Others are staying, some with the hope of cashing in on severance deals, not of keeping a job in the long term. “I find it sad that the person who made this business happen was an architect, but it was his business partner who ruined it,” lamented one WeWork employee, speaking of McKelvey and Neumann, respectively. Building WeWork Founded in 2010, WeWork’s design ambitions became clear in 2015 when the company acquired Case, a high-tech Building Information Modeling consultancy. This made sense: WeWork is more or less a real estate company masquerading as a Silicon Valley-style startup. It owns very little of the buildings it occupies, including the much-talked-about Dock 72 that just opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which The New York Times reports is still largely empty. Instead, it leases spaces, then redesigns them and offers them up as flexible rentals to other businesses—from brand new startups to tech giants like Facebook and IBM to legacy publications like the Atlantic. The biggest news was, well, BIG. In 2018, WeWork named Bjarke Ingels its “chief architect,” an unprecedented move for a company like WeWork. But it spoke to its ostensible high-minded design goals. Ingels’s firm BIG did design the Manhattan WeGrow, as well as other projects. However, current and former employees who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal reported that most of Ingels’s actual architectural responsibilities had been delegated to Michel Rojkind, the architect who serves as WeWork’s senior vice president of architecture (Rojkind could not be reached for comment). “It wasn’t anything more than a marketing thing,” said one former WeWork employee of Ingels’s appointment. Ingels reportedly receives no salary, having opted instead for compensation in equity alone, a regrettable move in light of recent events. (Representatives for Bjarke Ingels and BIG declined to comment for this story.) It wasn’t just notable names—WeWork hired architects, lighting designers, project managers, and other design professionals by the dozen. “There was a lot of hand-wringing early on about how many architects were leaving the industry to work at WeWork, and there was a fear that WeWork was sucking up the best architectural minds,” recalled one former employee. The company also formed another architectural spinoff, Powered by We, which brought its know-how for designing workspaces to external corporate clients, like the Swiss bank UBS. Insiders report the division has yet to turn a profit. But despite all the present-day disorder and uncertainty, many employees are happy to stay. “I don’t want to work at a normal architecture office,” said one architect who spoke on condition of anonymity. “ As tumultuous and crazy as the year has been for the whole company, I think it’s a good thing that they disrupted architecture practice; it’s an industry that needs some disruption.” “At an architecture office you’re not encouraged to try other projects or make it better; it’s just, ‘This is the system, this is how we do it,’” the employee added. But WeWork lets architects ask, “How do we make things better rather than just following traditions?”—something they didn’t feel able to do in traditional architecture offices. WeWork’s ability to “disrupt” architecture is due not just to some vaulted startup ethos nor its ability to pay higher salaries. Another meaningful difference is who the designers work for; WeWork is its own client. While it may work with architects of record and contractors, for the most part, WeWork’s architectural labor supply chain is vertically integrated. Everyone from the lighting designer to the architectural software engineers are on staff. There is also a hope that former WeWork architects might bring this new perspective with them when they return to the industry and that the industry might respond, for example, by putting technology on the same level as other aspects of design. “Architects have a lot to offer, but it’s time to take risks. We need to learn to want more for ourselves and for the industry.” Buildings = Data Beyond all the hype surrounding the company, at least one of its divisions was living up to the Silicon Valley unicorn moniker that investors had ascribed to it. A former WeWork employee described the architectural software arm of the company as “One of the more technically advanced offices in the entire AEC [Architecture, Engineering, and Construction] sphere.” The employee went on to say, “We’ve got a pretty intelligent system around BIM, around data, around workflow and processes.” These developments happened relatively behind the scenes, though hardly secretly. WeWork regularly published blog posts about its use of 3-D laser scanning, machine learning, and data collection. This architectural brain power, along with easy access to new BIM and parametric technology, did, in fact, give WeWork an edge in its core business: designing office spaces. It’s as a design practice that WeWork could truly be understood as an innovator. To be clear, it isn’t in the often-mimicked design aesthetic of its office spaces—with its exposed brick, neon signs, midcentury modern knockoffs, and formaldehyde-expelling phone booths. What is new is how WeWork has been able to design with tremendous efficiency at scale in part thanks to its voraciously collected user data. Similar to the way social media companies harvest untold amounts of data on their billions of users, WeWork was swimming in data on the workers occupying its office spaces around the world. In February, some WeWork employees had begun wearing shirts that said, “Buildings equal data.” The largest office leaseholder in New York City was using data to shape everything from what buildings to rent to how to lay them out. Through a variety of tools, WeWork was harvesting its tenants data the way Facebook exploits its users—as unwitting sources for generating new, targeted services to generate even more revenue. WeWork embedded sensors in conference rooms and phone booths, tracked “user behavior” on its app, and tested out computer vision and location beacon systems. “Imagine a conference room that can tell you how it feels, that understands what the inhabitants might be feeling,” said a company blog post that asked, “What would the Google Analytics of buildings look like?” Last year, WeWork used virtual reality headsets and EEG brainwave monitors to see how people responded to different “vibes.” For example, “Spaces with more natural light and brighter finishes are associated with significantly higher levels of focus and interest.” While WeWork wanted to collect users' general emotional response—one test subject described wearing the headset as “empowering”—its central interest, of course, was creating environments ideal for work. Of course, WeWork, along with tech companies and creative firms, has created a new sort of standard which other companies want. “A lot of corporate America works in environments that are stifling and boring,” said one Powered by We employee. “Retaining and hiring young staff has been hard for them. [Powered by We] is a way of changing a workplace by changing the interiors.” With this data, WeWork claims it was not only able to make the design and building management process more efficient and targeted, but also able to introduce new custom automation into its design of its mass-produced office spaces. They are often created from a sort of kits of parts—which included pre-determined selections of wallpaper, kitchen fittings, furnishings, etc.—inside the many buildings the company has leased, or less frequently, owned. WeWork had also developed custom software to help the company’s designers automate desk arrangements throughout their spaces. More desks means more money, after all. Recently, in the Avery Review, philosopher Mathew Stewart referred to WeWork’s space layout algorithm as “One tool in the now endless surge of automated BIM options that aims to make the bureaucratic processes of architecture more efficient, calculable and less labor-intensive.” He added, “This produces a mystified process that hides the social and political character of design decisions. The contemporary production of architecture is a complex global web of supply chains, logistics, labor, and legal and political infrastructures.” Some former WeWork employees disputed this characterization. In a company blog, former senior researcher Andrew Heumann said that they just want to get rid of the “tasks that are the most tedious and repetitious.” However, design at WeWork was arguably a relatively simple problem, one in which automation could easily be introduced without tremendous technological innovation. Offices may be different shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re relatively consistent spaces. One Powered by We architect suggested that “WeWork Classic” architects weren’t “challenged.” “I would assume their job is quite boring,” the employee said. “It’s just based on efficiencies.” Multiple things can be true at once. While WeWork likely overstates its technical prowess in order to boost its legitimacy as a “startup,” and while other companies also use data collection to inform design, building, and usage in their offices, its proprietary BIM tools and automation technologies may have unforeseen, significant impacts on how architects design, especially as more and more well-qualified architects, designers, and tech professionals exit WeWork to create their own startups or work at other companies or traditional firms. If expanded beyond the simple constraints of aesthetically-unified office design, new automation tools could free up designers to do more interesting, innovative things beyond building mechanics and interior layouts. Or, as so often happens under a capitalist logic consumed with “optimization” above all else, they may just cause a flattening of design difference, ushering a new Algorithmic Realism in architecture. Perhaps WeWork will take over the world after all. At least there’s happy hour.
Billed as the “Factory of the Future,” BIG’s latest design for the San Pellegrino production plant at San Pellegrino Terme, Italy, gives the company even more reason to celebrate its 120th anniversary. A groundbreaking ceremony for the $100-million campus took place on September 27, alongside BIG releasing a batch of new views of the project. “Today we lay the first stone of the future factory that will officially launch us toward the future,” said Frederico Sarzi Baga, managing director of the Sanpellegrino Group. “The philosophy with which the new structure is created best represents the values of the brand and the commitment of the ‘Made in Italy’ ambassador company.” BIG’s design provides views of the Alps of Bergamo, with clean, modern lines offsetting the rugged natural landscape—a perfect metaphor for the blend of old and new that makes up the company, which has bottled its mineral water at the source since 1899. BIG’s approach imitates classical Italian architecture, with hints of inspiration from local vernacular motifs—exposed concrete arches and glass surfaces forming arcades and piazza-style spaces for gathering. The implementation of a new road system and access bridge will reduce the local area’s traffic congestion by tourists and workers alike, combined with a number of initiatives aimed at bolstering the company’s dedication to sustainability. “Like the mineral water itself, the new San Pellegrino Factory will appear to spring from its natural source, rather than imposing a new identity on the existing complex, creating a seamless continuity between the environment of production and consumption, and preparation and enjoyment,” said Bjarke Ingels in a statement about the groundbreaking. The factory will include 30,000 square feet of new production space to accommodate the anticipated increase in demand in the near future. Other features include renovated offices and changing rooms, a new cafeteria, a fitness center, and of course, exhibition-style areas to accommodate tourists. The project, which presents a radical transformation of San Pellegrino Terme and the surrounding area, is scheduled to be completed by 2022. BIG was first awarded the sprawling 4.3-acre project back in 2017, and it looks like the design has remained consistent since then.
In early September of this year, I was at a conference at an aviation museum in Seattle, to lend some architectural context to ideas about long-term living in space. The folks at the Space Studies Institute (SSI) had invited me to talk about some of the research on NASA’s 1970s proposals to build huge rotating cities in orbit from my book, Space Settlements, as part of a panel on habitat design. This conference was commemorating two anniversaries; it had been 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, and 50 years since Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton physics professor—and the leader of the 1970s NASA work—had asked a question of his freshman intro students: “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?” The answer they arrived at, after much study, was “no,” and they started to imagine the technical details of living elsewhere. My interest in this question has as much to do with history and culture as it does with getting down to the details of execution. “Why do we make space and live in it?” is a question worth asking, whether on Earth or off of it. But, while the conference itself was a fascinating two days of discussion, I was surprised to find that almost everyone there considered O’Neill’s (and my) questions to have been settled long ago. Why, the other panelists seemed to wonder, would anyone even ask “why” humans should go and live in outer space, when we can instead talk about “how?” And so that was the subject of the next two day’s conversation. 50 years on from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic flight—the culmination of almost a decade’s worth of work and about $150 billion in 2019 dollars—that “how?” seems easier than ever to answer. As of writing, it costs Elon Musk’s company SpaceX about $1,500 to launch 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). That’s down from about $43,000 for the same kilogram on the Space Shuttle in 1995. With new vehicles about to come online from SpaceX, NASA, and Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origin, these costs will only continue to go down. Two other factors are driving a new renaissance of plans for living and working in space: The discovery of new resources, and the confirmation, in the United States at least, that those resources can be put to use. The discovery of long-suspected ice in craters at the Moon’s poles was announced in 2018 by an international team of researchers using data from an Indian Lunar satellite. Water in space is useful, not least because living things require it to stay alive. But, once it’s been cracked apart with the cheap and plentiful solar electricity available there, it can become rocket fuel. “Water is the oil of space,” said one panelist at the SSI conference, George Sowers, formerly chief scientist with Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance, now a professor of practice in space mining at the Colorado School of Mines. In 2015, the lobbying efforts of two asteroid mining startups were vindicated when Congress passed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act into law. This new interpretation of the 1967 international Outer Space Treaty allowed private individuals and companies to engage in “exploration and exploitation” of water and other resources on the Moon, in the asteroids, and on other planets. These same two startups, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, later failed and were acquired by other companies. But the former CEO and cofounder of Planetary Resources, Chris Lewicki, was onstage at the SSI conference to talk about future successes. “If we make money in space, space settlement will happen,” said Lewicki, “it’s just us continuing to do the things we’ve always done.” This trifecta: low launch costs, a supply chain of matter and energy that’s already there, and a legal framework that can guarantee ownership of those resources, is the backend behind a new wave of proposals for architecture in space. These forces will keep that space wave going long after this post-Apollo nostalgia dies down. Earlier this year NASA awarded $500,000 to AI SpaceFactory, “a multi-planetary architectural and technology design agency, building for Earth and space,” for their MARSHA project. MARSHA successfully demonstrated an ability to use in-situ resources—Martian soil (or regolith)—to 3D print the outer shell of a habitat for four humans. The European Space Agency (ESA) Moon Village concept has been in development for most of this decade. Norman Foster, who has also designed for Mars, contributed design work to the Moon Village project in 2016, and SOM released information about its own Moon Village work earlier this spring. And of course, Bjarke Ingels is in on it, too. His firm, BIG, is making plans for a Mars simulator complex outside Dubai, and Ingels told the online design journal SSENSE that this work is a case study for a future Mars city. There’s beginning to be a long history to the notion that designing space for humans in space is a task that requires not just engineering, but architecture as well. At the inception of the Soviet Soyuz project in 1957, chief designer Sergei Korolev was unhappy with the capsule interiors that his engineers were drawing. The only architect working for the Soviet space program at that time was a woman named Galina Balashova, who was designing their office spaces. Korolev hired Balashova to redesign the habitable spaces of Soyuz, and later the space stations Salyut and Mir. Her work is still orbiting today as part of the International Space Station. On the other side of the Space Race, the Americans hired industrial designer Raymond Loewy to do the interior fit-out for Skylab. Famously, he was the one who talked them into adding a window and suggested that the best place for it would be next to the zero-gee “dining table” on the station. Back on Earth, the Space Architecture Studio and Research Lab, founded by the late Yoshiko Sato at Columbia GSAPP, now continues at Pratt under the guidance of Michael Morris, Sato’s husband. For over 30 years, the University of Houston has hosted the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. The chief space architect for AI SpaceFactory’s award-winning MARSHA design was Jeffrey Montes, an alum of the GSAPP studio. And Suzana Bianco, a graduate of the Houston program, was a copanelist at the Space Studies Institute conference in Seattle, presenting her New Venice habitat design. In technical circles within space science, the design of a total system—with launch capability, flight modules, crew or cargo space, and recovery—is known as an “architecture.” But in most of the presentations about various technical architectures for space travel and space settlement in Seattle last month—Bianco’s presentation being a welcome exception—there was little talk about the value that architects bring to those systems. No one knows space like architects do, and these threads that connect the (still largely speculative) work taking place in outer space today with the history of architectural space on Earth are too often neglected by those working in the field. Alongside all of this talk about “how?” the other question haunting the space settlement work being discussed at this conference and elsewhere was “who?”—as in “who will pay for all of this?” Even as the costs and barriers to entry drop, there is still uncertainty about the ways in which value might be designed into the projects that will help people live in space. Whether the users of the systems under design by these space architects are tourists, miners, hotelkeepers, or simple explorers, the question of “who?” is intimately tied up in the “why?” The architect Cedric Price famously asked, “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?” Maybe architects are the designers best positioned to ask, and even answer, these questions about space.
“Very soon it’s going to be a fact that in Copenhagen we ski on the roofs of our power plants,” Bjarke Ingels, founder of the Danish architecture practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), stated a couple of months prior to the completion of his firm’s Copenhill. Now, Copenhill, a new waste-to-energy power plant, has officially opened its doors after eight years (delays were primarily caused by safety approvals to occupy the roof). Beyond its hyped rooftop ski slope, the building also houses ski lifts, a ski rental shop, hiking trails, a cafe, and the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world. Copenhill, or Amager Bakke in Danish, ironically refers to the lack of hills in the southeastern Amager area of Copenhagen, a flatness that becomes apparent when one stands on the top of the 90-foot-tall “mega-brick” metal-clad building. “We do not have mountains, but we do have mountains of trash,” Ingels said. Turning away from the panoramic city views, one sees the 1,300-foot-long artificial ski slope designed in collaboration with Colorado’s International Alpine Design, the creators of many larger ski resorts around the world. The five shades of green of the ski slope surface membrane peek out from clean steam released from the nearby smaller chimneys. The gradient of green colors has been chosen to emphasize the sustainable agenda. The slope mimics—in a cartoon-like manner—a naturalistic terrain. However, the professional skiers testing it disappear within seconds, which makes the excitement of watching the skiers fade quickly. A park, designed in collaboration with the Danish landscape practice SLA, runs along both sides of the ski track. The park was planned as a manicured Nordic wilderness with the ambition of attracting natural wildlife to the building. The metal facade, which will feature crawling plants, has setbacks for birds and other animals to inhabit. While the sustainable agenda informed details like the choice of plants, it can be questioned why the same consideration has not been given to the actual building materials. The choice of nonsustainable materials such as concrete, glass, steel, and aluminum is in many ways contradictory to the ideology of the building itself. On the underside of Copenhill is Amager Resource Centre (ARC), billed as the world’s cleanest power plant. It provides 30,000 homes with electricity and 72,000 homes with heating across five municipalities, including Copenhagen. The heaviness of the technology that goes into a building like a power plant becomes very apparent when the glass elevator takes you from the ground floor up to the ski slope. An impressive interior landscape of monochrome silver-painted machines extends as far as the eye can see, and as Ingels explained, “the only design decision BIG was able to make on the inside of the power plant was to decide the color of the machinery—if it was of no extra cost.” The building in its entirety has so far cost 4 billion Danish kroner ($670 million USD) and is one of the most expensive construction projects in the recent history of Copenhagen. It is a high cost for a building that is supposed to be obsolete in the near future—plans are being drawn for a recycling system to take over all waste management. The building—with the merging of interior industry and exterior recreative space—is what Ingels describes as hedonistic architecture. Copenhill should, in his eyes, be viewed as a landmark of an ambition to use clean tech to create a better environment, quality of life, and awareness of habits of consumption. The initial ambition was to have the 410-foot chimney discharge a smoke ring made from water vapor every time one ton of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. There are no rings, but at least the exhaust is cleaned as much as possible before being unleashed above the city. As a contradictory landmark—the overall agenda is to have fun while increasing awareness of consumption—the building is officially part of the ambitious goal of making Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Christine Bjerke is a Copenhagen-based architect and writer and teaches at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation.
New York City's City Planning Commission met last Monday to vote on the future of the $1.45 billion resiliency plan to bolster flood protection in Lower Manhattan, a mammoth scheme designed and planned by One Architecture & Urbanism, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, AKRF, and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The approved East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project will stretch from Montgomery Street to 25th Street and, controversially, rebuild the East River Park eight feet higher than it currently stands. That plan, which was first unveiled in January, was designed to withstand a 100-year coastal flood scenario through 2050. In addition to elevating the East River Park, the ESCR project will also replace several bridges and build new flood walls, flood gates, and underground flood protection. The ESCR is one of several projects initiated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to prepare the city for the continued threats of sea-level rise. The complete 10-mile-long plan, initially envisioned by BIG as the "BIG U," will wrap around the southern tip of Manhattan from West 57th Street to East 42nd Street. As far back as 2015, the original design proposal for the ESCR was rejected by Community Boards 3 and 6. Three years later, the city released the current iteration of the project, shocking some residents with its huge price tag and new design. The current version of the project will cost $1.45 billion, up from the original $338 million, but will shorten construction time by 1.5 years compared to previous proposals. The new scheme would also allow equipment to be brought in via barge to avoid closing the neighboring FDR Drive. While the park and surrounding area were heavily flooded in 2012 by Sandy and fall well within FEMA’s 100-year flood zone, residents expressed outrage at the flood protection plan. Protestors were distrustful after previous plans were unexpectedly scrapped, and doubt the city's ability to meet the new 2023 deadline. Residents have expressed such intense opposition to the project that Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, recently commissioned an independent review by the Dutch group Deltares to assess it. Despite weighing the pushback, the City Planning Commission ultimately voted to approve the project, citing the immediate threat that rising sea levels pose. The ESCR plan will next need to receive the City Council's blessing before it can be voted on by Mayor Bill de Blasio for final approval.
It's no secret that New York's film and television industry is booming, or that there's been a recent real estate push for investment in spaces for the creation of shows, movies, and more. Robert De Niro has thus enlisted the help of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to design a “vertical village” for film in Astoria, Queens. Initial renderings were released this week, unveiling a 650,000-square-foot facility dedicated to film, television, and AR/VR atop the former home of a Steinway & Sons Piano Storage Facility. The $400 million project was first announced in July when a group of investors, including the actor and his son, purchased the five-acre plot along Steinway Creek in the northwestern edge of Queens. Promising to bolster the city's fast-growing production economy and provide over 1,000 daily union jobs, Wildflower Studios will be a “true destination film campus,” said Adam Gordon, president of the company, in an interview with The New York Times. BIG’s grand vision for the grounds, sited at 87 19th Avenue, so far includes a singular structure that will house interconnected spaces for offices, production-support, stages, and lounges. Because the building will be located within a rather industrial part of Astoria and overlooks part of the East River, Wildflower is required to provide public water access and land conservation where necessary. In a statement, Bjarke Ingels said the spatial constraints made it tricky to design the project: “We were challenged by Wallflower to distill all the physical, logistical, technical and experiential aspects of film production into a one of a kind vertical village for film." Most studios in the city, from Steiner in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Silvercup in Long Island City, are located on large plots of land within warehouses that have long-existed as the homes of manufacturing outlets. These unassuming properties include open floor plates, ample oversized doors and elevators, as well as little access to light—perfect for film production. BIG's design for Wildflower is clearly seeking to strike a different tone as it uses natural light spilling in from exterior cutouts, greenery scattered from the lobby to the lounge, and views of the adjacent water. For De Niro, this strategic focus on design symbolizes the studio's commitment to production spaces where creatives want to work and are proud to be every day. “Completion of this project ensures that future generations of producers, directors, writers, and storytellers will play a vital role in filmed entertainment in New York for years to come,” he said in a press release. So far, no date for completion has been announced but the plans are now being filed with the New York City Council.
The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)-designed “The Twist” has opened in Jevnaker, Norway, bridging a 10,700-square-foot art museum across two riverbanks in northern Europe’s largest sculpture park. The project was first announced in 2011, and while this isn’t the first time BIG has put a twist on the traditional building massing, it’s certainly their most daring entry into the genre. The Twist is now the second bridge in the Kistefos Sculpture Park and doubles the amount of indoor exhibition space available to the institution. Both sides of the building, from the vertically oriented, double-height portion to the south, to the horizontal passage to the north, serve as main entrances. Both are accessible through pedestrian bridges that wend up through the woods to their respective sides of the river, with The Twist serving to connect them into one circuitous loop through the sculpture park. Design-wise, BIG opted to create a visual homogeny between the museum’s interior and exterior. Outside, the building is sheathed in long, 15-inch-wide, staggered aluminum panels, while the interior is clad in 3-inch-wide fir slats painted white on the walls, floor, and ceiling—making the transition as one rotates into another seamless. At the center, as the building begins its 90-degree twist, a nascent skylight “unzips” and turns with the rest of the building to form floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a panoramic view of the river The Twist sits over. “The Twist is a hybrid spanning several traditional categories: it’s a museum, it’s a bridge, it’s an inhabitable sculpture,” said Bjarke Ingels in a press release. “As a bridge it reconfigures the sculpture park turning the journey through the park into a continuous loop. As a museum it connects two distinct spaces–an introverted vertical gallery and an extraverted horizontal gallery with panoramic views across the river. A third space is created through the blatant translation between these two galleries creating the namesake twist. The resultant form becomes another sculpture among the sculptures of the park.” The massing of the building naturally delineates it into three different gallery sections. The tall portion, with no natural light, the sculptural middle where the building is mid-twist, and the daylight-lit flatter portion at the north. Visitors can descend beneath the northern horizontal section to access the museum’s basement and bathrooms, bringing them level with the river. Such a complicated project necessitated a great amount of collaboration, and BIG cites “Element Arkitekter, AKT II, Rambøll, Bladt Industries, Max Fordham and Davis Langdon” as their partners in realizing The Twist.
This is the third article of AN‘s July/August 2019 print edition feature focused on development. The first, “A new breed of skyscraper threatens to devastate the fabric of New York,” can be read here. The second, "Why the developer’s vision matters in the experience economy," can be read here. As it celebrates the 250th anniversary of its founding this year, San Diego is rethinking past projects, planning billions of dollars’ worth of new projects, and coping with a housing shortage that is making it one of the nation’s least affordable markets. The most significant project on the boards is the redevelopment planned for Horton Plaza shopping center, a 1985 postmodernist downtown mall designed by Jon Jerde. But there are many other megaprojects under construction or in the offing throughout this county of 3.3 million residents. Laura Warner, an architect who moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, watches all this action from her perch as cochair of the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Orchids & Onions program. This 43-year-old education effort celebrates the good and shames the bad in local building, landscape, planning, and historic preservation projects. “We’ve got some really well crafted, well designed, and well detailed buildings that are places that people like to go to, where they want to create memories,” Warner said. San Diego’s architectural zeitgeist goes back to its founding in 1769 by Spanish colonizers intent on protecting the area from European rivals and the local Kumeyaay population. The colonists introduced new building techniques, laid out towns as required by Spain’s “Laws of the Indies,” and built adobe and stucco ranch houses that remain the local go-to style, especially for residential development. The city’s iconic buildings and structures include the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, Reid & Reid’s 1888 Hotel del Coronado, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition grounds in Balboa Park, the 1920s Navy and Marine Corps bases, the 1938 County Administration Center on the downtown waterfront, Louis Kahn’s 1964 Salk Institute, and William Pereira’s 1970 Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, campus. Post–World War II car culture led to sprawl, center-city blight, and urban ills shared with other American cities. Some midcentury mistakes are being reversed, but challenges remain: homelessness, high-priced housing (the median home price in May was $591,000), large wage gaps between tourism service workers and high-tech engineers, and relations with Tijuana across the Mexican border. Ten major projects in the works promise to add to San Diego’s collection of notable buildings, but it remains to be seen if any of them rise to world-class, must-see status in the decades ahead. The Campus at Horton Stockdale Capital Partners of Los Angeles bought the Horton Plaza shopping center in 2018 for $175 million with plans to turn it into a high-tech office complex with only half the 600,000 square feet of retail originally required in the center. The Jerde Partnership’s original postmodern design was copied worldwide, and the new owners are seeking ways to retain some of its quirky features. L.A.-area firms RCH Studios and EYRC Architects are the design architects, and RDC is the executive architect for the redesign. The developers hope to complete the first phase by the end of 2020. Chula Vista Bayfront A 535-acre World War II-era industrial zone is being transformed into a complex comprising hotels, housing, retail, parks, and a conference center in this South Bay city’s portion of the San Diego port tidelands. Houston-based RIDA Development plans a $1.1 billion hotel and conference center on 36 acres. RIDA’s architect is HKS of Dallas. Courthouse Redevelopment Another repurposing project involves the 1960s downtown county courthouse. On the first of three blocks owned by the county government would be a $400 million, 37-story mixed-use building developed by Vancouver, Washington–based Holland Partner Group and designed by local firm Carrier Johnson + Culture. Manchester Pacific Gateway The Navy Broadway Complex, which dates back to the 1920s, has been leased to local developer Doug Manchester, who agreed to build the Navy a new West Coast headquarters. He, in turn, won rights to build hotels, offices, a retail galleria, and a museum on the balance of the complex’s 13.7 acres. Gensler is the architect, and construction of the tower is well underway in the $1.3 billion, 3 million-square-foot complex. NAVWAR The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR, formerly the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command or SPAWAR) occupies former Air Force hangars dating to World War II located between Old Town San Diego and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot north of downtown. The Navy, seeking a modern research and development home, would like to repeat its deal on the Naval Broadway Complex by signing up a developer who would deliver such a building in exchange for the right to develop the rest of the site privately. The 71-acre location is also being eyed by regional planners as a “Grand Central” multimodal transportation center. The Navy expects to issue a request for proposals. In the meantime, the local National Association of Industrial and Office Parks chapter sponsored a “university challenge” for a portion of the site. The winning $1.6 billion, 4.1 million-square-foot “Delta District” plan from students at the University of San Diego includes offices, housing, and retail, plus an “innovation center” where education and R&D would meet. De Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio of San Diego aided the UCSD students. One Paseo Suburban development continues in San Diego County, and one of the most controversial suburban projects, One Paseo, opened earlier this year east of Del Mar on the North County coast. Opponents, led by a rival shopping center company, objected to the density and launched an initiative to kill the project, and the developer, Kilroy Realty, downsized the plans. The retail portion, by the Hollywood architecture firm 5+design, opened earlier this year, and the first apartments are due this summer. San Diego Convention Center Expansion The center, built in 1989 and last expanded in 2001, will appear on the March 2020 city ballot in the form of a hotel tax increase that will fund an $800 million expansion, plus homeless and transportation improvements if it can gain the required two-thirds approval. The main new feature would be a rooftop public park. The project designer is Fentress Architects of Denver. SDSU Mission Valley San Diego State University won voter approval in 2018 over local developers’ rival “SoccerCity” to redevelop the 166-acre site of the former Chargers NFL football stadium site in Mission Valley, north of downtown. When the Chargers returned to Los Angeles, the future of the 70,000-seat, 52-year-old stadium was up for grabs. SDSU plans to replace what is now called SDCCU Stadium with a smaller facility for its Aztecs football team. Developers would be selected to build 4,600 housing units and 1 million square feet of office and retail space that ultimately could be repurposed for academic use to complement the university’s 250-acre campus a few miles to the east. Carrier Johnson + Culture prepared a conceptual master plan, and Gensler is the architect for the new $250 million stadium, which is targeted to open for the 2022 football season. Seaport Village The downtown Embarcadero postindustrial transformation began with the construction of the Robert Mosher–designed San Diego–Coronado Bridge in 1969. The obsolete ferry landing was redeveloped as the Seaport Village specialty retail center in 1980. Now it’s time to turn the 39-acres of one-story buildings into something denser and more sophisticated. The current $1.6 billion plan calls for the usual mix of hotel and commercial uses plus an aquarium, ocean-oriented learning center, a 500-foot skytower ride designed by BIG, and water-centric recreational and commercial fishing features. The project architect is San Diego–based AVRP Skyport. UC San Diego The UC San Diego campus, whose first class of fewer than 200 students took up residence in 1964, is nearing an enrollment of 40,000 and is planning to add three more undergraduate residential colleges to the six already in place. The 2,100-acre campus, spanning Interstate 5 in San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood plus a community hospital near downtown, has about $10 billion dollars in projects planned over the next 10 years. That doesn’t count the $2.1 billion extension of the San Diego Trolley light-rail system which is due to reach the campus in 2021. The campus trolley stop will lead to a new campus gateway entrance, where several major buildings and an outdoor amphitheater are in the works. An off-campus downtown hub on the trolley line is already under construction. Numerous architectural firms, both local and national, have been engaged to build out the campus, including HKS and San Diego–based Safdie Rabines Architects for Sixth College, now under construction; Seattle-based LMN Partners for the Triton Pavilion, a six-building complex at the new trolley stop; and the downtown hub by Carrier Johnson + Culture. Roger Showley is a freelance writer who recently retired from The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Brought to you with support fromLocated on the outskirts of Amherst, Massachusetts is a new expansion for the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Isenberg School of Management. The building, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) in collaboration with architect-of-record Goody Clancy, adds a new 70,000-square-foot study and social space for approximately 150 faculty members and 5,000 students. The massing of the extension resembles the imposing circular layout of an ancient amphitheater, swapping out the Roman arch or Greek pillar for facade-height strips of copper cladding and glass curtain. For the bulk of the enclosure, the copper-clad concrete piers rise perpendicular to the ground level, but ultimately stagger and fall atop each other in a domino-like effect. UMass Amherst is the flagship campus of Massachusett's state university system, and as a result, possesses a broad range of architectural styles and building scales. The Isenberg School of Management moved to its current site in 1964, a rectilinear three-story building defined by concrete and red brick. An extension was added to the southern elevation of the original building in 2003, and BIG's design effectively continues this trend of growth along the north elevation. According to BIG project leaders Yu Inamoto and Hung Kai Liao, "the conceptual move to create the building massing and space inside the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub was actually a rather simple one—a loop originating from, and connecting to, the existing building then stretching one point of that volume to create a multi-story space." Across the facade, each individual copper module is two-feet in width and the glass curtain three-and-a-half feet wide. In comparison to the rest of the extension where the copper panels are placed one atop the other, the far more visible eastern elevation is laid out in a diagonally pitched stretcher bond format. The panels themselves are clipped to aluminum rails fastened to a sheathing clad cold-formed framing structure produced by Ace Panel Worx. The primary stylistic flourish of the project is the domino-like effect found at the entrance of the building, a remarkably complex structural feature that remains visually consistent. "Even before they start to pitch, the depth of the pillars from the glass gradually increases," said Goody Clancy Senior Associate George Perkins. "The first few pitched pillars are framed with steel studs, but then structural steel tubes are introduced, and eventually steel trusses. The metal panels and joint locations had to negotiate this changing structural condition." For Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, who collaborated as facade consultant for the project, a detail of particular importance were the many of transitions present in the envelope. The copper, which only functions as cladding, is backed by an air and water barrier that is integrated into the glass system.
Arquitectonica, Morphosis, HOK, Snøhetta, and more in running for massive Qiddiya giga-project in Saudi Arabia
Saudia Arabia is thinking big. A $500 billion project unveiled last year known as "NEOM" was dubbed a megacity and now, increasing by a factor of 1,000, Qiddiya, a new entertainment, sports, and arts venue, is being marketed as a "giga-project." Twenty-one architects have been tapped to work on the project so far, including nine US firms: H.O.K., Populous, Arquitectonica, Morphosis, Asymptote, 5+, CallisonRTKL, Rossetti Architects and Rockwell Group. The London office of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is master planning the site, meanwhile, other practices will contribute to projects within the 130 square mile site, a third of which will be developed on. WilkinsonEyre, Mangera Yvars Architects, Steve Chilton Architects, from London; Coop Himmelb(l)au from Germany; 10 Design from Hong Kong and local studios Dar Al Omran and X Architects comprise the remaining architects involved. Securing that many architects of reputable caliber will be considered a scoop considering the news last year that Sir Norman Foster, Carlo Ratti, and other leading design professionals withdrew their support for the NEOM project in the wake alleged killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Qiddiya Investment Company is backing the project, which will be located 28 miles outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. In a press release, the firm said BIG's plans were "constructed with careful consideration to the natural patterns that have been etched on the site throughout history, giving rise to a green-belt network carrying visitors throughout the property on roads, bike paths, and walkways built within an enhanced landscape environment."
Speaking to AN, Qiddiya's chief executive Michael Reininger said the area "will become Saudi’s capital for entertainment, sports, and the arts." The average summer daytime temperature is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. “The climate in Riyadh remains quite hot for four to five months, and our master plan was designed accordingly," Reininger said in response. "Buildings and spaces will be created ensuring there are sufficient shaded areas for the comfort of our visitors. We will introduce water and air movement to create micro-climates where temperatures can be controlled." Within BIG's proposals, five "zones" have been planned: The "resort core" will boast a car racing circuit, a Six Flags amusement park, an ice arena, and retail and dining facilities; A golf residential and community zone will offer two golf courses, equestrian facilities, a hotel, and 20 villas; An "eco zone" will offer luxury tents, the chance to spot wildlife and go hiking, and zip-lining among other outdoor activities (of which golf is included again); a "motion zone" will basically let visitors drive cars very fast, as the area will supply another racing track, this time part of a private racing resort, along with a high-speed loop for cars where "customers can discover their own cars’ max speeds," and an off-road area. Finally, Qiddiya's "City Center" will boast an aquatic center, multiplex cinema, two stadiums a bicycle velodrome, sports school, mosque, and performing arts center. All the aforementioned amenities and more will be designed by the architects involved, though who will design what has yet to be finalized. It is hoped that by 2030, the resort will attract 17 million visitors annually. According to the Architects' Journal, $30 million is spent every year by Saudis outside Saudi Arabia, something Qiddiya aims to cash in on.
The phrase “bring a project to life” is thrown around casually by creative types of all creeds, from industrial designers to conceptual painters—people whose daily lives involve intense engagement with communication tools that allow the ideas in their heads to exist in the physical world. Emerging technologies from 3D software to VR goggles have revolutionized the way that clients can experience a designer’s vision, and now, Hyperform, a new collaborative and data-driven design tool, allows the design industry to literally immerse themselves—digitally—within a working project, blown up via augmented reality technology to 1:1 scale. Hyperform comes from a Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) collaboration with Squint/Opera, a creative digital studio, and UNStudio. These big-name studios believe that their immersive software will enable designers to make the best decisions for the project and the client much faster, as the interactive elements are closer to complete project visualization than anything we’ve seen yet. Jan Bunge, managing director at Squint/Opera, said, “Hyperform marks the first time we can feel and sense a spatial condition before it gets built.” Client and designer can walk around a project, experiencing its massing, spatial qualities, and materiality, and simply use hand gestures to edit, delete, and alter this type of digital file in real time before it’s too late or too expensive to make a change. In a concept film, the Hyperform user is depicted as a disembodied hand, the viewer’s own, pushing at virtual buttons suspended in space and scrolling through horizontal libraries of architectural drawings, 3D models, and plans. Selecting a model and blowing it up with verbal cues to immersive size, the user shares it with a life-size colleague who materializes in a pixelated form before our eyes, calling in and “ready to join the meeting.” BIG has debuted this new tool at its curated exhibition, FORMGIVING – An Architectural Future History from Big Bang to Singularity, at the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen. Amid the exhibition of 71 BIG projects currently on the drawing boards, representing the firm’s active proposals for the future, Hyperform exists towards the end of the exhibition's “timeline”—near the top of the staircase near “singularity”—as the software represents the step beyond perceiving mere reality, going beyond into creating new realities—digital ones.