If Boston City Hall were a celebrity, it might be a fixture on tabloid “Worst Dressed” lists. The Brutalist building elicits strong sentiments from architectural observers and everyday citizens alike, but most agree the City Hall Plaza could use some sprucing up. In his inaugural State of the City address Mayor Marty Walsh called on residents to help him reimagine the barren, 11-acre brick expanse. Boston City Hall Plaza is an inductee into Project for Public Spaces’ "Hall of Shame" and rated on par with Barbie’s Dream House by California Home and Design. But perhaps the city can help elevate the windswept space. Even in a city replete with 18th-century Georgian-style churches, the plaza, built in the 1960s, has long been an architectural bane. Walsh’s administration has spruced up the interior somewhat, revamping the 3rd floor mezzanine and installing the Stairs of Fabulousness by artist Liz Lamanche to inject a sorely needed pop of color, but the Brutalist face of the building belies these improvements. The administration has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather the data required to take concepts from the drawing board to actualization. Last year, AN reported the municipality’s master plan for revitalization designed by Utile Architecture + Planning with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, but other than the replacement of the bunker-like Government Center subway station with a sleek steel-and-glass exterior, little else has been done, notes local news site Bostinno. Other plans announced last year involved replacing a labyrinth of staircases with sloped walkways to ease access to City Hall from the subway station, installing seating, and resolving frequent flooding by planting trees in an open-joint permeable brick paving system to simultaneously green the concrete expanse. Big players the likes of landscape architecture firm Halvorson Design and architecture and engineering firm HDR had signed on. This year, Mayor Walsh’s administration is sizing up plans for a city-sponsored seasonal skating rink to be named “Frozen Harbor” as well as a 20,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed restaurant called “Polar Bar”, according to Boston Herald. Officials have not made headway with securing permits and no project costs or plans have been put forward yet.
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The Architectural League's Emerging Voices lecture series, now in its 30th year, has reliably identified important new talent through a juried selection process. This year's group reflects a number of important currents in contemporary practice in North America. In recent years, a number of young Mexican firms have been showcased, and this year's group includes three practices, Ambrosi Etchegaray, Atelier ARS, and CC Arquitectos, which represent that country's proud tradition of stark and rooted modernism. Boston, long seen as conservative place to work, is represented by two young firms, Merge Architects, and Neri Oxman. A can-do pragmatism and urbanistic grit informs Philadelphia's ISA, and the pioneering digital designers Aranda/Lasch, based in New York and Tucson, are rapidly moving from installations and furniture to significant freestanding buildings. The emergence of landscape architecture and landscape urbanism is reflected in the design and research of Miami's Studio Roberto Rovira. For a full schedule of the Emerging Voices lecture series, visit the League's website. Full profiles of each firm will be available in the March East Coast edition of AN.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Boston blew past the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco to be selected as the United States' bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympics. With the announcement official, Boston 2024, the private nonprofit spearheading the bid, has publicly released the presentation it gave to the Olympic Committee back in December. Boston public radio station WBUR reported that David Manfredi, of the Boston-based Elkus Manfredi, is co-chairing the bid’s planning committee and walked through the team's presentation last week. Manfredi reportedly said that Boston 2024’s planning goal is to make the games the most walkable Olympics of all time. To that end, 28 out of 33 venues are within about a six mile radius. There is also the “Olympic Boulevard” which serves as the “pedestrian spine” between many of the facilities. The overall plan has two main clusters of facilities, one near the water and the other around some of Boston’s most famous universities including Boston University, MIT, and Harvard. Take a look at the conceptual renderings below to get a sense of what could be coming to Boston in 2024. That is, if Boston can fend off its international competitors.
Alas, despite being hailed as the favorite to represent the United States in the race for the 2024 Olympics, Los Angeles has lost out to its much older competitor, Boston. LA had pitched what Mayor Eric Garcetti hailed as the “most affordable” proposal, using mostly existing facilities, including the LA Memorial Coliseum, the Staples Center, and even Frank Gehry's Disney Hall, Griffith Observatory, and the Queen Mary. Maybe the USOC isn’t as into a bargain as we thought? Or maybe after giving LA two games they’re just not that into us anymore. San Francisco, by the way, lost out on its bid, which also banked on affordability. Damn, the Olympic Village could have been the only cheap place to live there outside of Oakland!
Stereotype: New directions in typography The Boston Society of Architects 290 Congress Street, Suite 200 Boston, MA Through May 25 The Boston Society of Architects (BSA) is currently exploring the boundaries and possibilities of traditional typography with an exhibition called Stereotype: New directions in typography. To delve into the future of the form—and to raise questions about what is next for it—the BSA is presenting works from 14 up-and-coming and established designers from around the world. “By exploring the opportunities at the intersection of technology and design, this new breed of artists is expanding the boundaries of traditional typography and integrating elements from the fields of animation, craft, performance, nanoscience, and graffiti into their work,” said the BSA in a statement. To push past a conventional understanding of typography as purely two-dimensional, the exhibition incorporates “time, movement, and the third dimension.”
After hosting the Olympic Games in 1932 and 1984, Los Angeles is in the hunt to be the Unites States' candidate to host them again in 2024. Earlier this week the city made a presentation to the U.S. Olympic Committee, followed by pitches from Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. According to Inside The Games, a website dedicated to Olympic news, LA's proposal would be heavy on existing facilities, cutting down on costs so much that Mayor Eric Garcetti called it the "most affordable" of any U.S. proposal. The games would once again focus on the LA Memorial Coliseum (which would be substantially renovated), and surrounding Exposition Park, both just south of USC. Other significant venues would include Staples Center, the Nokia Theater, Griffith Observatory, the Queen Mary, and even Walt Disney Concert Hall. According to Inside The Games, the bid shows off LA's ongoing transit expansion, with officials claiming that 80 per cent of spectators will be connected to venues by public transport. San Francisco proposed a $4.5 billion, privately financed plan that would also focus on existing, or already-planned facilities. According to the SF Chronicle they would include newly-completed Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, several waterfront piers, and the Golden State Warriors' upcoming arena in Mission Bay. A temporary stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies in Brisbane, south of San Francisco, would be removed after the games, and the Olympic Village would be contained in 2,000 units of housing already approved as the fourth phase of development at the Hunters Point shipyard. “We’re not going to be building white elephants in our city or anyplace in our region,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee told the Chronicle. The USOC is expected to decide on an entry city by early next year, and the International Olympic Committee is expected to choose the 2024 host city in 2017. The U.S. has not hosted a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The last U.S. city to host the Winter Olympics was Salt Lake City, in 2002.
Behnisch Architekten has big, green aspirations for its latest project, the EpiCenter, fittingly located in Boston’s Innovation District, the burgeoning neighborhood designed for such far-reaching goals. The firm just unveiled plans for a new expanded headquarters for the non-profit, Artists for Humanity (AFH), an organization dedicated to helping underserved youth through paid employment opportunities in the arts. According to Behnisch, the addition will make the existing LEED Platinum certified building—the city’s first—designed by local firm Arrrowstreet, even greener, with the hope of becoming the largest energy positive commercial building on the East Coast. The building already was an AIA COTE Top Ten winner. The expansion will add 63,500 square feet of space to the original building to accommodate more areas for the young artists as well as larger galleries and new studios. A retail store and café will overlook a new 1.5-acre park. The firm will employ a number of tactics to minimize the building’s carbon footprint, including the use of recycled and locally sourced materials, passive solar strategies to maximize daylight, specific type of glass to mitigate solar heat gain, a heat recovery system, and storm water management. To send energy back to the grid, and achieve its energy positive target, the firm will implement different solutions to generate its own electricity such as mounting photovoltaic arrays and utilizing geothermal production. While the design is still in its preliminary stage, the building is slated to open in November 2016.
The Rockefeller Foundation has announced a second batch of cities in its 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. The foundation launched the challenge last year as a way to support resiliency measures in cities around the world. This includes support to hire a Chief Resiliency Officer. One year after the first 32 cities were selected, another 35 have been added to the list, including six in the United States—Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Tulsa. To see the full list, visit the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge website.
Undulating birch walls create pockets of privacy in an apartment building lobby.When Boston design and fabrication firm Radlab began work on Clefs Moiré, the permanent installation in the lobby of One North of Boston in Chelsea, Massachusetts, they had relatively little to go on. They knew that the apartment building's developer wanted a pair of walls of a certain size to activate the lobby space, but that was about it. "Normally we get more information, so we can come up with a story—a concept based on the building and its requirement," said Radlab's Matt Trimble. "For this we pulled back and said, we have an opportunity to be a little more abstract about how we approach this conceptually." Inspired by moiré patterning and a harpsichord composition by J.S. Bach, the team designed and built two slatted birch walls whose undulating surfaces embody a dialog between transparency and opacity. The client's interest in achieving moments of privacy within a public space led Radlab to moiré patterning, the phenomenon in which a third pattern emerges when two other semi-transparent patterns are superimposed on one another. Trimble compares the moiré effect to standing in a cornfield. "It's not until that moment when you look at it from the perpendicular that you see the rows of corn," he said. "When you look to either side, the crossing prevents you from seeing depths." The designers decided to think about the two walls as a single volume that would later be split. "There's this potential for reading it as a single wall when you look at it from different perspectives," explained Trimble. "This made sense because the project is about viewpoint. If you're perpendicular to the wall, you see straight through it." Radlab began with a traditional approach to moiré patterning, playing with identical vertical components set askew to one another. Then they looked at J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2 in B-flat Major: Gigue. Bach's challenging composition requires the performer to cross his or her hands, the left hand playing the treble clef while the right hand plays the bass. "That became an inspiration for a way to structure and organize the two walls," said Trimble. "To think of one as being the result of a bass set of wavelengths, and the other as a treble set." The designers realized that they could modulate the metaphorical wavelengths across both the vertical and horizontal sections to create an interesting, and varied, third element. "That's where the Gigue became influential," said Trimble. "It gave us a way to create a rhythm in the wall that would pace itself." The team relied heavily on Rhino and Grasshopper both to design the installation and to plan fabrication. "We would create various iterations in 3D modeling software, then disassemble them into the flat XY plane and try to understand: how would we actually build this?" said Trimble. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger's Paul Kassabian provided crucial help with structural engineering, including designing a base plate that is invisible except when the wall is viewed from a 90-degree angle. Radlab CNC-milled the wood slats and spacers before coating them with varnish. "Fabrication was long and arduous, but it challenged us in really great ways," said Trimble. The group developed a hanging mechanism to efficiently apply fire retardant to the ribs. To prevent varnish from adhering to the points of connection between the ribs and spacers, they fabricated each spacer twice, once out of birch, and once out of chipboard. They affixed the chipboard templates to the ribs before spraying the varnish, leaving an untouched patch for the final spacer. "It was process-intensive, there was no getting around that," recalled Trimble. "But we embraced that process-intensive journey from the onset, to see if there were ways we could be creative about creating improvements to make fabrication more efficient." On site, Radlab laid down templates of the base plates to drill holes for the anchor bolts, then returned with the walls themselves. Each wall was prefabricated of four panels and assembled in the shop. "They tilted up almost like tilt-up concrete walls," said Trimble. In addition to having inspired the form of Clefs Moiré, Bach's Gigue works as a metaphor for how the finished walls perform in space. "It starts and stops abruptly," explained Trimble. "There's no crescendo or tapering of intensity. The walls do the exact same thing: there is no rising up from the ground or falling into it. They start and stop in a similar way."
The Circus for Construction has taken its gallery-meets-event space on the road this fall, bringing a mix of dialogue and exhibitions on contemporary art and architecture practices, via a custom-built truck, to several east coast cities. After winning a competition by Storefront for Art and Architecture last May, this traveling Circus— conceived by Ann Lui, Ashley Mendelsohn, Larisa Ovalles, Craig Reschke and Ben Widger— got its wheels thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The design team— involved in every step of the process from conception to build out— transformed a 25-foot-long trailer and pick-up truck into the mobile Circus after six weeks of construction in August. Designed to adapt to different sites and programming needs, the truck is outfitted with exterior panels that serve a dual purpose as peg boards and shading components, while interior aluminum frames can be adjusted to increase the height of the space to allow for large-scale works and also for projecting images in the evening. The Circus began its journey in East Boston, and then headed north, to Buffalo, where it parked on the grounds of the abandoned Silo City, and invited local speakers to discuss “Buffalo’s Radical Re-imagining.” Next up, they’ll make stops in Downtown Boston (where AN's own Bill Menking will speak about the Architecture Lobby), and Ithaca. If this three-ring circus hasn’t rolled up to your city yet, you can stream the workshops, lectures, and live events on Circus TV, available on the project's website.
[beforeafter][/beforeafter] The Massachusetts Department of Transportation wants to transform a gritty site underneath Interstate 93 in Boston into a public space that people actually want to visit—or at least park their car. BostInno reported that the $6 million project, called “Infra-Space 1”, is part of MassDot’s wider initiative to give new life (and lighting) to vacant lots underneath the city’s elevated infrastructure. [beforeafter][/beforeafter] Curbed Boston noted that the initiative has already 235 “well-lighted” parking spots. “Infra-Space 1” will upgrade an eight-acre, notoriously-dangerous site in Boston’s South End neighborhood. Now, obviously, a planned 175-car parking lot doesn’t necessarily scream urban renewal, but there are aspects of this project that could actually activate the space. The plan is essentially to first clean up the site and then prep it for possible programmatic elements. Alongside the parking lot, which has 24/7 security, the DOT wants to install “innovative” lighting systems and create an environment for art installations and performances. As BostInno noted, MassDot is fairly bullish on what else is possible at the site. The completion of the project would also include a plaza, green space, a sports facility, dog park, and a connection to an eventual section of the Boston Harborwalk.
Thanks to a new park bench design equipped with solar-powered docking stations, it's easier than ever for Bostonians to enjoy the great outdoors by staring directly into their phones. The benches, which are known as "Soofas", include two charging docks and have begun popping up in city parks as part of a pilot program. The Boston Globe reported that these Soofas were created by a MIT Media Lab spinoff called Changing Environments, which is a Verizon Innovation Program. "The creators behind the smart urban furniture, Soofa, are three women who share one vision: Getting you out of the homes and into a new, smarter and more sustainable city," the group explained on their website. These benches don't just charge phones, they are also wifi enabled allowing them to report information on local noise levels, air quality, and totally not any personal information, why are you even asking? Soofas will be at least the second set of unique benches unveiled around Boston in the past year. Last summer, AN reported on custom wood benches at Harvard, which are designed by Stoss Landscape Urbanism and resemble sliced bread. Insert pun here.