Posts tagged with "El Paso":

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Neil M. Denari Architects unveils a sculptural rooftop office space in El Paso

Los Angeles–based Neil M. Denari Architects (NDMA) has unveiled plans for a 10,000-square-foot office and gallery addition slated for the Sotoak Realty company in the Union Plaza District of El Paso, Texas.

The adaptive-reuse project aims to add a sculptural rooftop pavilion to an existing three-story red brick warehouse. The proposed addition cantilevers 18 feet over an adjacent street and features a red aluminum panel soffit designed in homage to the region’s clay-rich soils.

For the project, the designers have created a north-facing window wall that will capture daylight, a feature that compliments an interior light well connecting a rooftop terrace with the building’s main stairs and a lower level gallery. Renderings for the project depict a bright open office area flanking a cluster of executive suites, with perforated metal panel window walls lining the eastern-facing portions of the space. The project is currently entering the construction documents phase, according to the Texas-born Neil M. Denari, principal at NMDA.

The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

Architect: Neil M. Denari Architects Client/Developer: Sotoak Realty Location: El Paso, Texas Expected completion: 2020

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Roundup: Special report from the Texas-Mexico border

This past week, The Architect’s Newspaper has published a series of essays from our recently released July/August 2018 issue, focused exclusively on Texas. The collection has been guest-edited by El Paso-based AGENCY and has examined the forces that have shaped the U.S.-Mexico border, and how that border continues to affect the lives of people on both sides. The following essays offer perspectives on property, landscape, material, and infrastructure that shape the U.S.-Mexico border. The authors illuminate critical spatial practices that destabilize assumptions about the border and the seeming simplicity of its binary divisions and exclusionary logics. These perspectives argue instead for constructive transgressions of this destructive border myth as it is being implemented to advance political agendas. These articles are offered as origin stories of a land, a people, and a space whose origins are routinely questioned and defied, entrenched and overcome. How architecture is aiding detention at the U.S.-Mexico border In the first part of this series, AGENCY documents how architecture and design aid detention across the U.S.-Mexico border, and how immigrants seeking asylum are turned away before they can enter the U.S. Photos by Iwan Baan accompany the text. The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico The Juárez-El Paso border area has always been tightly knit, and in the 1960s a hanging monorail could have united the two cities. Now that there's a renewed focus on the border as an impenetrable barrier, what can we learn from a time when the border was meant to be crossed? How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico The Rio Grande has served as a dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico, but as the river shifts course, so too do the fortunes of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, leading to a host of water management issues in both cities. As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms The flow of money from the United States to Mexico has encouraged a new style of architecture in Mexico, as residents have used that money to design and construct new housing typologies by hand. How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes The continual deposition and erosion of soil by the Rio Grande further muddles the U.S.'s border with Mexico, as the river has historically been used as a dividing line between the two countries. Prada Marfa’s immigrant architecture is more relevant than ever Prada Marfa, conceived during the roiling post-9/11 political era, is an appropriation of native Mexican materials and techniques that satirizes American consumerism; the building is now more relevant to the political conversation than ever, argues one of its designers.  
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How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes

This article is the fifth in a series that originally appeared in AN’s July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. The 1896 Heavyweight Championship in boxing was staged in an improbable location: on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande River. Robert James Fitzsimmons knocked out Peter Maher in a fight that lasted 95 seconds and took advantage of the ambiguous administrative and enforcement conditions of the river boundary. Boxing, you see, was illegal in both Texas and Mexico at the time. After a series of territorial shifts and classic Texas wrangling, the fight promoters decided to stage the fight some 16 hours journey south of El Paso in a remote section of the river away from easy enforcement by Mexican police. In a fight attended by 182 people enclosed inside a canvas tarp fence, Fitzsimmons led with his left, and a minute-and-a-half later, “Maher measured his length on the floor.” And it is indeed this figurative floor, this once and future bed of the river where the fight was held, that was both the legal loophole that allowed this spectacle to take place as well as the ongoing challenge to bright-line models of international territoriality. In the contemporary media environment where border walls and military buildup occupy our imagination of the boundary, it is easy to forget that well over half of the length of this border is defined by the fluvial boundary of the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande). Article V of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo reads, “The Boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande…from thence, up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel…to the point where it strikes the Southern Boundary of New Mexico.” Yet, as this and the dozens of subsequent treaties, commissions, and surveys attest, this very definition of the boundary is subject to the fundamentally dynamic and unsettled nature of the Rio Grande River.   In general, water law recognizes two categories of boundary change brought about by the changing forces of water: one gradual and slow, the other abrupt and discontinuous. The first, known as accretion, is defined as the gradual and imperceptible deposition of material along the bank of a body of water and the lands formed by this process. Its inverse, reliction, is the gradual uncovering of land caused by the recession of a body of water. In both of these cases, the morphology of ownership maps onto the morphology of the river—with alluvial accretions or relictions belonging to the owners of the coterminous land. The second category, known as avulsion, is defined as the sudden and rapid change of a channel of a boundary stream. Such wholesale shifts in the river channel are quite common in rivers such as the Rio Grande that experience wide fluctuations in flow across the year, where oxbows and meanders are cut off regularly during the spring freshets. In these cases, the changes brought about by such large shifts do not easily map onto adjacent property and ownership structures, resulting in the potential for pockets of alternating ownership—and in the case of the Rio Grande, of citizenship—existing across the river boundary. At the heart of these attempts to tame the river through surveyed lines and legal words is a fundamental irreconcilability of language and landscape—an irretrievable misfit between the map and the territory. Writing in his 1857 Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, surveyor general Major William H. Emory highlights this gap when he explains: “The [river] does not always run in the same bed; whenever it changes, the boundary must change, and no survey nor anything else can keep it from changing. A survey of that river, therefore, as it fixes nothing, determines nothing, is of minor importance. It forms of itself a more apparent and enduring monument of the boundary than any that can be made by art.” Against Major Emory’s advice, the International Water and Boundary Commission set out in the early 20th century to “rectify”—or straighten—the natural meanders of the Rio Grande in a futile attempt to make the world out there approximate the bright-lines of boundary law. These so-called Banco Conventions, named after the riverbanks cut away by river avulsion, carried the additional political dimension of citizenship: where those who opted to remain on their original land could either preserve title and rights of citizenship of the county to which said banco formerly belonged or acquire the nationality of the country to which the territory would belong in the future. Yet the engineer’s channelization of the Rio Grande could no more make the river act like the surveyor's line on the plat than it could erase the fundamentally dynamic and relational qualities of being and belonging that mark this border region. Language and law, boundaries and territory, citizenship and rights—these are only a few of the fundamental correspondences that the fluvial geomorphology of the Rio Grande River both narrate and problematize. Jesse Vogler is an artist and architect based in Tbilisi and St. Louis and is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.
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How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico

This article is the fourth in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In the border metropolis of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, the power relations of international negotiation are not only performed through the apparatus of control over the movement of bodies, but are also embodied in a concrete architecture that exposes the calculus of separation and asymmetrical infrastructural development between the two countries. In the borderland, the control of water—as territory, commodity, and reproductive agent—produces its physical spaces. While the shared waters of the river and the underground aquifers contribute to the reproductive capacity of land within the desert climate, the infrastructures of water supply and sanitation are material evidence of the socio-spatial injustices and imbalances that structure and reproduce social relations within the border cities. Negotiation The geopolitical history of the river as a border and of the partitioning of its waters is inscribed within the built environment as a thick constructed zone. The international border between the United States and Mexico was defined by the 1848 and 1884 Treaties, which delineated that the border follow the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte) from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. This rendered the border an unstable condition, as its line needed to be redefined by the International Boundary Commission each time floods caused the river to relocate. A treaty in 1933 attempted to “fix” the river by engineering it into a constructed channel. However, this location left several hundred acres of disputed Mexican territory to the north of the river—the result of a violent change in course in 1864. The 1963 Chamizal Agreement relocated the river and the international boundary once again, moving the Rio Grande back to its 1852 survey location. In this highly publicized moment of international diplomacy, the disputed land was “returned” to Mexico, and a new channel was constructed to reroute the Rio Grande north so that both river and international border aligned. The division between the two countries was now emphasized, further asserted by the open lands of the former riverbed on the Juárez side and a new elevated border highway on the U.S. side of the channel. Management The colonization of the U.S. would not have been possible without the massive campaign of dam projects in the early 20th century that commodified the waters of the West and irrigated the farms and settlements of homesteaders. Four dams manage and distribute the Rio Grande waters in the El Paso-Juárez region: Elephant Butte, Caballo, American Diversion, and the International Diversion Dam. Water is distributed according to the 1944 Water Treaty, drawn up when the population of Juárez was less than one-tenth its current size. In 1965, the binational Border Industrialization Program enabled maquiladoras, foreign-owned manufacturing plants, to be located within Mexico’s border zones, and to move materials and products with reduced tariffs and trade barriers. This propelled an influx of new residents who arrived to work in the Juárez border zone maquilas. The treaty, which retains the majority of the river water in the U.S., has not been revised since and contains no provisions for sharing the rapidly depleting Mesilla and Hueco Bolson aquifer waters, which traverse the binational region underground. The division of the river water produces politically charged urban spaces. The U.S. Franklin Canal materializes as a physical barrier within the U.S. border zone, flowing deeply and rapidly in a concrete channel alongside the Rio Grande. In Juárez, the diverted water flows along the Acequia Madre, which takes a diagonal course, traversing some of the city’s main public spaces. This once green irrigation channel and common space is now largely neglected and has deteriorated into a toxic line of sewage and trash. Biopolitics Water is not only scarce in the desert city of Juárez—it is also dangerous. The paper worlds of politics materialize as realities on the ground and in the tissues of bodies. Due to the explosive population growth of Juárez, large portions of the city have been rapidly and often informally constructed, typically without proper municipal sewage or drinking water services. The residents of these informal settlements, known as colonias, rely primarily on truck-supplied water, which has a much higher likelihood of being contaminated and results in high rates of water-borne diseases. Only about a third of the city’s sewage is actually treated.  Some colonias have additionally encroached on the city’s drainage gullies and arroyos, putting residents at further risk during flash flood events. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly “explicitly recognized the right to clean drinking water and sanitation as essential to the realization of all human rights.” If this mandate is taken seriously by the binational region of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, new treaties and agreements will need to be negotiated that address not only the scarcity and distribution of its shared waters, but also the shared responsibility of water rights to citizens on both sides of the border. What remains to be seen is not only what shape these take in terms of political agreements, but also how they will reshape the physical urban spaces of the paired cities.
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The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico

This article is the second in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. These days the conversation about the United States–Mexico border is dominated by the implications of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But back in the mid-1960s, there were concerted binational efforts to build a monorail to further connect the commercial districts of two cities conceived as part of one binational community. A 1965 document outlining the proposal for a Juárez-El Paso Monorail System invoked the common origins of both cities. The river was referred to as an obstacle to be overcome: “No other metropolitan community of equal size has been so restricted and contained by so relatively a small item as a channelized river.” Recently, the idea for a monorail has surfaced again, but this time riding on top of a 2,000-mile border wall promoted by an American president to further separate the U.S. and Mexico. The 1960s were a period when ideas for urban planning boomed in the Juárez/El Paso border area. This was the context of the 1965 proposal for a transportation project designed to move passengers back and forth across the border. Although the idea did not come to fruition, it gives a glimpse of how certain sectors viewed the future of Juárez/El Paso as an integrated border metroplex. A prototype of the monorail can be seen in the 1967 film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut. It was built on the outskirts of Paris as a demonstration facility by SAFEGE, the company chosen to install the El Paso/Juárez monorail. Guy Montag, the main character, enjoys a smooth ride between the city and the suburban neighborhood where he lives. The suspended train featured in the movie is the same as that in the photomontages published in the booklet that circulated in the Juárez/El Paso area two years earlier. It was estimated that the nonstop ride between stations would transport commuters between the San Jacinto Plaza and the Juárez bullring in less than three minutes. Both cultural and aesthetic considerations were made, along with technical, commercial, and other economic aspects of the interaction between the two cities. The project was proposed not just to satisfy a growing demand for a rapid transit system that would minimize crossing time, but also as a potential tourist attraction. It anticipated that visitors from all over the world would visit “to witness the most advanced form of mass transit functioning commercially in a modern community.” It would have been an invitation to take a glimpse into a science fiction future, one where limitations imposed by geopolitical borders were meant to be overcome. The design considered how to implement inspection of passengers by Mexican and American immigration and customs officials, and proposed that this process would take place upon arrival at either station rather than at traditional border checkpoints. The document stressed that authorities considered this viable. But did this pitch really correspond with the sociopolitical context of the epoch? Or was this early globalization, pro-trade discourse merely boosting rhetoric aimed at gaining sympathizers for a binational entrepreneurial group trying to get a piece of the border transportation business? At first glance, the mid-1960s were a promising time for a project that gave the impression that Juárez/El Paso were twin cities living in harmony. But in fact, these notions were contrary to national border control policies that produced the infamous Operation Wetback, which resulted in numerous human rights violations and the deportation of over a million people. More recently, Donald Trump has been reviewing prototypes for a different kind of border project: the construction of an “unscalable” and “unpenetrable” wall. His idea has prompted architects and builders from both countries to make proposals. Earlier this year The New York Times ran an article posing the question, “Is Donald Trump, wall-builder-in-chief, a conceptual artist?” It was a report about Christoph Büchel, himself a conceptual artist who circulated a provocative petition seeking to save the prototypes—built with $3.3 million in federal funds—from demolition by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. According to Büchel, the set of textured slabs, which can be seen from across the border, was “a major land art exhibition of significant cultural value.” Not surprisingly, the petition created an uproar in the art world. Although some proposals were made in jest and did not reach the prototype stage, there have been numerous bids that attempt to subvert Trump’s purpose to isolate and supposedly protect the United States from the perils of contact with its southern neighbors. The New York Times reviewed a dystopian parody consisting of a 2,000-mile pink wall, housing seemingly disparate facilities like a detention center and a mall. This was a collaborative effort by Estudio 3.14, a design group in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Mamertine Group, a design lab at the University of Connecticut. The designers used minimalist concepts and colors reminiscent of the style of influential Mexican architect Luis Barragán: “It is a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported.” The project also contemplates the wall housing a mall with a Macy’s in the Tijuana section. The San Diego Union-Tribune accounted for an apparently serious plan presented by a Southern California firm named National Consulting Service that envisioned a wall topped by a monorail serving both countries. The train would run along the border and would feature “voice analysis technology to detect different emotional states of riders to possibly assist law enforcement.” According to the firm, the system was designed to keep Americans safe, but also to improve and revitalize sister cities along the border. The future is still in the past.
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How architecture is aiding detention at the U.S.-Mexico border

This article is the first in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States.
So much of what is built on the border is to contain, restrain, detain, constrain, restrict, wall off, fence up. When there is so much natural beauty there—the river, the desert, the mountains to enjoy and celebrate. So many families who want to be together, so many people who just want to be. I wish that we were building more bridges (flat, easier to cross and connect), tearing down the walls that we have; wish that we had immigration and asylum laws that matched our values and our interests so that we weren’t locking so many people up. Wish that there were no more private prison companies so that there wasn’t a profit motive to do that. —Beto O’Rourke, El Paso native, U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, and the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas
Texas, the state with the longest continuous land border with Mexico, has been uniquely formative in the construction of spaces and narratives that define national dialogue in the borderland. The state is home to more ports of entry than any other state. These entry points are legible crucibles of bio-political power, routinely collapsing spaces of speculative commerce, incarceration, and the projection of national identity. Assessments for constructing a new border crossing, connecting Tornillo, Texas, with Guadalupe, Chihuahua, began in 2001. A new bridge, a 2,000-acre industrial park, and 300 acres of "border facilities" were initially meant to bring economic development to the remote area and improve regional health, reducing pollution from idling traffic at congested bridges in El Paso. A presidential permit was issued for the bridge in 2005, but its construction would be stalled, and its purposes changed. In 2008, the Juarez Valley, a remote collection of agricultural communities in Mexico south of Tornillo, saw one of the highest murder rates in the world, gaining it the reputation as the “Valley of Death.” Victims of the violence would increasingly flee to Tornillo to seek asylum. Some speculate that the rampant violence was a scheme sponsored by the Mexican government to evacuate residents in the area in preparation for, and to expedite construction of, the bridge. In 2010, modular detention facilities in nearby Fabens, Texas, built to accommodate the flow, were over capacity. Violence in the valley eventually stabilized and plans for the new crossing were rekindled. The Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge opened in 2016 and was hailed as an achievement in cross-border infrastructure. The adjoining U.S. checkpoint exemplifies an architecture designed to manage, block, and process bodies, an outpost at the edge of empire. The architects of the LEED Gold facility describe the materials and performance as specially suited to the site’s desert context, with integrated technologies promoting the efficient monitoring of populations, noting that the design “inspires the spirit of place.” The optimism for the port to rapidly realize a future characterized by collaborative binational security efforts was captured in its christening. It was named for Marcelino Serna, the most decorated U.S. soldier from Texas to serve in WWI, who happened to be an undocumented migrant. The anticipated traffic never came. Less than a year after its opening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had shut down the only lane dedicated for northbound commercial traffic. Without the economic engine to support the new complex, the overbuilt site quickly found new use in a growing economy of detention. Tornillo opened a temporary overflow center in 2016, typical of an increasingly common ephemeral incarceration infrastructure. These pop-up sites are rapidly installed and disassembled by specialist companies who navigate remote terrain in far-flung locales as easily as their practices navigate the constraints imposed on such facilities by case law. Tornillo continues to be an ideal site for such installations, far from the public eye yet enmeshed in the infrastructure of detention. In June 2018, Tornillo would be home to its most notorious tent city. The Tornillo checkpoint currently holds over 300 minors in tents just south of the bridge. As the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy has separated families across the country, the Tornillo site grows as a center of life for the unwanted, the detained, and the displaced. For a few days, however, a contrasting occupation resisted the isolation, anonymity, and placelessness of the remote facility. On Father’s Day 2018 and the following Sunday, floods of protesters descended upon the border checkpoint, appropriating the isolated node as a center of active resistance. The site joins a growing host of detention sites in the border state, which index nationwide trends in detention. Taken collectively, the sites represent a growing impact of private speculation and profit models impacting the construction of detention facilities, all of which are adapting—and therefore helping to realize—a near future in which the remote, prolonged detention of families and children is commonplace. Since 2006, Texas has been home to the much-maligned T. Don Hutto Residential Facility, which, at the time it was built, was the only privately-run facility used to detain families. The largest detention site in the U.S., the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, can house up to 2,400 women and children. The site is part of a constellation of for-profit, superscaled sites on a stretch of interstate highway between Laredo and San Antonio dubbed "detention alley." A new contract seeks a 1,000-bed center nearby—similar to a 1,000-bed facility built outside of Houston last year—which will be the eighth in the South Texas area. As military advisers advocate for detention centers on military bases to create even more “austere” and “temporary” environments, Texas leads the charge here as well. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio housed migrant children in 2014, repurposing a dormitory once used for recruits. El Paso’s Fort Bliss housed 500 unaccompanied Central American children in 2016. A June announcement revealed that two Texas military installations—Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base—would be among the select sites to continue the trend. Other sites in the state, such as the now infamous former Walmart in Brownsville, signal a shift toward speculative investment in detention trickling down to private properties and actors. At the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, connecting downtown Ciudad Juárez with downtown El Paso, CBP is pushing the edge of U.S. jurisdiction beyond the spatial limits of the bridge. Although due process of asylum claims is guaranteed within the port of entry, agents have ventured onto—and reportedly across—the bridge to deny access to the port. Uniformed border agents ask for documents on the bridge to identify and turn away Central Americans seeking asylum, a few hundred feet from their destination. On June 27, CBP confirmed to El Paso immigration rights advocacy groups that this prescreening and advance rejection has become official policy borderwide. Without access to the legal framework enabled by the ports, many asylum seekers cross in unsanctioned locations. Those caught crossing outside the ports, some with otherwise credible asylum claims, face criminal charges and deportation. By denying a space for lawful entry, the policy artificially amplifies the numbers of illegal crossings and a myth of increased illegitimate entry. The port thus transforms from a site capable of processing identities to an instrument which actively constructs and deconstructs citizenship.
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The Very Many brings an undulating canopy to El Paso

  New York-based studio The Very Many has designed and built a sinuous canopy that hovers over the entrance to a public pool in El Paso, Texas with In*Situ Architecture working as the architect-of-record. Dubbed 'Marquise', the canopy creates an entry structure for El Paso’s Westside Natatorium. The design studio, led by Marc Fornes, with engineering from LaufsED, formed a self-supporting structure made of gridded, curvilinear panels. There are hundreds of lightweight aluminum shingles that form a larger surface, with gaps in between to produce a dappled lighting effect below. A diamond-like pattern in gradients of rich yellows and deep blues plays off the “fluctuations between warm and cool” of the desert setting and is meant to “saturate the palette of the surrounding landscape.” The curved surfaces create an impression of a billowing tent rising from the ground, where it then organically forms two seats that are actually cast-in-place concrete elements. From the organic form of the awning, visitors have a unique spatial experience with alternating sensations of warmth and coolness, light and shade. The Very Many is known for designing and building thin-shell pavilions and installations. In the same vein, Marquis achieves its thinness through compound curvature and structural shingles in two different thicknesses: 1/8 inch at its thinnest and 3/16 inch for reinforcement and resistance to point loads. The name Marquise references the structure's 21st century play on the Art Nouveau entrance, which is historically classified as a curvilinear steel frame and glass awning that is either attached to buildings or freestanding. Here, aluminum replaces the glass-and-steel frame to create a unified structure.  
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AGENCY uses deep research to push architectural boundaries

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN originally profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. AGENCY founders Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller will deliver their lecture on March 8, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller started AGENCY to consider the margins of the world. “We use our architectural training to uncover the shrinking of individual agency in public space and the reduction of human rights or potential human rights violations,” Kripa said. Working out of El Paso, Texas, the pair deploys words, maps, wearables, and installations to uncover contradictions in liminal spaces like military training sites, refugee camps, and borders—especially the one between the United States and Mexico. The architects completed their first project as AGENCY in 2008. A decade later, the firm continues to be defined by deep research into contested urban spaces and humans’ relationships to environments, built and digital, that are increasingly designed to collect personal data and monitor people’s actions without their consent. Kripa and Mueller, both instructors at Texas Tech University College of Architecture – El Paso, wound up in the city after a research visit for their forthcoming book, Fronts: Security and the Developing World. They were studying military training environments, like Playas, New Mexico—a village of hundreds of empty homes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses for counter-terrorism training. Increasingly, these simulated spaces feature shantytowns and junkyards, informal typologies associated with the developing world. AGENCY, Mueller said, believes these are both a “preamble to where the U.S. military can engage in the future” as well as a reflection of state attitudes toward public space in the contemporary city. Along similar lines of inquiry, the duo writes "Border Dispatches," a series for AN that explores these and other expressions of militarism along the U.S.-Mexico border. These are worthy topics, but are they architecture? AGENCY believes its designs could not manifest without the deep research it conducts. “In our built work, we start with intensive research and problem identification, where we proactively uncover hidden or emerging realities that are just beneath the surface of contemporary urban space,” Mueller said. “We try to imagine a scenario that can be inflected by designed objects or spaces that have a discreet presence.” The approach is apparent in Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data,¹ a subversion of the made-for-Instagram interiors that trend online. For El Paso’s annual art fair, Kripa and Mueller fashioned the ideal selfie sphere from 162 units of CNC-milled composite aluminum panels that diffuse soft LED light. The pair asked visitors to hashtag their photos from the installation so they could be collected and tracked. “People were very on board with hashtagging selfies so we could collect them,” Kripa said. “That was surprising.” AGENCY may remake Selfie Wall in Juarez, the Mexican city right across from El Paso, with an eye toward connecting people on both sides of the border. Design, they believe, can—and should—be deployed to control data, as well. For Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping,² a project executed during the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, the pair walked the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen with Arduino sensors to monitor air quality. The region’s air is cleaner than it was in the past, but it’s sometimes hard to tell what pollutants still linger, as the Chinese government often releases inaccurate data. To empower people with knowledge about the air they breathe, Kripa and Mueller are looking to mass-produce the sensors and distribute them to residents, who can then track air quality throughout their day. This should be a busy year for AGENCY. At home, Kripa and Mueller are working with a local entrepreneur to adaptively reuse a warehouse site, transforming it into a kitchen incubator and outdoor public market. Fronts is coming out this fall, and after that, the duo is scaling up the Delta Fabrics project. “We want to dive deeper into understanding how to democratize data so [people can] measure their own environment on their own, to take back agency a little bit,” Kripa said.

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¹ Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data was commissioned by the El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department

² Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping was a one-month residency in Shenzhen for New Cities Future Ruins with Future+ Aformal Academy and Handshake 302. The project was supported by Design Trust Hong Kong and Texas Tech College of Architecture as part of the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

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El Paso Children’s Museum reveals finalist designs, now up for a public vote

Renderings for the final three designs for the new El Paso Children’s Museum have been revealed, and residents of El Paso, Texas, can vote on their favorite until Friday, December 15th. All of the options, which include designs by Santa Monica-based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Oslo-based Snøhetta, and Mexico-city based TEN Arquitectos, are designed around a master plan with specific installation requirements. The $30 million Children’s Museum, officially named Spark, is the result of a $473.2 million “Quality of Life” bond program that began in 2012. Because Spark is meant to educate people of all ages, the master plan by Gyroscope Inc., a museum design firm, have included nine themed interactive zones, maker spaces, art studios, classrooms and rotating exhibition space. Those themed zones include everything from a climbing-centric room that draws inspiration from the nearby Franklin Mountains, to a rooftop water engineering center in the shadow of a full-scale model airplane. Each of the competing studios chose to integrate these requirements differently. The proposal by Koning Eizenberg is relatively understated, wrapping a boxy glass form in a masonry sun-screen that references local architecture. A canopy of “sky canoes” seem to float over the act the building’s roof, trapping water and redirecting it to a learning garden on the ground floor, while the sunlight filtered through the façade is used to teach children about the movement of the sun. Overall, the firm wanted their design for the museum to integrate science into the building’s every function. Snøhetta’s proposal goes vertical, lifting the exhibition spaces off the ground and utilizing the space underneath for a series of interactive gardens. That verticality is repeated throughout Spark, with a set of floor-to-ceiling windows pointed towards the soaring Franklin Mountains, and the placement of a model jet at the museum’s “prow.” Visitors enter at the ground level and ascend into the stone-clad main body of the museum through an elevator inside of a central glass atrium, and are deposited onto a winding, spiral-shaped ramp. Their design also calls for a large number of interactive exhibits, including a seesaw linked through the internet to a counterpart at the Children’s Museum in Juárez; as one side goes up or down, the sibling seesaw moves accordingly. TEN Arquitectos’ design makes full use of the museum’s plot, turning Spark into a miniature campus with individual buildings all unified under a large scaffolding and solar panel roof. Each of the buildings would house a different program and look down on the public ground-level garden plaza. By allowing foot traffic to flow through the space unimpeded, and by hosting events at night in the plaza, TEN Arquitectos is hoping to better integrate the museum into the fabric of the surrounding city. The El Paso Community Foundation and other philanthropic groups involved with the museum expect to break ground in early 2018, and complete construction in the fall of 2020.
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This “Selfie Wall” explores the limits of personal data privacy

On January 3, 2017, El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico-based AGENCY Architecture took advantage of the selfie phenomenon, transforming a public park with a temporary installation and data privacy experiment dubbed the SELFIE WALL. AGENCY describes its practice as engaging contemporary culture through architecture, urbanism, and advocacy. By uncovering whether photo data remains private, SELFIE WALL aims to address concerns about how personal selfie culture really is. Thanks to metadata, a picture may really be worth a thousand words. According to AGENCY, selfies are a resource for third-party data-crunchers who use facial and pattern recognition software to extract identity and mood. Metadata is embedded in the photo file, social network post protocols, mobile device settings, and user-generated content, jeopardizing every selfie-taker’s individual data privacy. Located in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez (what AGENCY calls a "binational metropolitan region"), SELFIE WALL provided the ideal lighting and visual interest (a perfect selfie stage) to explore these issues. 162 custom-fabricated units and CNC-milled composite aluminum panels were folded to become surfaces for bouncing, scattering, and collecting light. Its rigid, multifaceted structure mimics stage lighting and the photo umbrellas used in portrait photography, film, and vanities. SELFIE WALL allowed for different lighting conditions for day and night, with LED lights providing different color temperatures for nighttime self-portraits. AGENCY is following up the installation, analyzing metadata from SELFIE WALL selfies uploaded to Twitter and Instagram that have an event-specific hashtag.
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SWA remakes a historic plaza in downtown El Paso to appeal to Millennials

From the 1880s to the late 1960s, El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza was the place to see alligators at alarmingly close proximity. Crowds would sit around the fountain in the middle of the park to watch the sad spectacle of captive reptiles circling their enclosure. When the city asked landscape architecture firm SWA to redo the plaza seven years ago, the firm’s Los Angeles office had the tall task of designing a park that would preserve the turn-of-the-century Arcadian layout beloved by residents and draw crowds, just as the alligators once did.

SWA found harmony between programming and design, despite the trend toward “shoehorning” as much programming as possible into outdoor spaces. “The community wanted a concept that respected the formal axes [of the Arcadian layout], so the axes are still there, but now you come to a destination,” explained Gerdo Aquino, CEO of SWA. SWA collaborated with San Antonio, Texas–based Lake|Flato, which designed a cafe and shade canopy that activate the heart of the roughly two-acre park.

The canopy shelters “Los Lagartos,” Luis Jiménez’s fiberglass alligator statue, an homage to San Jacinto’s one-time residents. SWA encircled the statue with a balustrade and decorative mosaics that radiate out toward a botanical garden, custom chess and ping-pong tables, an outdoor reading room with a lending library, a produce market, and an area for washoes (a game similar to horseshoes but played with washers).

Aquino noted a recent shift in emphasis in park design from beauty and ecology toward beauty, ecology, and programming. According to him, the reason can be distilled to: “One word: Millennials. They ask, ‘Is the landscape a place where I can play? Is it a place where I can meet my friends? Can I FaceTime here?’ It’s all about me. You can’t design a park like you did five years ago.”

Second- and third-tier cities are luring all demographics, not just Millennials, back to the city center with open space projects, Aquino explained. San Jacinto’s landscape plan preserved existing older trees, while pairing native species of oak, agave, and grasses with non-native, but adaptive, plants for pops of color. “If mayors want to make their downtowns more livable,” Aquino said, “they need open space that’s ecological, financially feasible, programmed to the hilt, and also beautiful. You don’t have to live in New York, L.A., San Francisco, or Boston to have access to great design. Great design can be created right where you live.”

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Ball-Nogues Studio taps into baseball mythology with custom aluminum enclosure

A custom architectural enclosure composed of 200 CNC-milled custom aluminum extrusions.

Forming a porous perimeter to a new ballpark at Southwest University Park in El Paso (home to the minor league El Paso Chihuahuas), Ball-Nogues Studio's “Not Whole Fence” project taps into a tradition of monumentally over-scaled public art with an attention to craft and detailing. Capping off the Populous-designed ballpark, the fence installation turns the corner along a busy pedestrian intersection. The public art commission involved design, engineering, and installation in a rapid timeframe – the architects were given less than a year from conceptualization through fabrication. Benjamin Ball, principal in charge at Ball-Nogues Studio, said there was a desire to address the history of the game with the installation. “There’s a mythical history to baseball about kids using knotholes in the fence to sneak views into the game if they didn’t have tickets.” The fence adopts a large scale wood grain patterning, scaling up the dimensions of a picket to form one massive bending surface. Strategically placed “knotholes” in the surface composition allow pedestrians an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the action on the field. “The structural quality of the fence creates a sense of mystery. By allowing mostly partial views of the action inside the ballpark, it calls for the imagination to conjure up the rest of the picture, creating a sense of fantasy and infinite possibilities.”
  • Facade Manufacturer Sapa Extrusions; Neal Feay Co (Specialty Fabrication); Ball-Nogues Studio (Fabrication Supervisor)
  • Architects Ball-Nogues Studio
  • Facade Installer Industrial Stainless International; Ball-Nogues Studio (Installation Supervisor)
  • Facade Consultants Buro Happold Los Angeles (Engineering Consultant)
  • Location El Paso, TX
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • System CNC-milled custom aluminum extrusions
  • Products n/a
While the design concept evokes a literal image of a wood plank, the detailing of the facade components produce a sophisticated, robust assembly. The architects designed the fence as a system of extrusions serving as both the skin and the structure. Working with Sapa Extrusions, the team designed and produced a custom dye for production of a unique aluminum extrusion for the project, ultimately yielding around 200 repeatable components that bolt together on site. Ball said a lot of design and engineering that went into the individual extrusion. The team designed in fins on the front side, with larger struts on the back side, producing enough structural rigidity to withstand a subtractive CNC milling process. A wood grain patterning is registered in the surface by milling out selective areas of the panels. When viewed frontally, glimpses of the ballpark can be seen, however when viewed obliquely, large struts block openings while providing surface area to reflect a soft glow of daylight. Ball notes interesting similarities to the tectonic assembly of some segments of the US/Mexico border fence, only a quarter mile from the site. "You can't blow anything up to a colossal scale without thinking about Claus Oldenberg," said Ball regarding the literal reading of a picket fence in their fence facade. "We've never used that as a strategy before in our work. This still has to function as a fence, and we still value things like detailing, tectonics, connections. In contrast to Oldenberg's work, we occupy an "unusual gray zone" between architecture and public art.” Ball says his studio is ultimately is interested in craft of building regardless of typology. “We're looking for the right challenges, and the right people to work with. Are they willing to take chances? Do they believe in our process? That could apply to buildings or public art.” CORRECTION: Neal Feay Company was originally omitted from our list of Project Credits. The studio played a significant role in the machining process, providing specialty fabrication and consultation for the “Not Whole Fence” project.