Apartments currently represent one of the most fruitful sites of invention within the field of architecture. The contemporary world, simply put, is filled with provocative apartment buildings. Michael Webb’s Building Community—New Apartment Architecture aims to chronicle some of those exemplary projects, delivering a well-rounded—though somewhat incomplete—exploration of contemporary apartment design. At 256 pages, the tome, with muted graphic design by Praline, is jam-packed with 30 smart apartment designs from across the world designed by renowned firms, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Studio Gang, Michael Maltzan Architecture, Gehry Partners, and Bjarke Ingels Group. The book uses photographs, plans, sections, and other drawings to provide unvarnished views into the ways in which communality functions at the scale of multifamily housing. The collection offers a “greatest hits” approach to uncovering what’s possible when designers and developers work together toward the shared aims of livability and sociability, touching on widely publicized projects like Morphosis Architects’ Carabanchel Housing and Luciano Pia’s 25 Verde. The latter features 150 trees along its exterior, while the former utilizes a network of plazas and courtyards to create cool and social outdoor spaces. Another stellar example comes in the form of Jakob + MacFarlane Hérold apartments in Paris, from 2008. The chiseled, ETFE-wrapped housing blocks—“softly-molded and irregular,” in Webb’s words—are designed with multiple exposures for cross ventilation and dwelling-wide balconies attached to each unit. The balconies, due to their comfortable proportions, are populated by eccentric patio furniture, plantings, and knickknacks, exhibiting the lived-in qualities of these truly successful outdoor apartment spaces. They seem like great places to live. The book also offers a collection of ruminations from housing-focused architects like Édouard François and Lorcan O’Herlihy that shed light on some of the inner workings and contemporary struggles of apartment design. As Michael Maltzan’s and Stanley Saitowitz’s testimonials lay bare: It’s often too difficult, costly, and risky to build quality and affordable multifamily housing on a mass scale. All told, the book’s six thematic sections—“Urban Villages,” “Building Blocks,” “Promoting Sociability,” “Spirit of Place,” “Reaching Skyward,” and “Looking Ahead”—are too generic for the multifaceted buildings on display, especially “Reaching Skyward.” The heading unnecessarily creates a division by elevating tall apartment buildings into a separate class. It would have been more helpful, perhaps, to compare tall and short buildings within chapters together, highlighting each via juxtaposition. The book features several examples of thoughtful affordable and social housing projects, but their numbers are too few. Instead—perhaps as a commentary on contemporary practice—too many of the projects bluntly use “design” as a tool for extracting higher rents and padding the developer’s bottom line. Studio Gang’s contribution points to this fact directly—“People were so eager to live here that rents are the highest in Hyde Park,” the architect explains—as does MAD Architect’s Marilyn Monroe tower, which was so successful that the developer asked the firm to design a virtual carbon copy next door. Maybe it would have been more effective to couch this contemporary tendency within a larger discussion focused on the rich connections between economies and architecture. Either way, the general topic of affordability is glossed over. Webb’s book, after all, comes not only as rapidly urbanizing populations make high-density living a practical necessity, but also as this egalitarian typology is simultaneously being co-opted by wealth. The book’s introduction highlights this fact: Until recently, apartments were the domains of regular, hard-working folks, not the idle rich. Perhaps more architects can take a page from Webb, and fight for greater excellence and representation of these types. As Webb explains, “Huge complexes can be humane places for a wide variety of residents as long as they are well built and maintained, provided with essential services and connections, and softened by generous plantings.” Building Community—New Apartment Architecture Michael Webb, Thames & Hudson, 2017 $65.00
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OKB Architecture has released renderings that depict planned renovations to the historic Foreman & Clark building in Downtown Los Angeles. The L.A.-based firm will convert the former department store and office building into a mixed-use apartment complex containing 125 units and 8,500 square feet of ground level retail. The building dates to 1928 and is organized along a series of double-loaded internal corridors, which, along with many of the building’s original decorative elements, will be retained through the conversion. The proposed apartments will ring the building’s exterior facades, with one set of units looking out over a large fifth floor courtyard and the others along the perimeter of the structure. The building will contain a collection of one- and two-bedroom units. New additions to the structure include renovations to the fifth floor terrace overlooking the street and the addition of a new rooftop penthouse level. The shared terrace will contain building amenities like integrated seating areas, shade pavilions, and modest plantings. Renderings for the project depict updated ground floor retail areas with double-height glass-clad storefronts buttressed by low walls. The renderings also depict a new, more prominent residential lobby entrance along 7th Street marked by an oversized awning. The project joins a growing number of new developments within and around Downtown Los Angeles’s historic Broadway Theatre District, including a forthcoming 450-unit condominium tower inspired by the surrounding historic mercantile structures by architects Hanson LA. Because many of the area’s structures are historically significant, many of the new developments in the district consist of interior renovations and condominium and office conversions. A timeline for the Foreman & Clark project has not been announced.
Forget about San Francisco being the hardest place to rent in California. According to a story in the New York Times (citing zillow.com), Angelenos spend 47 percent of their income on the median rent. That’s the highest in the country, and significantly higher than San Francisco, which ranks sixth on the list at 40.7 percent. And the problem appears ready to get worse as new supply struggles to keep up with demand in the overcrowded city. Maybe we’ll all have to move to Bakersfield.
Developers Related completed its resurrection of 111 West Wacker Drive earlier this year, opening a luxury rental tower on the Chicago River where for years stood a ghostly concrete frame left over from a previous owner's attempt to build. The site was originally intended to house the first Shangri-La Hotel in the U.S. Four years after the recession halted construction with just 28 stories of structural skeleton complete, Related broke "ground" again, this time planning about 60 stories and about 500 luxury apartments. That redevelopment finished up this summer, opening in July. About 60 percent of the units have since been rented, said Related spokeswoman Tricia Van Horn. Renting is the only option for the 504 units, which range from 575-square-foot studios to three-bedroom, three-bath residences of 2,400 square feet. They cost anywhere from $2,395 to $11,500 a month for one of the four penthouses. OneEleven's segmented construction led to some interesting design adaptations. Having scaled back from pre-recession ambitions, the new owners stacked a smaller building on top of the 28-story base, bifurcating the floorplate and creating some interesting outdoor spaces where the Shangri-La plan juts out at the 28th floor. A recessed zig-zag in the facade references datum lines of nearby buildings and alludes to the unusual construction history while shielding the transition between its disjointed floorplans. Views from outdoor “Club OneEleven” down Clark Street are spectacular, if marred a bit by the building's neighbor to the south. But rather than cram lower south-facing floors with low-light apartments, Related conceded that space to back-of-house, building systems and some amenities. The luxury rentals are targeted to “people who are really interested in having an urban life,” Van Horn said, underscoring the building's singular position in this section of the Loop not typically known for residential developments. Take a look inside OneEleven with these photos by Scott Frances.
With the real estate market drifting through a relative recovery, one prominent Chicago developer seems to be saying, "Come back in, the water's fine." The team behind Chicago’s Aqua Tower is gearing up for another high-rise nearby. Chicago-based Magellan Development Group hired Studio Gang Architects for another tower in the 28-acre master-planned neighborhood of Lakeshore East. Gang’s 82-story Aqua Tower, 225 North Columbus Drive, opened in 2009 to international acclaim. Its organically rippled balconies suggest the movement of wind across water. The undulating balconies are functional, too, providing sun shading and eliminating the need for a tuned mass damper. Design details for the new tower are forthcoming, but the developers said it could work on either of two sites in the Lakeshore East area. Five years after the mixed-use tower opened, Aqua saw its last unit sold February 21. Dennis Rodkin reported the 3,200-square-foot town home at the building's base sold for $1.7 million. Aqua’s 262 condominiums, 474 apartments, nine town homes and 334-room hotel are a landmark for the Lakeshore East neighborhood, which is now home to more than 5,000 residents. Development there has taken off since Millennium Park’s 2004 completion. Magellan’s master-planned community include a Dubai-based private school's first U.S. location, a six-acre park, and towers from the likes of SOM, DeStefano + Partners, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and Steinberg Architects.
“Dingbat” is a word with many meanings. It’s a synonym for nitwit. In typography, it’s a symbol used in place of a letter. And in Los Angeles, it’s a particular type of multi-family housing, dominant in the 1950s and 1960s and alternately maligned and embraced over the decades. Dingbat 2.0, an upcoming publication from the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design (LA Forum), explores the history and future of dingbat apartments. The subject of a current Kickstarter campaign, Dingbat 2.0 brings together essays on the origins of the Los Angeles dingbat with highlights from the LA Forum’s 2010 Dingbat 2.0 competition, in which participants were asked to reconfigure the dingbat for today’s urban reality. The dingbat is a “really interesting architectural type that can be looked at in a lot of different ways,” said Thurman Grant, co-editor with Joshua G. Stein of Dingbat 2.0. A subset of what John Chase and John Beach called “the stucco box,” the dingbat is unornamented except on its street-facing facade, where applied texture, rear-lit sconces, and pressed-wood script bearing the building’s (often fanciful) name differentiate one structure from the next. In obeisance to postwar cultural norms, dingbat developers built a separate entrance for each apartment, and made room for the automobile in a ground-floor carport. “In one way [the dingbat is] kind of sticky, in that you can apply a lot of things to it,” Grant said. “But it’s also kind of slippery, because you have these apartment buildings that are very clearly dingbats, and others that could be dingbats.” Part of the Dingbat 2.0 project is to better define the dingbat apartment typology. But the dingbat is more than just a historic artifact: it’s also a contemporary problem. The dingbat began as a waystation for upwardly-mobile immigrants from the Midwest. Today’s urban nomads have a different set of needs, which aren’t necessarily addressed by the car-centric stucco box. “That’s what the LA Forum initially identified [in the Dingbat 2.0 competition],” Stein said. “Something’s changed...We want to figure out what would better serve those kinds of populations.” The 2010 competition began a conversation that continues in the Dingbat 2.0 publication, many of whose contributors served on the competition jury. Whether the topic is the dingbat’s historical backstory, the appropriation of the dingbat aesthetic by 1970s avant-garde artists, or a speculative reimagining of small-lot development, Stein sees Dingbat 2.0 as a vehicle to better understanding the Los Angeles of today. “The book becomes a handbook to describe the life of the common Angeleno,” he said. Dingbat 2.0 includes essays by Barbara Bestor, Aaron Betsky, James Black, Dana Cuff, John Kaliski, John Southern, Steven Treffers, and Wim de Wit, plus a photo essay by Judy Fiskin. Click here to contribute to the Dingbat 2.0 Kickstarter campaign.