Posts tagged with "Brutalism":
The Park Hill housing project in Sheffield, U.K. has suffered a turbulent, roller-coaster ride since its completion in 1961. Now a listed building—the largest protected building in Europe in fact—Park Hill has been subject to scorn and adoration from politicians, architects, artists, musicians and residents. Park Hill is currently being renovated by developers, Urban Splash, who this month, announced that the project will finally be completed by 2022.
In 1945, British architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began designing Park Hill; they drew from on Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation and Peter and Alison Smithson's unbuilt 'streets in the sky' concepts. Upon completion, Park Hill had a warm reception, receiving praise from the likes of Reyner Banham along with positive articles in national newspapers such as The Telegraph, The Times and The Economist.
Writing for the Architectural Review in December, 1961, Banham said:
Park Hill seems to represent one of those rare occasions when the intention to create a certain kind of architecture happens to encounter a programme and a site that can hardly be dealt ‘with in any other way, and the result has the clarity that only arises when - as in the Villa Rotonda - aesthetic programme and functional opportunity meet and are instantly fused. But what Park Hill abundantly demonstrates is that there are other kinds of architectural clarity besides the Classical.
By the 1980s, however, the area had become notorious for attracting trouble. Flats had become rundown and Park Hill was synonymous with drugs and crime with this being down to a number of complex reasons including "poor management, deindustrialisation and better council housing stock in other areas of the city." Sheffield City Council then decided to award the estate—as public housing projects are known in the U.K.—protective Grade II Listing status in 1997. The move proved controversial among locals and the general public alike.
Four years later, a bridge within the complex was infamously vandalized by a man only known as Jason (not this author.) His painted message of "I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME,"* scrawled in white and visible for miles, stirred journalist Frances Byrnes to eulogize it as "love yelling at the top of its voice in an estate thought to be desolate." Upon first sight of the message in 2001, estate caretaker Grenville Squires remarked: "How are we going to get that off?" Squires never found a way. Unbeknown to Jason, his work was later showcased at the 2006 Venice Biennale. Now, the vandalism-cum-artwork has found permanency through British architecture firms Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West. They're working with Urban Splash to trace and illuminate the text with neon lighting.
Cut to today: Urban Splash said that, after agreeing on a timeline with city officials, their ongoing work on Park Hill is due for completion in 2022. The work will continue with the gutting of the concrete structure and with the installation of new apartments. "This is great news for us and for Sheffield, we can now fulfill our ambitions for the project," said Simon Gawthorpe, managing director of Urban Splash, who later added how the recession had caused delays to the project.
In 2013, work on Park Hill was one of six projects up for the RIBA Stirling Prize. Approximately 600 people now live and work in renovated Park Hill units and, by the project's conclusion, the it will contain 210 apartments and 330 student housing units. Also funding the scheme are the Sheffield City Council, Great Places Housing Group, and national conservancy group Heritage England.
Despite Park Hill's success, the Robin Hood Gardens estate in south east London has not enjoyed a similar fate. Designed by the Smithsons and built in 1972, the project saw the realization of the Smithson's streets in the sky project (on their own terms). The building, however, even after campaign work from Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers, is due for demolition having been refused Listed status by Heritage England.
*For the record: Jason's then lover, Clare Middleton, said yes but the couple didn't marry, splitting a month later. More on the story can be found here.
However, Smith acknowledged that these radical ideas—when attempted on an architectural and planning scale in Basildon—have wilted significantly over time. "The place has a terrible reputation, both locally and nationally," he said. Local civic pride, according to Smith, appears to be dwindling. With his film, Smith hopes to spark a "debate of the state of our towns" and "not just new towns." When filming parts of the high street and Basil Spence's Brooke House—both architecturally-prominent landmarks within Basildon—Smith recalled being asked: "Why are you filming that? Are you going to knock it down?" No one even goes to Basildon on holiday. In the 1970s, Basildon was dubbed as "little Moscow-on-Thames," Smith described. A decade later, the phrase "Basildon Man" had surfaced. That image was of the well-to-do working-class Conservative voter—a far cry of the leftist ideologies of the past and its architecture. This was cemented when Tory MP David Amess won the Basildon constituency seat in 1983 and was able to hold it for 14 years. In his conversation with AN, Smith concluded that in the end, "top-down planning" was endemic to its failure. In the process of collating more than 400 hours of footage of the town, Smith goes so far as to argue that few—if any—would ever visit Basildon for fun. His Kickstarter campaign has until September 26 this year to have funding finalized. The film, if realized, will be complete by March 2017.
With declining public interest in an outdated 1970s exposed concrete library in Lawrence, Kansas, Gould Evans worked closely with residents, downtown neighborhood groups, and the library to establish primary goals for a renovation that sought to cover a broad base of community interests. Out of this extensive dialogue, the project team identified a design concept that promoted better contextual awareness between the library and the city through a new main entryway, a more functional threshold between the library and the surrounding community, and improved energy performance. After an extensive energy modeling and analysis on the existing structure by Syska Hennessy Group, it was discovered that the building lost significant energy and lacked adequate levels of daylight due to the arrangement of exposed concrete fins that acted like a giant radiator during hot days. In response, the architects addressed performative issues and community desires with a “re-skinning” strategy that wrapped a continuous reading room around the original structure. The facade, clad with a continuous insulation barrier and a terra-cotta rainscreen system, was envisioned as a highly contextual element interfacing directly with the city. The new addition opens up to a park on the north side, while providing a new community plaza along the south elevation. Along the west facade, access to an aquatic center across the street allows the library to be easily accessed by children before and after swim meets. The main entrance is located along the east of the building, which fronts a pedestrian-oriented urban context. Formal bends, folds, and apertures of the facade assembly facilitate the structure. Terra-cotta was employed as the predominant exterior finish material by the project team to provide a modern update to adjacent historic red brick facades of Lawrence dating back to the late 1800s. The one-by-five-foot terra-cotta rainscreen panels are hung off an aluminum clip system in front of a continuous insulation barrier and trimmed cleanly at the perimeter with one-fourth-inch aluminum plate. Contrary to the imperfections of brick modules, terra-cotta is engineered with a high tolerance through controlled machining processes. Gould Evans showcases this precision through its facade design, which specifies panels in two textures: smooth and grooved. A sense of variation and depth is produced from shadow lines generated by the textured panel, which appears slightly darker than the smooth panel despite their precisely similar coloration. Windows fit compositionally into the panelization of the facade, and include terra-cotta baguettes that perform as solar louvers. Particularly notable is how the new addition interfaces with the existing structure. Utilizing the mass of the concrete building, the new addition literally hangs off of the old library along the west facade where a new column-free book deposit drive through window is located. A primary steel framework sits above the existing roof plane, creating a continuous row of clerestory windows opposite the primary exterior facade. Opening up opposing walls to natural daylight minimizes glare—essential to the reading function of the space—by creating an even distribution of light. The original facade, a series of concrete fins now along the interior of the building, is codified with a cladding of a tongue and groove ash wood. Where the public interfaces with library services, such as account assistance, stacks, children's cubbies, private meeting spaces, and the central sorting machine, the ash is selectively removed to expose an underlying concrete structure. The project is currently undergoing LEED certification. After expanding the library by 50 percent, the design team reduced energy loads on the building by nearly half. This achievement is all the more impressive when considering the original systems of the building were left in place to reduce the embodied energy of a full replacement. The building has recently been recognized with a Landmark Libraries Award by Library Journal, as well as the Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture by AIA Kansas.
• Date of Retrofit: 2018 projected, (original construction 1965) • Architects: Hopkins Architects (Design Architect); Bruner/Cott (Executive Architect) • Consultants: Arup Partners (mep, structural engineering); Faithful & Gould (cost consultant); Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (structural engineering); Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (landscape architect) • Project Scope: Renovation of former Holyoke Center will include much-needed modernization of the building; improved access to Harvard’s information center; enhanced landscaped plazas at north and south ends of the site; new, flexible interior spaces for events; and common spaces to attract varied constituencies within the university. • Clear window film: 3M, Solyx • Installers: A+A Window, American Window FilmRecently renamed the Smith Campus Center, Sert’s former Holyoke Center at Harvard University is an h-shaped 10-story building offering a panoramic view of the nearby Charles River. With a crumbling exterior concrete envelope and inefficient heating and cooling system, the building is undergoing a significant renovation process spearheaded by London-based Hopkins Architects and executive architects Bruner/Cott.
Two quotations might aptly describe Sert’s dogmatic approach to campus planning and architecture, which often was in conflict with popular taste. The first, from Sert himself, proclaiming his disdain for Harvard Square’s historical colonial architecture that he partially demolished for his Holyoke Center: “Stepping into Harvard Square is like entering one of Dante’s circles of hell in terms of anything associated with human enjoyment, pleasure, or beauty.” A year after its completion, Harvard’s student journal shot back with: “The one nice feature about Holyoke Center is that it’s the one place in Cambridge from which you can’t see Holyoke Center.”
Today, the building—recently renamed the Smith Campus Center—is undergoing a major physical and cultural transformation that seeks to strengthen the Harvard community, rather than to divide it. The university has engaged the university student and faculty body through 25 focus groups to produce a collective vision for the new center. The committee organizing the reprogramming of the building has received over 6,000 survey responses.
While Boston University’s Law Tower received an addition that blended old with new, blurring the lines between Sert’s building and new construction, the Smith Center’s addition will separate itself from Sert’s architecture—a move that seems intentional. Visualizations of the addition promise relaxed spaces full of nature: A natural wood-clad ceiling and light-filled glassy expanses offering glimpses to nearby renovated leafy plazas.
It is ironic that here in the very building Sert used to set forth a modernist agenda erasing the past, a new addition and campaign by the university is on track to culturally erase his project—from the facade system down to the name of the building. “The new Smith Campus Center will embody the aspirations and values that we hold dear and seek to preserve. It will draw us together more closely, strengthening the sense of community at Harvard by encouraging spontaneous interactions among students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the broader community,” said Harvard President Drew Faust.
“We realize if we’re going to save these buildings and have another 50 years of usable life, we really have to make them better than they ever were to begin with. Because as good as they might have been in the beginning of 1960, they’re much better now than they ever were in terms of occupant comfort and ease of movement.”
[Note: Retrofitting Brutalism appears online in three articles, each highlighting a different project. To read the series introduction and explore the first project, the Boston University Law Tower, visit here. This second article features the Peabody Terrace; the third piece focuses on the Holyoke Center.]
• Date of Retrofit: 1995, window replacement 2004 (original construction 1962) • Architect: Bruner/Cott • Project Scope: concrete envelope repairs, replacement window system, building system upgrades • Structural Engineer: Foley and Buhl Engineering, Inc., Watertown, MA • Mechanical Engineer: Zade Associates, Boston, MA • CM: Shawmut Design & Construction, Boston, MA • Windows: Custom Window, Plymouth, MA
Josep Lluís Sert’s career was born in Barcelona where, after briefly working for Le Corbusier in Paris, he went on to found numerous influential artist groups influential in the growth of modern architecture. He was exiled to New York City during WWII where he worked on several urban planning schemes for cities in South America. From this experience, he became dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, initiating the world’s first urban design degree program.
One of his trademarks, prominently found on the facade of Peabody Terrace, are wonderfully colored panels integrated into window systems. “They’re very romantic,” said Cott. “…and surprisingly brightly colored. You can open them up and let in fresh air.” The problem was that these panels were literally the only means to temperature control in the building. All of the dwelling units, despite various solar orientations, ran off one thermostat. Tenants had no control of their heat, often using Sert’s operable panels to cool their overheating spaces in the winter months. The units were neither air tight or waterproof, further adding to the deterioration of the building.
“That was the extent to the sophistication of what I would call the most innovative housing project designed in the past 100 years,” said Cott. “It was the work of a genius, the way he [Sert] aggregated apartment units around stair cores and skip stop elevators […] an incredibly beautiful exterior without any regard to occupant comfort.”
Bruner/Cott approached the project in the 1990s as a preservation exercise, reconstructing the 500 interior units, repairing the concrete envelope, and designing an extensive replacement of Sert’s window system. Moss said that owners will typically just cover up the issues in these types of aged buildings. “That kind of recladding approach is going to become more and more endemic, but for good modern buildings it is a real problem. Often it skips the step of understanding and then working sympathetically with the original architecture.”
[Note: Retrofitting Brutalism appears online in three articles, each highlighting a different project. You can find our second installment, the Peabody Terrace, here. The third installment on the Holyoke Center appears here.]
Stationed between Harvard University and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bruner/Cott finds itself at arguably the epicenter of Brutalism—the Charles River where reinforced concrete towers thrived in the 1960s due to postwar campus expansion programs and the desire for an effect of stability and permanence among institutions. Bruner/Cott’s pioneering work with adaptive reuse in the 70s, along with extensive experience in managing the preservation of entire campuses of buildings—some nearly entire towns—has naturally led the firm to Boston University and Harvard University , where the architects find themselves reengaging the work of their former colleagues and teachers.
Technical complexities of renovating Brutalism bring forth a new set of preservation issues not seen in the restoration of 19th century clapboard buildings and limestone buildings—namely the cultural and tectonic baggage of exposed concrete. People often dislike concrete buildings. And concrete-formed structures are prone to sprawling and cracking since they are often reinforced and formed incorrectly. There is an art to concrete restoration that not only involves labor-intensive selective demolition, but also a precise pairing of aggregates to minimize the difference between old and new exposed finishes. “This is very fascinating work on a level that is very different than renovating a 19th century Victorian church. Modern architecture is of my time. We were around when modern architecture was new and innovative, and now we are renovating it. Its very interesting to see its faults and to be able to bring it back so it can continue for many years—hopefully many decades,” said Cott.
The following projects have much in common despite a range of nearly 20 years between completion dates. Their stories all stem from what Cott describes as a “downward spiral” of disinvestment—a familiar story that goes something like this: The building is not particularly liked by the public leading to a decline in its use, which triggers owners to stop taking care of it because of costly repairs. The building deteriorates, and its occupants hate it even more. Now demolition is on the table as a solution. The first question from these owners is often, “If we clear out the building, can we demolish it?” All of this effort is ironic for an architectural movement that made every aesthetic, formal, and structural attempt at erasure of a tumultuous past that included the Great Depression and two world wars. But Bruner/Cott sees its work as a respectful blend of preservation and correction of modernism’s faults, and “do the impossible” by making these buildings better than they ever were to begin with.
Boston University Law Tower
• Date of Retrofit: 2015 (original construction 1965) • Architect: Bruner/Cott • Project Scope: New Redstone building; total gut renovation of Tower and Pappas Library; facade restoration. • Consultants: Weidlinger Associates (structural); BR+A (mep/fp); Richard Burck Associates (landscape design); Colburn & Guyette (foodservice design); Acentech (acoustic, av); Atelier Ten (lighting); Haley & Aldrich (geotech); Nitsch Engineering (civil); Faithful & Gould (cost estimating) • Windows: Graham Architectural Windows • Facade Installer: Sunrise Erectors
The project began with Bruner/Cott compiling a report that paired preservation principles with a development-minded approach. This became the blueprint for renovations to Sert’s Boston University Law Tower. Bruner/Cott’s message to BU’s administrators was simple and direct: “You are the stewards of an incredibly important piece of modern architecture.” In total, the architects added 100,000 square feet to Sert’s composition, which Cott said was already a generally well-defined and complete scheme. “The owners were smart enough to ask the question, ‘Can these buildings be saved?’ which is music to any architect’s ears.”
Bruner/Cott’s comprehensive renovations to the 265-foot-tall tower included building system upgrades that required the insertion of new vertical distribution chases through Sert’s concrete slabs, and a chilled-beam, passive cooling system. Building envelope repairs included the patching of more than 630 separate areas of concrete through a labor-intensive process involving sawing and chipping away at the structure to get behind reinforcement bars. New patches of concrete were carefully color matched to the existing concrete through a process of specifying matching aggregates to Sert’s original mix. The patched areas were bush hammered to match the existing finish. Cott said this method of renovation is invasive not only to the building, but its occupants: “If the owner thinks they can’t afford to move people out of the building, then all of that noise and vibration is something for the occupants to complain about.”
One of the major flaws of this building was the circulation system of the building, which relied on elevators to transport large crowds of students to elevated lecture halls in the tower. During classes, it would take 20 to 30 minutes to clear the room, which was disruptive to the academic schedule. Bruner/Cott reprogrammed the building, swapping in administration and faculty offices for the large occupancy areas, which have relocated to a new five-story 93,000-square-foot addition between the base of the tower and an adjacent library. “We made every effort to make the new construction part of the aesthetics of the original tower,” said Cott. “When you’re inside, you know the building has been renovated, but you don’t really know what is renovated and what is original.” The architects worked to maintain the historic character of the building intact through exposed, board-formed concrete finishes.