Posts tagged with "Brutalism":

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McKeldin Fountain is the latest Brutalist work to be pulverized in Baltimore

In Baltimore, contractors have begun demolishing a symbol of the city’s renaissance and the mayor who sparked it, the McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets. The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore has led the effort to tear down the fountain, named after former Mayor Theodore McKeldin, and replace it with a landscaped plaza that members argue would be a more welcoming gateway to the city. The fountain and adjacent plaza were designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas Todd, a founding partner of WRT, as part of the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor renewal area in the early 1980s. An example of Brutalist architecture made with a series of concrete prisms and walkways, the fountain is owned by the city and listed in the city’s official inventory of public art. It is dedicated to the former mayor who first proposed in 1963 the idea of rejuvenating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront. Members of Baltimore’s public art commission have questioned the demolition, saying they never agreed to de-accession the city-owned work, much less let it be torn down. But the city’s law department overrode them, saying the art commission serves only in an advisory capacity to the mayor, who supports the partnership and its demolition plans. Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has not gotten involved in the controversy, saying the 1982 structure is not old enough to be considered for landmark designation or protection. Two pedestrian skybridges that were connected to the fountain were taken down more than a month ago. Last Saturday, crews with a spike-wielding excavator chipped away at the concrete piers on the fountain’s perimeter, reducing them to rubble. By the end of the day, the fountain appeared to be past the point of saving. Demolition activity is expected to continue on the triangular parcel through the month of November. After that, the Downtown Partnership plans to create a temporary park, which is expected to remain in place until funds can be raised for a permanent replacement. There has been talk about the city’s planning commission holding a design competition for the site, but no details have been disclosed. For now, Philadelphia landscape architect David Rubin has designed a temporary plaza after Ziger/Snead Architects and Mahan Rykiel Associates bowed out of the project. The Downtown Partnership is a private group supported by local businesses and its board meetings are not open to the public. Its president, Kirby Fowler, has said that some of the immediate corporate neighbors of the fountain believe it is an eyesore and should be replaced with a more attractive gateway to downtown. Fowler several years ago led the effort to tear down another work of Brutalist architecture in downtown Baltimore, John Johansen’s 1967 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. Board members of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects have said they believe the McKeldin Fountain shouldn’t be razed until the city has approved a design for its permanent replacement and funds are in hand to complete construction. Fowler has said he wants the fountain gone as soon as possible, even if the partnership doesn’t have funds for a permanent replacement. The timing is also affected by the pending departure of the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is leaving office in December after deciding not to run for reelection. Voters will determine her replacement next week. The way the project has been handled has drawn criticism from members of the arts and design community, who contend the general public never had any real say in the demolition or what will  replace the fountain. “This is a victory for false nostalgia, fear of the future of the public realm, and the expanding mandate of government and design by nonprofit corporations instead of people,” lamented Fred Scharmen, a Baltimore architect and educator who has questioned the demolition and the lack of transparency in the decision-making process.
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Brutalist housing project, Europe’s largest protected building, to be renovated within five years

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

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A new documentary—now being crowdfunded—explores the fate of a British “New Town” utopia

The word "Basildon" does little to conjure  thoughts of paradise. For those who know it as a town in Essex, England, this association could only seem ridiculous. Fifty years ago, however, Basildon—a state-built "new town"—was synonymous with the utopian dreams among planner and architects. "Are we a product of our environment... or is it a product of us?" Christopher Ian Smith asks in a preview of his documentary film. Titled New Town Utopia, his exploration of Basildon's fate—four years in the making—now needs $21,000 for post-production, marketing, and distribution requirements. The feature film aims to examine British social history through the lens of Basildon's architecture, planning, and its creative residents. By way of some background, "New towns" were the product of the U.K. government, which aimed to fix a nationwide housing shortage after WWII. In 1946, the "New towns act" was passed to create ten new towns. Eighth in-line was Basildon, being officially designated as such on January 4th, 1949. "Here is a journey through populated ruins," narrates Smith, who's been filmmaking for some years. "It's the story of the grand dreams of the new town... compared to harsh concrete realities." Smith spoke to The Architect's Newspaper (AN) about his motivations for the film and his experiences while shooting Basildon. Now living in London, Smith said how growing up in the town was an inspiration. "It felt different," he explained. "I enjoyed the art, architecture, sculpture, and especially the high street. I've succumbed to loving the aesthetic of midcentury brutalism and the ambitions behind it. The utopian ideals behind planning and architecture at the time were considered progressive. In the 1950s and 60s, risks were taken. The spirit of '45, with nationalization and the National Health Service, lived on."
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.
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Brutalist library by Ralph Rapson to be saved and renovated in Minneapolis

Another brutalist building is being saved, this time in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the library staff of Hennepin County has recommended that the jurisdiction’s Southeast library, a 1963 building designed by Ralph Rapson in the brutalist style, be renovated rather than replaced. The work is scheduled for completion by spring of 2019. The building at 1222 4th Street SE opened as the home of a credit union and was converted in 1967 to a library branch, making in an early adaptive reuse of a Brutalist building. According to the Star Tribune, the recommendation to save and modernize the building came from Library Director Lois Langer Thompson and still must be approved by the Hennepin County Board. The decision drew praise from County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. "We have a chance to get more space, save a historic building and get this building in shape for the 21st century," he told area residents at a recent community meeting, according to the newspaper.
The building contains about 13,000 square feet of space on a roughly half-acre site. Experts who evaluated the structure found it to be in relatively good condition but in need of underground stormwater tanks, new mechanical systems, and new skylights. One advantage to reusing the current site, officials said, is that it’s central to the library’s service area and served by mass transit. Born in Alma, Michigan, Rapson practiced architecture in Minneapolis from 1954 to 2008, when he died at 93, and for many years headed the architecture program at the University of Minnesota. As head of Ralph Rapson and Associates, he designed the Guthrie Theater, which has been demolished, the University of Minnesota’s Raring Center, and a wide range of churches and residences, including a Case Study house for Arts and Architecture magazine. Much of his work, like the Southeast library, involved exposed concrete. With the library director’s recommendation, the county must next select an architect to prepare a schematic design for the renovation. The County Board has allocated $12 million to the project. Hennepin County is responsible for decisions involving Minneapolis libraries because it absorbed the city library system in 2007. Visit here to see more of our recent coverage on the preservation of brutalist buildings, including those in Lawrence, Kansas, Reston, Virginia, and Boston.
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Demolition approved for Virginia’s only Breuer building

The former American Press Institute (API) building, Virginia’s only building designed by architect Marcel Breuer and a noteworthy example of brutalist architecture in the U.S., can be demolished to make way for a residential development, under a ruling made Tuesday by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The board voted unanimously to allow rezoning of a parcel in Reston, Virginia that contains the former API building, a 1974 structure designed by Breuer, and to permit its destruction to make way for a replacement project. Preservationists and historians have argued that the vacant API building on Sunrise Valley Drive is a significant example of Breuer’s work and should be recycled, possibly as a regional library or home for a nonprofit organization. They contend the Breuer building should be saved because it was the first building in Reston designed by an internationally prominent architect, that it was a significant example of Breuer’s sculptural use of precast concrete panels, that it was important in developer Robert Simon’s early plan for Reston, and that it was associated with a long list of noteworthy journalists. More than 1,600 people from North America, South America, and Europe have signed an online petition to preserve the building. Earlier this month, public officials in Atlanta voted to save and renovate Breuer’s central library building there, after it was proposed for demolition. “Fairfax County is fortunate to have a building of such stature designed by a world class architect,” said Carol Ann Riordan, a former API executive who heads a group that mounted an effort to save the building. “It deserves far more than a demolition permit.” The county’s Planning Commission last month voted not to recommend demolition of Breuer’s building, giving preservationists hope that it might avoid the wrecking ball. But county officials said the API building is not protected by any landmark status, that its significance was not noted when planners prepared a plan for higher density development in the area, and that the county has no funds to save it. Supervisors also noted that the housing proposal, by Sekas Homes, is consistent with the county’s plans for Reston and had to be considered on its own merits. Riordan said today that her group will not appeal the decision. “Mounting a legal campaign like that would be costly,” she said.
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Gould Evans transforms Brutalist library into community hub

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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.
  • Facade Manufacturer NBK Architectural Terracotta
  • Architects Gould Evans, (original in 1972 by Robertson, Peters Ericson, Williams P.A.)
  • Facade Installer Drewco
  • Facade Consultants Bob D. Campbell and Co., Inc. (structural engineering); Syska Hennessey Group, Inc (sustainable design); Professional Engineering Consultants, PA (mechanical engineering)
  • Location Lawrence, Kansas
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • System terra-cotta rainscreen
  • Products NBK (terra-cotta rain screen): Terrart-Mid, smooth and sawtooth profiles; EFCO (storefront and curtain wall glazing): S433 Storefront, S5600 Curtain Wall; Solatube (solar daylighting system): 750 DS
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.
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Endangered Marcel Breuer building gets a reprieve

For once, a Brutalist building gets a stay of execution. The Planning Commission in Fairfax County, Virginia, overruled its own staff recommendation yesterday and voted not to approve a developer’s request to rezone land in Reston so a developer can tear down the only Marcel Breuer-designed building in Virginia to make way for residential development. The planning department staff had recommended demolition of the former American Press Institute headquarters on Sunrise Valley Drive, a 48,000-square-foot building that opened in 1974, and rezoning of the land to make way for multi-family housing. The planning commission voted 6 to 6 on the question of rezoning the property for residential development, and that was not enough for the developer to obtain a demolition permit. Technically, it means that the planning commission forwards the developer’s rezoning application to the county Board of Supervisors with a negative recommendation. The vote came at the end of a sometimes heated hour-long discussion about the importance of the Breuer building and the groundswell of support it has received from preservationists, including an online petition signed by more than 1,300 people from as far away as Europe and South America. Several of the commissioners said they were impressed that the building was getting international attention and so many people wanted to see the building saved. Before the meeting, the commission received a flood of letters, emails and other materials from groups that want to see the building preserved, including the American Institute of Architects and New York architect Robert Gatje, who worked with Breuer for many years. “The world is now aware that this building exists,” said commission member Julie Strandlie. Commissioner James Hart, who studied architecture at the University of Virginia, said he was impressed by a site visit to the building that the group took on June 2. He said the building is in good shape and raved about the acoustics in the conference room. “I was favorably impressed by the use of natural light and shadows,” he said. “It brought the outside indoors” to the extent that some rooms “appeared to have trees in them,” he said. Hart also said the county was wrong not to recognize the Breuer building’s significance. “This was a major screw up,” he said. “I hope this is a wake up call to us that we need to make sure something like this does not happen again.” The commission also voted unanimously to direct the Board of Supervisors staff to conduct a countywide survey of properties to make sure there are no other buildings that deserve protection but don’t have landmark status. Preservationists had argued that the Breuer building should be saved because it was the first building in Reston designed by an internationally prominent architect, that it was a significant example of Breuer’s sculptural use of precast concrete panels, that it was important in developer Robert Simon’s early plan for Reston, and that it was associated with a long list of noteworthy journalists. Carol Ann Riordan, the last director of the American Press Institute (while the organization was in Reston) and founder of a group formed to save the building, praised the commission for its decision not to approve demolition. She said her group wants to see the Breuer building preserved and reused, perhaps by another non profit. “We’re all very pleased and elated that the planning commission took this stance, which was a very brave stance,” Riordan said. “It is an architectural treasure and deserves a second life. It’s part of Reston’s rich tapestry. There is still much work to be done. But the end game is that the API building had a mission—lifelong education, transformation, building community—and we would like to see it passed on to another group that has a mission along these same lines.” Riordan said she was most impressed that planning commission members admitted that the county “screwed up” in not recognizing the significance of the Breuer building and then voted not to support the demolition rather than letting the building be torn down anyway. “It takes a lot of guts to say ‘we screwed up,’” Riordan said. “I find that very courageous.”
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Virginia’s only Marcel Breuer building threatened with demolition

Another Brutalist building by noted architect Marcel Breuer is threatened with demolition, this time in Reston, Virginia. The endangered building is the former American Press Institute (API) headquarters, located on a four acre site at 11690 Sunrise Valley Drive. It's Breuer’s only structure in the commonwealth of Virginia. Opened in 1974, it has been a place where newspaper publishers and editors attended meetings held by the non-profit API, founded in 1946. The $3 million, 48,000-square-foot building was constructed in the part of Reston that was reserved for non profit organizations, and its design is an example of Breuer’s sculptural use of precast concrete panels. It was the first building in the then-new town of Reston to be designed by an internationally prominent architect. The API closed in Reston in 2012 after merging with the Newspaper Association of America. Now a private developer controls the building and wants to raze it to make way for residential development. The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to meet on June 16 to consider the developer’s application to rezone the land and obtain a demolition permit.  If the planning commission and the county’s Board of Supervisors approve the plan, the building will be razed so single- and multi-family housing can be built on the site. An online petition has been created at ipetitions.com, asking county leaders to save the Breuer building. “For nearly 38 years,” the petition states, “tens of thousands of news media executives—representing a “Who’s Who in Journalism”—attended leadership seminars in the nonprofit’s Breuer-designed headquarters in Reston. The API building is historically and architecturally significant. It is a crucial chapter in Reston’s rich history. It should have a second life instead of being torn down.” A coalition of architectural and history experts, both local and national, has questioned the demolition plan. The group includes the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board; the Fairfax County History Commission; the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources; residents of Reston and other parts of Fairfax County; architects; historians; preservationists; journalists who have participated in programs at the building, and people who have worked in the building. Some preservation advocates say the building would be ideal for conversion to a regional library and that the county has money in its budget to do that. “The more brutalist reminders of Reston’s awesome concrete past, the better,” says the writer of the Restonian blog. Others say it reflects the vision of Reston developer Robert Simon, who aims to encourage construction of architecturally significant buildings in his planned community. At a meeting in May, the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board passed a motion and sent it with a letter to county officials pleading that “The Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and County agencies consider further historical and architectural evaluation and specific heritage resource significance of the American Press Institute building, and consider appropriate land usage that could lead to the preservation and/or adaptive reuse of the building…so that informed decisions can be made based on professional analysis.” The review board members had written previously that they believe "the property has a reasonable potential for meeting the criteria for listing on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.” On May 17, David Edwards, Architectural Historian for the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote: "It is our opinion that the API building reaches the level of exceptional importance…and strongly encourages its preservation…. If the API building were to be demolished, the community and the state would lose the work of a master architect. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, Reston would lose a building that is part of its community’s distinctive architectural history.” Despite those and other warnings, staffers for the county’s planning commission have recommended approval of the rezoning application and demolition permit. As of today, the petition to save the Breuer building has more than 1,300 signatures, including signers from Europe and South America. An architect and furniture designer who worked at the Bauhaus in Dessua, Germany, and received the AIA Gold Medal in 1968, Breuer was born in Hungary in 1902 and died in New York in 1981. Breuer designed the 1966 Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in New York City, which was recently converted to the Met Breuer, a satellite for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Beyer Blinder Belle guiding the conversion. Breuer also designed the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters in Washington, D. C. , and, while he was head of the cabinet making workshop at the Bauhaus, the Wassily chair. The Virginia building is one of several Breuer structures in the United States that are facing an uncertain future. In New Haven, Connecticut, his 1970 Pirelli Tire Building is vacant and its base has been modified. In Atlanta, Georgia, public officials are considering construction of a new library to replace Breuer’s 1980 Central Library and Library System Headquarters building at One Margaret Mitchell  Square NW. Preservationists there have been circulating a petition asking the Fulton Public Library Board to save the building and rename it after Breuer.
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List a Brutalist building that you think need saving on #SOSBrutalism

With 901 (and counting) documented buildings, #SOSBrutalism may be the most comprehensive database of béton brut online. Being just a collection of concrete (and more) though isn't the website's primary focus. Instead, #SOSBrutalism aims to shed light on endangered Brutalist buildings throughout the world, acting as a springboard for potential campaigns to save what it calls "our beloved concrete monsters." In doing so, buildings are indexed through a variety of categories including, date, location, typology, and search tags. The most important category is "status," which lists buildings as either "saved," "endangered," "partially saved," "partially demolished," "least concerned," and "demolished." The database is open and can be added to by anyone who emails in (you can so do here), provided images and a description are supplied. #SOSBrutalism can also be used as an educational device of sorts, as it guides users through the realms of style and the criteria it uses to define "Brutalism." Citing renowned architecture critic Reyner Banham, who described Brutalist heroes Alison and Peter Smithson's Hunstanton School (and their unrealized Soho House) as “points of architectural reference by which the New Brutalism in architecture may be defined,” named its three key elements: "1, Memorability as an image; 2, Clear exhibition of structure; and 3, Valuation of materials as found." Buildings that were included in Banham's “The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic?” have subsequently be labeled with the hashtag #Banham1966. Others built before 1955 have also been tagged #Forerunner meanwhile, aside from Banham's criteria for the style, #SOSBrutalism has prescribed its own: "Brutalist buildings are not always made of concrete. But they are always “rhetorical” in that they blatantly place the focus on their material or sculptural form," it explains. While some buildings, such as Robin Hood Gardens in East London—also by the Smithsons—and Marcel Breuer's Atlanta Central Library seem destined for demolition, the growing number of "saved" structures featured is encouraging. That said, Brutalism in Britain may be particularly challenging to save, especially given Prime Minister David Cameron's distaste for Brutalist "sink estates." "Step outside in the worst estates, and you’re confronted by concrete slabs dropped from on high, brutal high-rise towers, and dark alleyways that are a gift to criminals and drug dealers, he said at the start of the year. "The police often talk about the importance of designing out crime, but these estates actually designed it in." Despite the troubles facing some of the buildings, #SOSBrutalism is set to lead an exhibition on the style in Frankfurt next year, collaborating with the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) and the Wüstenrot Stiftung.
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Retrofitting Brutalism: Holyoke Center

[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. You can find our second installment, the Peabody Terrace, here.] Holyoke Center

• 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 Film

Recently 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.”

 

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Retrofitting Brutalism: Peabody Terrace

[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.]

Peabody Terrace

• 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.”

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Retrofitting Brutalism: Boston University Law Tower

[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.