Posts tagged with "Concrete":

As mass timber’s popularity grows, the concrete industry goes on the offensive

Is wood dangerous? It’s one of the oldest, most sustainable building materials (if harvested correctly) and recent advances in cross-laminated timber (CLT) have made it possible to build taller, multifamily timber buildings, but local building codes are just beginning to catch up. Sure, any Girl Scout knows that you can’t start a fire without it, but it’s generally considered kosher: CLT boosters say that if contractors know how to work with the material, timber is just as safe as steel. Despite their widespread use, concrete industry groups strenuously object to the use of “combustible materials” in construction. One industry group has launched an email campaign to ostensibly make members of the AEC industry aware of (non–fire-treated) wood’s shortcomings. These emails are part of an ongoing battle between the wood, concrete and steel industries, a conflict which seems to have escalated in concert with the growing popularity of CLT and the introduction of the timber innovation act, which would provide government support to the development of mass timber technology. With ominous subject lines like “Georgia Bill Would Leave Savannah Exposed to Hurricane Threat” and “Flames Quickly Consume Combustible Denver Apartment Complex Under Construction,” the emails seem to sow doubt about the durability and safety of timber buildings. The five-story, 84-unit Denver building detailed in the latter missive was under construction when it was engulfed by fire. “Combustible materials have no place in mid-rise housing projects, regardless of whether they’re under construction or fully operational,” said Kevin Lawlor, spokesperson for Build with Strength, which initiated the campaign, in the email. “These buildings are effectively tinderboxes on steroids, and when a fire breaks out, they’re incredibly difficult to extinguish.” Build with Strength is a partnership convened by the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. As their names suggest, both groups are unabashedly pro-noncombustible materials, concrete and steel included. Reached by phone, Lawlor said Build with Strength doesn’t have a beef with wood—it just wants to fulfill its mission of educating the AEC industry on the benefits of ready-mixed concrete and its use in low- to mid-rise buildings. Its members include architects, engineers, steel and concrete interests, political leaders, and even religious organizations. “It’s not a materials fight,” Lawlor said. “The goal is to promote safer construction in three- to seven-story buildings. The notices are not specifically designed to go out and attack any particular industry.”

Experiments with fabric form concrete on view at NYIT

Romantic notions would have us imagine finished sculptural forms as trapped within raw, unhammered rock until the artist who divines their truth liberates them. Isamu Noguchi had a more nuanced understanding of how sculpture might emerge from stone. He saw the final work as the result of a dialogue between subject and object, with the outcome contingent on their chance meeting. Happenstance, as stone was sometimes to Noguchi, was the medium of his friend and occasional collaborator John Cage. Known for setting up frameworks to embrace unintended occurrences, Cage’s work put forward incidental manifestations within parameters he set up as the finished outcome. Naomi Frangos, professor and curator of Inhabiting Surface, an exhibit at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), had the student authors of the exhibited works study Noguchi’s sculptures as part of a collaborative project with professor Rennie Tang. As a visitor to the exhibition, familiar traces of Noguchi’s dialogue was apparent in their work. While spending time with artifacts of the process by which they were made, Cage’s chance became palpable. Yet what made the long trip to this remote show in Long Island worthwhile were the ways that these architectural experiments went beyond the work of canonic thinkers to stir the more nebulous topic of specific human bodies that architecture usually neglects. Casting any material is usually done using rigid formwork that sets up stable negative spaces that will produce the same outcome over and over again. Frangos, however, directed students to sew flexible, woven, plastic fabric into sacks of their own design to restrain the concrete while it was still in fluid form. Scaffolding made of the same rebar usually inside the formwork was installed around the flaccid sewn bags and served as restraints to influence the final form as the liquid concrete engorged them. Lime slumped over steel, concrete hardened against plastic to make it appear forever wet. Fabric removed, the shapes that emerged evoked Noguchi chats, yet this time he might have been speaking with a younger stone still plump with baby fat. With Frangos’ technique in the students’ hands, a direction for spatial production opened up to the same uncanny collapse of the distinction between building and body sought by Aziz + Cucher's mole-ridden interiors, festooned with follicles, or more directly akin to Andrew Kudless’ P-Wall. Displayed alongside the sculptural objects were the flayed formwork skins themselves. Like the Shroud of Turin, efflorescent traces of the casting’s seepage furthered a sense of how imperfect human bodies might find their way into how architecture is made. Inhabiting Surface’s greatest promise was the hint toward an architectural future that might become through the process of play, discovery, and openness to the unintended that Frangos and Tang encouraged. As these young practitioners set the agenda for the way buildings are to be made, their next experiments will move up in scale from the sculptural to the inhabitable. In a couple of decades, it is my hope to walk in to a building designed by one of these young people that makes me feel at home in the same time-based body that will certainly have sagged by then as well. Inhabiting Surface, Studies in Variable Formwork Design New York Institute of Technology, Center Gallery, Education Hall, Old Westbury Northern Boulevard, New York February 26–April 2, 2018

Ultrathin concrete roof to cap a net-positive energy rooftop apartment

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A full-scale prototype of the design was the culmination of a four-year research project by ETH Zürich, and now the thin-shell integrated system's concrete roof is under construction. The razor-thin assembly, built over the course of six months, tapers to an impressive one-inch thickness at the perimeter, averaging two inches thick across its more than 1,700 square feet of surface area. The ongoing project, sponsored by ETH Zürich, NCCR Digital Fabrication, and Holcim Schweiz, will lead to the completion of a rooftop apartment unit called HiLo, which will offer live-work space for guest faculty of Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.  
  • Facade Manufacturer Jakob (cables); Bruno Lehmann (rods and cable-net components); Blumer Lehmann (timber); Dafotech (steel supports + plates); Bieri (fabric cutting + sewing)
  • Architects supermanoeuvre; Bollinger+Grohmann
  • Facade Installer Marti (general contractor); Bürgin Creations (concrete); Holcim Schweiz (concrete development); Doka (scaffolding)
  • Facade Consultants ETH Zürich (Block Research Group, Mathematical and Physical Geodesy, Automatic Control Laboratory)
  • Location Zürich & Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • Date of Completion 2017-18
  • System thin shell concrete with integrated systems
  • Products custom assembly of concrete, steel cable net, polymer textile formwork, heating and cooling coils, insulation, and thin-film photovoltaic cells
The rooftop structure rises about 24 feet high, encompassing 1,300 square feet. Innovations in thin-shell building techniques were explored by the Block Research Group, led by Professor Block and senior researcher Dr. Tom Van Mele, together with the architecture office supermanoeuvre. The team purposefully avoided wasteful non-reusable formwork, opting instead to develop a net of steel cables stretched into a reusable scaffolding structure. The cable net supported a polymer textile that forms the shell surface. According to ETH Zurich press release, “this not only enabled the researchers to save a great deal on material for construction, they were also able to provide a solution to efficiently realise completely new kinds of design.” The construction technique leaves the interior floor area below the roof relatively unobstructed, allowing interior construction work to proceed concurrently. Altogether, this method is expected to condense construction to eight to ten weeks. Block Research Group and NCCR Digital Fabrication were able to digitally model dynamic forces wet concrete applies to the lightweight cable net and textile formwork, so that the overall geometry and structuring of the surface can be calibrated to produce an accurate result. This level of optimization is perhaps most evident in the capacity of the reusable formwork system to hold around 25 times its own weight (20 tons of wet concrete will eventually load onto the formwork).
Experts from Bürgin Creations and Marti sprayed the concrete using a method developed specifically for this purpose, ensuring that the textile could withstand the pressure at all times. Together with Holcim Schweiz, the scientists determined the correct concrete mix, which had to be fluid enough to be sprayed and vibrated yet viscous enough to not flow off the fabric shuttering, even in the vertical spots. The innovative concrete structure offers more than a new method for constructing concrete shell structures: it’s aim is to be an intelligent, lightweight energy-producing system. This is achieved by careful assembly of multiple layers of building systems. Two layers of concrete sandwich together insulation, heating and cooling coils, while thin-film photovoltaic cells wrap the exterior surface. The residential unit, enclosed by this roof system, and an adaptive solar-shaded facade, is expected to generate more energy than it consumes.  “We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction” said Block in a press release. Because we developed the system and built the prototype step by step with our partners from industry, we now know that our approach will work at the NEST construction site.” You can view progress at the Dübendorf, Switzerland construction site via live webcam, accessed here.

New map pays tribute to concrete and Brutalist buildings across New York City

Blue Crow Media, a publishing group that publishes architectural guides for cities worldwide, just released a map glorifying concrete structures across New York City—titled, appropriately, Concrete New York. Among the structures highlighted by the map, many will be familiar to AN's readers. Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK airport, currently being renovated into a 505-room hotel, is listed, as is the Marcel Breuer–designed granite and concrete monolith now home to the Met Breuer. Perhaps less visited is Breuer's Begrisch Hall on the Bronx Community College campus or I.M. Pei's Silver Towers at NYU. Concrete infrastructure also gets its due: the Cleft Ridge Span at Prospect Park (completed in 1872) is featured as well as the more recent Dattner Architects and WXY Studio-designed Spring Street Salt Shed (completed in 2015). In Greenwich Village, New Yorkers will recognize New Orleans architect Albert Ledner's Curran/O'Toole Building, unmistakable with its double cantilevered, scallop-edged facade, formerly serving as St. Vincent's Hospital (a landmark institution for victims of the HIV/AIDS crisis). The guide also points out historic works by Paul Rudolph, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durell Stone, and many others. The map was edited by Allison Meier, a Brooklyn-based writer. The next guide will look at the use of concrete in Tokyo, and will be available next month. Previous maps by Blue Crow Media have examined modernism in Berlin and Belgrade, art deco in London, and constructivism in Moscow, although Brutalism remains their favorite topic to date, with maps on the subject for Boston, London, Paris, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.

MARS Pavilion experiments with robotic construction

How do two young designers get to participate in an invite-only robotics conference in Palm Springs, California, organized by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos? First, you have to be creative; second, you have to get your work online, and finally, you have to be lucky. Joseph Sarafian and Ron Culver, AIA were classmates at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design in Greg Lynn’s studio. They were exploring how to use digital design to create unique components that could be fabricated using state-of-the-art industrial robotics, the kind of robots that build cars. They developed a system that allowed the designers to go directly from a digital image to physical reality. Their prototype eventually found its way onto the internet. Then, according to Sarafian, “We got an email from Amazon’s team out of the blue, after seeing our robotic concrete research 'Fabric Forms’ on blogs and websites.” They were invited to attend what Amazon calls their MARS Conference (Machine learning, Automation, Robotics, Space exploration). Like a private TED Conference, the MARS Conference brings together business leaders, academics and others pushing the envelope of technology.  

The resulting MARS Pavilion prototype—including an exhibition and video of the design process—is currently on view at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in the Los Angeles Arts District.  The pavilion will be up through Saturday, October 7 and has been sponsored by CTS Cement and Helix Steel.

Besides acquiring The Washington Post and Whole Foods, Jeff Bezos owns Blue Origin, a space exploration company that is intended to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The Blue Origin company motto is “Gradatim Ferociter,” Latin for “Step by Step, Ferociously.” This motto might also apply to the work of Sarafian and Culver. The MARS Pavilion by their firm Form Found Design (FFD) is the first robotically-cast concrete pavilion in the world. While it is intriguing to look at, what is more important than its image is its method of design and construction. The MARS Pavilion consists of 70 unique, robotically-cast “wishbone” shaped components that are all bolted together with an identical steel connection detail.  Using the robotic precision of large ABB industrial robots, they achieved a tolerance of 1/16 inch. This is extraordinary in concrete construction, where the usual level of tolerance is ¼ inch—It’s an improvement of 400%. All the MARS Pavilion forms are derived from concrete’s most inherent quality, compression. Walter P. Moore performed a structural engineering analysis and recommended one-inch "Helix Steel" twisted fibers for reinforcement rather than traditional re-bar. This provides greater flexibility. The goal is to allow for the precision fabrication of a wide range of design components at low cost. Ron Culver described their approach as “a true digital workflow where previously unbuildable complex geometry is now feasible.” In downtown Los Angeles, for example, Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the Broad Museum proposing many unique concrete forms. Due to cost constraints, the design had to be simplified so that only the oculus (a curved opening at the front of the building) survived the value engineering and cost-cutting process. FFD believe their approach will allow design variation in concrete with no additional cost. FFD envisions many future applications including creating economical housing solutions for developing nations. Sarafian explained, “We are interested in exploring this fabrication technique to create an easy-to-assemble housing prototype for developing countries.” The MARS Pavilion installation is on view through October 7th at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E 4th St, Los Angeles, CA 90013, tickets are available for the closing reception here. You can follow Follow their FFD's work on Instagram @formfound_design

Craft collaborations elevate Thakoon’s flagship Soho store by SHoP Architects

Like an architect, fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul carefully balances contemporary and historical influences. His eponymous brand has won him fans from Michelle Obama to Target, but when it came time to build a brick-and-mortar store, Panichgul and New York–based SHoP faced a more complex balancing act. They wanted to carefully devise an interior that would reflect its Soho surroundings and the Thakoon aesthetic, all while grabbing the attention of passersby and setting itself apart from competitors.

“Thakoon was really interested in making [the store] of its place, of New York, bringing in the grit of the city,” said Coren Sharples, principal at SHoP. Concrete with dark aggregate covers the floors, and the architects tapped Brooklyn-based Fernando Mastrangelo Studio to cast multiple concrete walls throughout the store. Mastrangelo reproduced the subtle gradients of his furniture on an architectural scale, pouring multiple layers of gray-hued concrete in a single casting. “This was crazy, it was done on site,” said Sharples. “This was formed up and poured. Really a little scary, but [Mastrangelo] was amazing.”

Wood was also an important part of Panichgul’s vision—the designer had prepared a mood board with several wood treatments that figured prominently in other fashion brands’ aesthetics. These ranged from light treatments with vernacular ornamentation (what he called “American Traditional”) to richly grained and darkly stained (“American Glam”). SHoP and Panichgul ultimately chose an unfinished white oak (“American Cool”), a look that left the wood in its raw, natural state. White oak surfaces sinuously undulate along the showroom’s walls even as they retain a dry, coarse texture. The architects and client also worked closely with Brooklyn-based furniture maker Vonnegut/Kraft on the store’s wood furniture: Connection details, leather seating, and each edge and taper went through multiple iterations before landing on a design that features simple woven-leather straps. Vonnegut/Kraft’s pieces stand in the main showroom and hug the curves of each dressing room.

Extra seating is provided by travertine blocks that were CNC-milled in Italy to 3-D models provided by SHoP. Panichgul tapped London-based designer Michael Anastassiades for the principal lighting features: simple orbs with brass detailing. Brass is also used for the store’s clothing rods and the towering sculptural display rack that stands prominently in the main showroom.

Taken all together, the materials find ways to somehow be both angular and curved, smooth and gritty, even as their neutral tones give the clothing center stage. “We wanted it to be infused with material sensibility and warmth, but at the same time, it’s always this line you walk because you don’t want to overpower or dictate,” said Sharples.

Liz Glynn turns a corner of Central Park South into a Gilded Age living room for all

For her Public Art Fund piece in Central Park, artist Liz Glynn has spilled the contents of a super-rich enclave out onto the sidewalk for all to enjoy. Open House's cast concrete furnishings, laid out on a public plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park, reference the interiors of one of Manhattan's most famous Gilded Age mansions. Notably, the now-demolished home of politician William C. Whitney featured a 1,000-person ballroom, the kind of mahogany-and-silk fantasia where Ellen Olenska might have caught Newland Archer's eye. Gracing a corner just eight blocks north of the exhibition, the Stanford White–designed home was a lavish gathering place for New York elite. Turn-of-the-century society mingled in its ballroom, one of the grandest private spaces in the city, luxuriating on real and reproduction 18th-century French furniture. Glynn, who's based in Los Angeles, reproduced 26 of those couches, chairs, footstools and graceful entryways in concrete—a material of the people, she told The Architect's Newspaper, that she chose for its associations with working-class modernist housing, particularly in the work of Le Corbusier. The spacious outdoor interior (what Glynn calls her "ruin") was informed by archival research into the gracious homes of old New York, when (like now) the gap between the haves and have-nots defined the production of space in the city. The work reflects too on the decadence of today's ultra-rich, whose tastes shape the New York skyline into wastebaskets and all-glass everything. By turning the private into public, Glynn questions how social class in the city is performed and displayed. "In putting together this exhibition," said associate curator Daniel S. Palmer, "we asked, 'How can we make something that engages the entirety of the plaza, and make this an embodied architectural space?'" Although it officially opens tomorrow, New Yorkers were already making the most of their new living room. A woman was lounging in one of the armchairs, applying chapstick, while another scooped her pug up onto a couch to chat with a friend. To withstand three seasons' worth of weather but allow for design flexibility, the GFRC concrete was blended with an acrylic polymer that allowed Glynn to imprint patterns into the cushions, while decorative wood details are rendered evocatively in the same material. The furniture retains the elegance of its Whitney predecessors, but at 500 to 900 pounds apiece, they are theft-proof and durable enough for ten thousand butts. Open House is on view through September 24 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, at the northwest corner of 60th Street and Fifth Avenue.

“Modern day Machu Picchu” wins RIBA’s first International Prize

Lauded as a "modern day Machu Picchu" by judges, Irish firm Grafton Architects has won the inaugural RIBA International Prize for their Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (University of Engineering and Technology, known as "UTEC") building in Peru. The Dublin-based practice saw off competition from Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster+Partners, David Chipperfield, Nicholas Grimshaw, Shigeru Ban, and this year's RIBA Stirling Prize winner Caruso St John.

"Grafton Architects have created an innovative new model for a university campus that is highly responsive to its local environment and community," said RIBA president Jane Duncan. "The concept of a ‘vertical campus’ defies convention, as does the mix of open and enclosed spaces, but both are key to the success of this building visually and spatially."

The Dublin firm worked alongside local studio Shell Arquitectos on the design for UTEC, which echoes South American brutalist vernacular and the dramatic topography of the site. Contrary to its external aesthetic, the building is home to a myriad of open and visually connected spaces (especially circulatory ones) that work in tandem with the site's climate. In fact, the only closed spaces are classrooms, offices, laboratories, lecture theaters, seminar rooms, and toilets. As a result, campus social life can take place in the open air, encased by terracing yet on display to those passing through. UTEC officially opened in April 2015 and, according to RIBA, it is the "culmination of years of spatial and formal experimentation by Grafton Architects."

RIBA's "International Prize" is the first from the architectural body that is open to any qualified architect in the world. This year's jury saw esteemed architects Richard Rogers and Kunlé Adeyemi form a five member strong judging panel. According to RIBA, the new prize is "awarded to the most transformative building of the year which demonstrates visionary, innovative thinking, excellence of execution, and makes a distinct contribution to its users and to its physical context."

UTEC was selected as the winner of the 2016 RIBA International Prize from the following outstanding shortlisted entries:

  • Arquipelago Contemporary Arts Centre, Menos é Mais, Arquitectos Associados with João Mendes Ribeiro Arquitecto, Lda
  • Heydar Aliyev Centre, Zaha Hadid Architects with DiA Holding
  • Museo Jumex, David Chipperfield Architects with Taller Abierto de Arquitectura y Urbanismo (TAAU)
  • Stormen Concert Hall, Theatre and Public Library, DRDH Architects
  • The Ring of Remembrance, International WWI Memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, Agence d’architecture Philippe Prost (AAPP)

The awarding jury also made the following (collective) comments:

Sitting on the border of two residential districts in Lima, in section UTEC perches tantalizingly on the edge of a ravine. Seen from across the ravine it is as bold and as pure a statement of the symbiosis between architecture and engineering as could be imagined; a piece of geology imposed on its pivotal site, mirroring the organic curve of the landscape and accommodating itself in the city. To its close neighbours, it is a series of landscaped terraces with clefts, overhangs and grottos, a modern day Machu Picchu. UTEC has been designed to encourage its students to interact in a unique way with the building. The vertical structure provides open circulation and meeting spaces in a succession of platforms that compose the ‘frame’ of the building; teaching rooms, laboratories and offices are enclosed, inserted into and suspended from the exposed concrete structure. The frame is a device providing shade, a place of rich spatial exuberance and a platform from which to view the life of the city. The entire life of this vertical campus is on full display to the people of Lima. UTEC is the culmination of years of experimentation by Grafton Architects. In this building they show the mastery of their craft, gifting Lima with a bold yet considerate contribution to the city and a visionary, world-class building.

SITU Studio crafts unique, textural concrete panels for One John Street in Brooklyn Bridge Park

From the glass-encased lobby of One John Street, residents will be able to take in some incredible views: The 12-story, 42-unit condominium is located on the eastern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Manhattan Bridge soars over the East River just a stone’s throw away. In fact, Alloy, the building’s architects and co-developers with Monadnock Development, scaled up the windows and the floors to combat the increased noise pollution and solar exposure. But Alloy wanted more than just a glass box on the East River, so it tapped Brooklyn-based SITU Studio. “They came to us to create these sculptural panels that wrap around the structural core of the building,” said SITU Studio partner Wes Rozen.

SITU Studio, the firm behind the new Brooklyn Museum entrance, the NYSCI Design Lab, and the Heartwalk in Times Square, has a heavy emphasis on fabrication and material experimentation in their practice. For this project, the creative process began with a building being torn down: The Tod Williams and Billie Tsien–designed American Folk Art Museum. “We [SITU and Alloy] both were sad to see [the museum] go,” said Rozen. “So that was an inspiration for what we were trying to achieve, just in terms of the texture in the concrete. From there, we began by looking at various things we could cast to get texture: different types of plastics, fabrics, things that we could put underneath or on top of the fabric, to create different patterns and textures. We wanted something organic.”

SITU Studio undertook several months of experimentation in a rented space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (its other fabrication spaces were at capacity). Early on, the firm challenged itself to create panels where the artists’ hands weren’t too visible: “We wanted a texture that seemed like it could’ve been just found in nature,” said Rosen. “We wanted to author the process, but the materials themselves would be given the freedom to do what they wanted.” Eric Weil of Oso Industries, a Brooklyn-based studio whose specialties include concrete installations, consulted and assisted during the fabrication process.

The team found their wabi sabi sweet spot with a mixture of salt and beeswax. For each panel, SITU Studio stretched acetate over a sheet of crumpled paper on a table; this surface created a gently irregular topography to cast against. After encasing the acetate on four sides with a one-inch-deep casting formwork, they poured pools of melted beeswax on the acetate, along with pellets of beeswax and salt granules to achieve a fine texture. SITU Studio then poured on concrete (colored with black pigment) that was further reinforced by mixed in loose fiberglass, and a carbon-fiber mesh overlay.

Once dried for three days, the panels were heated inside a custom-made oven that could angle upward. “The reason why the oven lifts is so that, as the wax is heated and melts out of the panels, it stains these vertical lines, little drip lines, into the concrete, which is something we were excited about as a subtle feature,” said Rozen. After that, the wax and salt could be easily dissolved or washed out.

The end result looks like it’s been pulled from a blast furnace or a foundry wall: “In the right light, the panels look almost metallic where the concrete has cured against the acetate,” Rosen said. Other parts of the surface are cratered and pockmarked like a lunar surface. In total, 63 panels from 17 to 11.5 feet tall (all two feet wide) stand in the lobby facing John Street and within the stairs around the core. They will also be visible from the street when the building opens this summer.

RESOURCES Concrete Services OSO Industries

General Contracting and Construction Management Monadnock Construction

Structural Engineers De Nardis Engineering, LLC

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.”

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.

Fernando Mastrangelo’s MMaterial collection uses hand-dyed cements to produce multihued furniture

Featured at the third annual Sight Unseen OFFSITE fair, Brookyn-based artist Fernando Mastrangelo calls his Fade Series of the MMATERIAL line “functional sculptures.” They're the result of a minimalist aesthetic blended with sculptural craftsmanship. The pieces are composed of hand-dyed cements transforming a rugged material into simplistic blends of color to create ombre effects. Much of Mastrangelo's work uses aggregates such as rock, sand, glass, and silica in addition to hand-dyed cements. These elements are fused together in Mastrangelo’s casting process which uses salt, sugar, sand, coffee, and corn. This range of materials results in distinct tables, desks, cylinders, and custom pieces that can seem reminiscent of vast landscapes. Each piece is unique.