Posts tagged with "Concrete":

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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.

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Argentinian firm Estudio Besonia Almeida unveils concrete dwelling in Buenos Aires

Argentinian firm Estudio Besonia Almeida has published their recently constructed Casa Berazategui residence on their website. Located in Buenos Aires, the dwelling is formed from concrete planes that intersect in perpendicular arrangements that allow for the creation of voids pertaining to both interior and exterior space. As a result, two facades at the front and rear of the building evoke two different Bauhaus-esque qualities. At the front, hints of Marcel Breuer (who trained at the Bauhaus) can be seen with concrete massing that provides privacy. Meanwhile, an L-shaped plan allows for a much more open style to look onto the garden in a Mies van der Rohe (who taught at the Bauhaus) style that makes use of horizontal planes and decking. Timber and glass are also interspersed throughout the building and serve mostly as detailing and furnishings. Glass panes also cut through the building in a similar fashion, often horizontally to form clerestory windows. Floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors are also used extensively to the rear of the building, opening it up and visually connecting interior spaces such as the kitchen and dining room to the garden. The intersectional planar and massing strategy derives mostly from the study of light. "This is a topic that interests us particularly, so there is, in all the projects, a special intention addressed both to control the incidence of sunlight on glass surfaces as to improve natural light as a project material which brings wealth to the living spaces," the firm said. "If we understand the openings as such, not as standardized elements with preset measures and positions, but rather as carved into the buildings which, of course permit ventilation and lighting environments, but also leave undefined the indoor-outdoor relationship, framing the landscape, filtering light, reflecting it on a wall, etc., these perforations will be the result of the special way in which we want to establish these relationships. The L-shaped plan also facilitates a variety of programs within the building too, accommodating for community and social-based areas. These are situated along the lengthier axis of the plan while bedrooms and offices are situated on the other. As a result the house is clearly divided into private and semi-private sections with the bedrooms being able to gain a view over the garden. According to the firm, the client required room for family growth. "It was clear they needed a generous gathering place with an integrated kitchen, a veranda with barbeque and a swimming pool that should be protagonist," they say on their website.    
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Aggregate knowledge: Scientists at MIT discover how concrete behaves on a molecular level, could spur material advances

Suffice to say, we certainly know how concrete behaves at structural level—the material has been dominating cities and skylines since Joseph Monier invented a reinforced concrete in 1889. But until now, how the material works on a microscopic level has eluded scientists. Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have unearthed concrete's molecular properties, claiming their findings could lead to structural advances in the future. Traditionally, concrete uses a mixture of gravel, sand, cement, and water. In this case, a compound known as calcium-silicate-hydrate (CSH or cement hydrate) forms when the cement powder mixes with water. It essentially causes all the ingredients to solidify and become one. The phenomenon that has been baffling researchers many for years is whether concrete's molecular structure is comprised of continual bonds as found in stone and metal, or rather, as a sea of aggregate particle clumps bonded by (in the case of concrete) CSH. Researchers from MIT discovered in 2012 that during the first hour of the concrete mixing process, when CSH particles form, the size at which they form is apparently random and "not in homogenous spheres." As a result, such "diversity in the size of the nanoscale units leads to a denser, disorderly packing of the particles, which corresponds to stronger cement paste." However, the question regarding whether concrete was "considered a continuous matrix or an assembly of discrete particles" still remained. Predictably, the answer was "a bit of both." In a press release, Roland Pellenq, a senior research scientist in MIT’s department of civil and environmental engineering explained that the particle distribution facilitated almost every gap in the molecular structure to be filled by even smaller grains. This seemingly iterative process continued to the extent that Pellenq and his peers could approximate the material as a continuous solid. “Those grains are in a very strong interaction at the mesoscale,” said Pollenq. “You can always find a smaller grain to fit in between [the larger grains, hence] you can see it as a continuous material.” Pollenq did however, conclude his findings by stating that concrete could never be considered a true continuous material. This is due to the fact that grains within the CSH, unlike those in metal or stone, cannot reach a resting state of minimum energy. In other words, larger molecules can cause solid concrete to "creep" which makes the material susceptible to cracking and degradation over time. "Both views are correct, in some sense,” Pellenq concluded.
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David Umemoto’s scaled down Brutalist city scapes

Based in Montreal, architect and sculptor David Umemoto has created a number of Brutalist cubic volumes and sculptures. The forms, which derive from Brutalist principles, have been amalgamated in one work as part of a three-dimensional tessellating cube. When disassembled, the forms clearly resemble architectural elements and spaces. They can then be rearranged in any manner of compositions to create a series of both additive and subtractive volumes. Subsequently, Umemoto has repeated this process in some cases to generate modular city-scapes. Speaking of his work, Umemoto said: "This scalable modular building system is based on the theory that there is a universal order. Molecules, cycles, ecosystems, the order is the norm and chaos an accident." "Everything is connected, organized and structured; it is only a matter of place, time and scale. Thus, we can speak of a cellular system rather than modular elements that not only can be interchanged but also transformed. They obey rules in a rigid frame but with an organic development." In terms of process, the forms were created by Umemoto as reliefs using styrofoam as a placeholder for the concrete. Here the concrete, when wet, inhibits the space left within the styrofoam and once dry, can simply be removed to reveal the negative of the styrofoam form. Umemoto hasn't just used this technique for volumetric purposes, either. In one instance, a pattern using a more complex array of curves was carved onto a styrofoam sheet and impressed onto the concrete. "The work is an exploration of the patterns and codes, sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure, that govern our environment," said Umemoto.
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30 Years in the making, land artist Alberto Burri’s Grande Cretto in Sicily finally complete

Memorializing the quiet town of Gibellina that was destroyed by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in 1968, Alberto Burri's Grande Cretto has finally been completed after some 30 years of planning. Occupying over 86,000 square feet, the concrete piece of land art is now open to the public and coincides with the artist's 100th birthday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcQhDWGoR00 New Gibellina, built to house the displaced residents of the old town is now situated 12 miles away from its predecessor. In the wake of the disastrous event, Alberto Burri decided he would concentrate his attention on what was left of Gibellina when artists and architects were asked to contribute to the foundation of New Gibellina. In doing so, Burri, unlike his counterparts, chose to cover the area with slabs of white concrete, over five feet tall, punctuated only by his signature cracks (roughly nine feet wide) that follow the original street plan. The stark emptiness of the installation echoes the horrors of the earthquake. Burri started his work in 1985 though construction halted after just four years, stopping short at 64,000 square feet of his proposed 86,000. Thanks to the Fondazione Burri, the work has now been fully realized which has prompted a series of celebratory events in New Gibellina notably an installation called AUDIOGHOST 68 that features the band Massive Attack, Robert Del Naja, and Italian artist Giancarlo Neri. For the installation, hundreds of portable radios were dotted across the surface of the concrete and lights from the audience contributed to create the effect of a thousand fireflies dancing in the night through the cities veins—a poignant reminder of what once was. A video of the installation can be seen above. In addition to this, Burri's works have seen a remarkable resurgence of late. A new exhibition, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, is now open at the Guggenheim New York (closing on January 6), meanwhile another New York gallery, Luxembourg & Dayan is currently exhibiting Alberto Burri: Grafica. The artist's works at auction have also been subject to a recent rise as the graph from Artnet illustrates.
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NBBJ’s New Orleans hospital embodies resilience

High performance and cultural relevance meet in concrete, metal, and steel mesh envelope.

For the stakeholders involved in building the new Rev. Avery C. Alexander Academic Research Hospital (also known as University Medical Center, or UMC) in downtown New Orleans, the project was about much more than replacing facilities damaged during Hurricane Katrina. "The grander story is the effort to rebuild New Orleans," recalled NBBJ principal Jose Sama. "There was a lot of emotional attachment to the original hospital, Charity Hospital, and also—rightly so—the pride the community has for the character of the city. Everyone wanted to make sure the project was going to be something that was of New Orleans." In a joint venture with Blitch Knevel Architects, NBBJ rose to the challenge with a design that subtly reflects the city's cultural heritage. The building envelope, a combination of precast concrete, metal panels, high performance glazing, and stainless steel mesh, contributed significantly to both the project's aesthetic aspirations and its performance goals. The overarching concept for UMC, explained Sama, was to "create a performance in place." For the architects, "performance" holds a double meaning. "Performance is embedded in [New Orleans] culture, but this is a more high-level sense of performance," said Sama. "Place," in turn, draws on the city's climate and character. "We looked at various clues in the urban environment and how those could affect the design," said Sama, recalling visits to the hospital's Canal Street neighborhood and the French Quarter. Then, of course, there are the environmental threats made all too clear by the Katrina experience. "We completed [the design] with the understanding that we had to create an envelope that could withstand hurricane-force winds and missile impact," said Sama. "That was an important piece of selecting the glass and the curtain wall system." In fact, most of the damage sustained by Charity Hospital was the result of flooding rather than high winds. As a result, the architects faced a mandate to elevate all critical hospital functions above 22 feet. "We envisioned this as a floating hospital," said Sama. "The notion was that the more public zones, the softer spaces like dining, registration, and the lobbies, would occur at the ground level. Then you move up to an elevated plane of critical services. That way they could function regardless of flooding." The building envelope reflects this programmatic move: The first floor of the central campus structure—the diagnostic and treatment center—is wrapped in a transparent curtain wall with a strong emphasis on the horizontal while the upper, critical floors feature a precast concrete facade. The two other project components, the medical office building and the inpatient towers, offer variations on the theme. The former is clad in an insulated metal panel system, the latter in precast concrete, glass, and stainless steel mesh.
  • Facade Manufacturer Harmon (window walls), Centria (metal panels), Cambridge Architectural (metal mesh)
  • Architects NBBJ, Blitch Knevel Architects
  • Facade Installer F.L. Crane & Sons (metal panels, diagnostic building), Crown Corr (metal panels, clinic), Harmon (glazing), River City Erectors (metal mesh)
  • Facade Consultants IBA Consultants
  • Location New Orleans, LA
  • Date of Completion August 2015
  • System precast concrete and metal panels with high performance curtain walls and stainless steel mesh accents
  • Products Harmon window wall systems, Centria insulated metal panels, Cambridge Architectural mesh in Mid-Balance, Scale, and Shade
A number of subtle gestures connect the hospital exterior to New Orleans' history and culture. One thing Sama noticed on his site visits was that "the notion of the garden is important, and the notion of getting outdoors." With that in mind, the architects created a central entry pavilion "designed such that you have a very pronounced sense of entry created by a porch, or a projecting eave—it almost has the effect of a trellis," said Sama. They also created informal gardens wherever possible. The signature garden, nestled between the towers and the diagnostic center, is water-based, and imagines the seating areas as lily pads floating on a pond. "The idea that here in the middle of New Orleans you find a water-intensive garden was really critical," said Sama. The patient towers, too, embody a strong connection to the outdoors via balconies for patients and staff. Metal scrims in Cambridge Architectural's Mid-Balance architectural mesh simultaneously provide aesthetic interest and fall protection. "We studied what we could do with the scrim," said Sama. "We think we picked just the right scale. It's appropriate for someone sitting on the balcony, but also for someone walking by." The mesh panels produce a "soft veil effect," he observed. "In the morning light, it glistens. The intent was to create a memory of Mardi Gras beads, in terms of color and glistening. People will pick up on that different times of day." Cambridge Architectural contributed to several other elements of the project. Mesh fins in the Scale pattern are attached with a custom cable tensioning system to the upper levels of the patient towers, to provide solar shading. On the parking garage portion, designed by Blitz Knevel Architects, 86 panels of Scale mesh again add both visual impact and fall protection without compromising ventilation. On the south elevation of the garage leading to the UMC helipad, a custom-built shade mesh fin system cuts solar gain and glare. Many of the references embedded in the new UMC hospital—the way in which the towers' orientations recall traditional New Orleans shotgun houses, or the connection between the stainless steel mesh and Mardi Gras beads—are so understated as to operate on almost a subliminal level. But like the city itself, the building comes alive at night, finally, and literally, revealing its true colors. "The building from the outside is very neutral," explained Sama. But thanks to accent colors on the inpatient tower stairs, revealed through translucent glass, plus accent lighting on the bulkheads above, after dark the towers shine, he explained. "The whole point was that at night they would glow with color from within."
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On View> Mexico City installation puts architecture on the sidewalk

Leave it to a pair of Brazilian architects to use reinforced concrete to reinvent small-scale urbanism. While North American designers turn to plywood and recycled palettes to create curbside seating, architects Fernando Falcón and Rodrigo Cerviño of the São Paulo–based practice TACOA Arquitetos shopped for rebar. Entitled Jardineira, Falcón and Cerviño’s installation is a cantilevered concrete planter and bench located on the busy Insurgentes Avenue in Mexico City. The work sits outside the architecture gallery LIGA, Space for Architecture on one of the city’s major thoroughfares. Founded in 2011, the gallery focuses on primarily on Latin American practices and Jardineira is the first time that an exhibition has left the 172-square-foot venue and directly addressed the street condition. The concrete installation mimics the existing street furniture, but with one exception: it tilts, seemingly dislodging itself from the sidewalk. “I knew it would be good when they wanted to bring in a structural engineer,” said architect Wonne Ickx, co-founder of LIGA and the architecture firm Productora. An emerging firm, TACOA believes that any work of architecture should serve as a pretext for interacting directly with the city. As their installation illustrates, they do this without abandoning disciplinary rigor or a formal language. The pair ground their work in the teachings of the Paulista School, the mid-century group of Brazilian architects that included Pritzker Prize–winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha and João Batista Vilanova Artigas. Designs from both architects are included in the current MoMA exhibition Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980While most would associate Brazilian architecture with the swoops of Oscar Niemeyer, the Paulista School embraced the grittier side of architecture with chunky, exposed concrete buildings. Similarly, Falcón and Cerviño find inspiration in the frictions and imperfections of urban life. Jardineira is on view at LIGA through August.  
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This pleated concrete theater in Culver City is getting a 21st century boost from Hodgetts & Fung

AN has been covering Hodgetts + Fung's efforts to update Los Angeles' Norms Diner for the 21st century, but another of the firm's projects will rigorously update a less known—and perhaps more impressive—modernist structure nearby: Culver City High School's Frost Memorial Auditorium in Culver City. Originally designed by local architects Flewelling & Moody, the building has one of the most ambitious structural concrete domes in the city. Each rib was cast in place on a sculpted mound of earth, lifted into position, then joined to other ribs via another concrete pour. Hodgetts & Fung is expanding the building's cramped back-of-house spaces, installing new air conditioning, lighting, and electrical systems, providing handicap access, and adding a new steel-plated proscenium arch to better facilitate theatrical programs.  They're also installing a new black box theater in back of the space. “It was never designed to be a production theater, it was designed to be an auditorium," said Craig Hodgetts. "While it was a great building, the shell inhibited them from doing the things that would have made it more useful... It had really good bones, but from a functional standpoint it was really lame," Hodgetts added. The new project will be complete by early next year.
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Alpine Factory by Barkow Leibinger

A geometric corrugated metal and glass facade integrates industry and nature.

Barkow Leibinger's original scheme for HAWE-Werk Kaufbeuren, developed for a competition several years ago, was "a completely crazy origami thing," recalled partner Frank Barkow. But upon winning the commission and learning that the factory's owners wished to build it in a single phase, "we had to be careful not to kill them with the budget," he said. "We really dumbed it down." The architects did, however, hold on to their original pinwheel plan, with production wings rotating around a communal courtyard. Inspired by Le Corbusier's "green factory"—a humanizing alternative to the "black factories" of the nineteenth century, which prioritized the flow of goods over the experience of the workers—Barkow Leibinger's design opens the HAWE plant to the Bavarian countryside with a geometric facade of corrugated metal and glass. In addition to drawing upon Le Corbusier's "green factory" concept, Barkow Leibinger also looked at industrial designs out of northern Italy in the 1960s and 70s, which in turn led them to experiment with a prefabricated concrete frame. "Usually we do steel," explained Barkow, "but in this case the client liked the precast concrete. It's a dirty industry—there's a lot of milling going on." The factory's exposed mechanical systems are integrated directly into the structure, passing through perforations in the horizontal beams. "It's not a very finicky factory," said Barkow. "We just put it where they needed it."
  • Facade Manufacturer Schüco (post-and-beam construction), Pilkington (channel glass), Lamilux (shed glazing)
  • Architects Barkow Leibinger
  • Facade Installer Pröckl GmbH
  • Facade Consultant Priedemann Fassadenberatung GmbH
  • Location Kaufbeuren, Germany
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • System steel-framed shed roofs with skylights and PV panels, corrugated sheet metal, channel glass, vision glass
  • Products Pilkington figured glass, Lamilux glazing, Warema sunshades
Steel-framed shed roofs sit atop the concrete. Skylights look to the north, while the roof's south slopes are designed to accommodate photovoltaic panels. "The north-facing shed is a classical industrial solution," noted Barkow. "It brings in a lot of light, and saves a lot on artificial lighting." The arrangement of solids and voids on the facade emphasizes the resulting sawtooth profile. The architects carved the envelope into a repeating pattern of triangles and trapezoids, clad in glass and corrugated sheet metal, respectively. Most of the building's glazed surface is translucent white channel glass, with vision glass in the sliver of space closest to the ground. At the end of each wing, a broad horizontal window features a larger central section of channel glass framed by floor-to-ceiling panels of transparent glass to either side. "This is a kind of Corbusian idea: large end facades that look into the countryside," said Barkow. The factory wings are designed to be expansible, the end facade deconstructed and then rebuilt after the installation of additional bays. Barkow Leibinger gave HAWE-Werk Kaufbeuren's extra-production facilities distinct treatments. The lobby and office area is "a more blocky structure," said Barkow, with a transparent curtain wall. The cafeteria, too, plays up the connection to the courtyard with plentiful glazing. The architects designed the "edge spaces'" facades to contrast—but not clash with—the factory floor, explained Barkow. "They're adjacent spaces, but quieter and cleaner." HAWE-Werk Kaufbeuren earned a silver rating from the DGNB (German Sustainable Building Council) thanks in part to the architects' emphasis on daylighting and use of triple glazing, plus careful attention to the window-to-wall ratio. "Nothing spectacularly complex" was involved in the sustainability strategy, said Barkow. Indeed, the very simplicity of the design led to its success, practically and conceptually as well as in terms of environmental performance. From a complicated initial scheme to their final, streamlined, solution, Barkow Leibinger pared the plan and material palette to the bare essentials, with an eye to speeding construction while keeping the "green factory" ideal at the fore. "It's a large project in this landscape," said Barkow. "It's at a different scale, and more robust, than the factories we typically work on."
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Learning in the Round by Heatherwick Studio

A custom concrete curtain wall complements a Singapore university building's unique form.

The new Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore looks nothing like a typical campus building. School administrators conceived of the facility as the embodiment of a pedagogical sea change, and commissioned London-based Heatherwick Studio to design an iconic structure emphasizing small-group learning and cross-disciplinary interaction. Eschewing perpendicular classrooms and isolated corridors, the architects developed a unique plan in which rounded meeting rooms are arrayed around a central atrium. The Learning Hub's textured concrete facade, punctuated by zig-zags of glazing and pockets of greenery, translates the interior program to the building's exterior, and announces the arrival at NTU of a new way of teaching and learning. The Learning Hub's plan, said project leader Ole Smith, "is basically the whole story of the design." The first challenge was to accommodate a radical departure in the university's mode of instruction. In lieu of traditional master classes, students meet in groups of six with a professor as facilitator. NTU asked Heatherwick Studio to eliminate corners where possible; once the architects observed that the classes would meet at round tables, the next step was to consider rounding the classrooms themselves. Knowing that the windows in the classrooms would need to be small in order to reduce thermal gain, they looked for another way for students to connect with one another and decided upon a central courtyard. "That was part of the brief as well, to enable the students to mix," said Smith. "It's the only building on the campus of 33,000 where they all come together. Art students might have class next to math or engineering students; the hope is that they'll meet up and inspire each other, or develop a business plan together."
  • Facade Manufacturer LWC Alliance Pte. Ltd.
  • Architects Heatherwick Studio
  • Facade Installer LWC
  • Location Singapore
  • Date of Completion 2015
  • System textured concrete curtain wall with zig-zag glazing, bronze-mesh balconies and staircases
  • Products custom LWC concrete panels, glazing, bronze mesh, hydroponic plants
Singapore's stringent environmental standards necessitated the use of concrete on the building's facade as well as its structure. "That scared us a little," recalled Smith. "In northern Europe we see a lot of Brutalist buildings, and that's not the direction we wanted to go in. We started looking at how we could use the material in a different way." With local concrete contractor LWC, the architects played with pigment, using different colors to signal structure and ornament. In terms of form, they sought a balance between uniqueness and standardization. Heatherwick Studio's 3D modeling specialists came up with a set of 10 curvatures that, distributed across a total of 1,050 facade panels, could be recombined to deliver a unique shape to each classroom—thus streamlining fabrication without introducing obvious repetition. To further camouflage the facade's standardized elements, and to avoid swerving into Brutalist territory, the architects introduced a texture of horizontal bands, spaced, per local code requirements, to be pigeon-proof. In the end, explained Smith, "the panels are all unique because of the system we developed to treat the facade pattern." The system involved applying stripes of glue-like retardant onto the formwork, pouring the concrete, allowing it to set 24 hours, then hosing it down to remove the still-wet material. "We didn't add anything to the facade; we subtracted it," said Smith. To minimize solar gain, Heatherwick Studio introduced narrow bands of glazing around the perimeter of each classroom. Having rejected curved glass as too costly, but wishing to avoid a faceted appearance, the architects arranged the flat panes in a zig-zag pattern. A slight floor-by-floor cantilever further cuts the heat, turning each story into a natural sunshade for those below it. Meanwhile, induction units positioned under the windows passively ventilate the classrooms. Rounded bronze-mesh balconies situated between each classroom wing draw air into and through the courtyard, producing a cross breeze no matter the direction of the wind. The final pin in the Learning Hub's sustainability cap (the building achieved the highest sustainability rating awarded by the government of Singapore) is the hydroponic greenery distributed across the balconies and rooftop garden. For Smith, the ongoing collaboration with concrete fabricator LWC was a crucial element of the Learning Hub's success. The contractor's ingenuity and willingness to work with the architects provided the level of distinction required by the NTU brief. "We spent a lot of time with the consultants working on colors and texture," said Smith. "The concrete has a handmade feel; we're very happy with that. In Europe you pick your facade from a catalogue, but in this situation we were able to design it from scratch."
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Ag School Update by Urbahn Architects

Concrete, glass, and brick facade balances the promises of the future with respect for the past.

When Farmingdale State College administrators commissioned Urbahn Architects to design a new building for the School of Business, they positioned it as a beacon for the school's shift in focus from agriculture to science and technology. But the architects saw a second opportunity in the project: a chance to restore some of the coherence lost during successive campus expansions.
  • Facade Manufacturer Taktl (fiber-reinforced concrete), Kawneer (curtain wall), Mitsubishi Plastics (ACM), Redland Brick and Belden Tri-State Building Materials (brick)
  • Architects Urbahn Architects
  • Facade Installer Kenneth J. Herman (fiber-reinforced concrete, ACM), EC Contracting (curtain wall), Giaquinto Masonry (brick)
  • Location Farmingdale, NY
  • Date of Completion 2015
  • System concrete composite panels alternating with glazing, curtain walls, aluminum composite panels, brick
  • Products Taktl custom white composite panels, ALPOLIC ACM panels, Kawneer curtain walls, brick
"While the building mission, program, and design look forward, the facade includes gestures that preserve its connection with the college's roots," explained Urbahn's Peter Verne. With a high-performance envelope characterized by a checkerboard pattern of concrete composite panels and glazing, the School of Business building achieves a delicate balance between FSC's history and its future. Besides housing the first classrooms on campus equipped with cutting-edge audiovisual technology, the School of Business was designed to foster a new, conversational mode of exchange among faculty and students. "The dean felt strongly that the building should promote casual interaction" among its users, said Verne. To this end, the architects arranged the faculty offices along the front of the building, directly across a circulation spine from the classrooms. The main facade's variable array of Taktl panels and windows "was designed to reflect the office program," said Verne. "The vertical orientation of the panels and glazing suggests a series of smaller spaces within, akin to monastic cells." Urbahn developed the pattern of solids and voids "through a combination of rigor and intuition," he explained, adjusting the window widths to animate the face of the building. The building's larger glazed elements provide visual connections to the historic FSC campus. A full-height curtain wall on the main facade looks out to The Mall, the main academic quadrangle, whose coherence was compromised by the demolition of an older structure. Meanwhile, curtain wall-clad cantilevered lounges at the northeast end of the building, which Verne described as "contemplative treetop-level spaces," face the original heart of the college, including the central ellipse and ornamental gardens. "While past development has steadily moved campus activity to the south and west, this gesture is intended to help reconnect the campus population with its origins and re-energize the historic campus center," said Verne. At the main entrance to the School of Business, a free-standing elevator shaft wrapped in faceted metal panels projects from the facade, reinforcing the exchange between interior and exterior. Urbahn selected the envelope's materials to refer back to different stages of campus growth. "We chose to respect [the historic] palette, updated to reflect a modern understanding of building expression and current building technology," said Verne. The classroom facade, whose horizontal emphasis—delivered through a cantilevered third floor—distinguishes it from the office facade, is clad in brick to echo the first buildings constructed at FSC. Charcoal mica finish aluminum composite (ACM) panels surrounding the stairs and elevator shaft similarly draw on the earliest era of campus building. The material's "iridescence reflects that of the slate roofs on the nearby historic buildings," explained Verne. Even the concrete composite facade was inspired by historic precedent, namely the Brutalist buildings constructed at FSC during the 1960s and 70s. Throughout their exploration of FSC history, the architects nonetheless remained committed to the dean's goal of reinventing academic dialogue. "I love how much the building design both shapes and is shaped by social interaction," said Verne. "Ever since the main facade began to take its final configuration, I've enjoyed imagining the negotiations between professors and administration over who gets the offices with the bigger windows."
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Facade Alterations by Bruner/Cott Turn Steam Plant Inside Out

Renovation transforms decommissioned McKim Mead & White building into campus event space.

When Amherst College decided to convert a former steam plant into a student event space, the choice likely struck some observers as odd. Designed in 1925 by McKim, Mead & White, the coal-burning plant was decommissioned in the 1960s; since the 1980s, it had been used as a makeshift garage for ground equipment.  The facade of the neglected building needed to be opened up to reveal its potential while respecting its good bones. "It wasn't in great shape, but it wasn't in terrible shape," said Bruner/Cott's Dana Kelly. "Impressively enough, the school recognized that it had qualities that could be harnessed for a new student space." The brick building's industrial aesthetic was a particular draw, said Kelly, whose firm has spearheaded renovations at the nearby MASS MoCA (itself a former industrial complex) since the museum opened in 1999. For Amherst College, Bruner/Cott took a similar approach, balancing preservation and alteration to support the new program without disrupting the historic building's essential character. By the time Bruner/Cott began work on the Powerhouse, the original brick envelope had already seen a lot of change. Earlier renovators had filled windows with glass block, rebuilt a blind arch in mismatching brick, and cut a large garage door into the south facade. "Since the building had been altered so much, we chose to continue the dialogue by restoring or reconstructing some exterior elements, and sensitively altering others to match the new use and open the building up to campus," said Bruner/Cott's Jason Forney and Aoife Morris. On the side of the building facing the campus road, the architects inserted a new steel and glass entrance into a blind brick arch. On the south facade, to connect the interior to the new outdoor terrace, they inserted historic replica windows and french doors in place of the glass block, and swapped out the roll-up garage door for a bi-fold glass door. On the north side, which faces the parking lot, Bruner/Cott retained the existing glass block. "The observer still reads the McKim, Mead & White design, but with the changes the building has evolved to be an extroverted part of campus instead of being an introverted coal-burning steam plant," said Forney and Morris.
  • Facade Manufacturer Universal Window & Door (glazing), OldCastle (entrances), Vermont Structural Slate (roofing)
  • Architects Bruner/Cott
  • Facade Installer Waterman Excavating, Inc.
  • Location Amherst, MA
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • System renovated brick shell with new glazing, doors, and slate roof, board-formed concrete addition
  • Products Universal glazing, OldCastle entrances, Vermont Structural Slate roofing, Wilson Doors overhead bi-fold door, Stiles and Hart waterstruck brick, custom sign from Roll Barresi & Associates
Environmental performance was a priority for the architects, who will monitor the building's energy consumption during occupancy. They talked Amherst College into opting for operable windows over mechanical cooling. For heat, they chose a hydronic radiant floor and an overhead infrared heater that runs on gas. "These systems work to heat the bodies of occupants, instead of heating the large volume of air in the space," explained Forney and Morris. An insulated chamber designed by Bruner/Cott captures waste heat from the new steam plant below the building and releases it into the event space during the winter. The architects chose not to insulate the interior walls "since their character was an important design element for the event space," said Forney and Morris. To compensate, they installed a new slate roof, heavily insulated with spray-on cellulose. The new roof, noted Forney and Morris, mixes two colors of stone "to achieve the mottled effect of the existing roof, which was beautiful but had outlived its lifespan." To avoid interrupting the Powerhouse's open plan, Bruner/Cott situated the restrooms in an understated addition constructed from board-formed concrete. "We find that additions like this are often necessary to support existing buildings without undermining their spatial qualities," observed Forney and Morris. To foreground the steam plant itself, "we chose to make the addition appear like a garden wall—a 'non-building,'" they said. "It is simply two offset concrete walls that conceal the door to the terrace." The contractor built the formwork from rough-hewn lumber to achieve a patinated look, and tinted the concrete to match the existing water table banding. The addition's gutters are designed to pour water down the face of the wall and hasten the appearance of age. Like Bruner/Cott's sensitive renovation, the steam plant's new moniker—the Powerhouse—effectively gestures at both the history of the building and its new incarnation as a campus activities hub. "Amherst College chose the name both to remind students of the building's industrial past, and to recognize its place in 21st-century student life," said Forney and Morris. Once responsible for producing heat, today the structure generates something less material, but equally important: student engagement.