Posts tagged with "Dan Kiley":

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Why are we wrecking our best modernist landscapes?

This is a feature article from Issue 8 of The Architect's Newspaper. If you’ve seen the movie Columbus, you’ll remember, among all the nerdy dialogue about modernist bank branches and James Polshek’s buildings, that scene where the two protagonists passionately discuss the Dan Kiley landscape outside the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House. No? That’s because landscape architecture, though intrinsic to the experience of some of the best modern buildings, rarely gets the conversation it deserves. Despite being featured in all the film’s promo shots, the landscape by one of the last century’s best landscape architects got zero shout-outs. This snub, brought to light by the Cultural Landscape Foundation Executive Director Charles Birnbaum in a Huffington Post op-ed, reflects larger attitudes toward landscape architecture in the United States. It’s a long-held and frequently heard complaint inside the discipline that even successful landscapes by the very best designers are treated like scenery for architecture. While New Yorkers love Central Park, concrete plazas between modernist skyscrapers—even though they are essential to the experience of the buildings themselves—don’t elicit the same joy. Modern and late-modern landscapes in American cities are the least appreciated and least understood outdoor spaces, though they shape day-to-day experience in the contemporary American city more than leafy 19th-century destination parks. These modern spaces contrasted with—and challenged—the platonic ideal of the American urban park, established by Frederick Law Olmsted and largely unchanged since the 1860s. Urban renewal gave designers the opportunity to think up supersize projects (New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Boston’s Government Center, Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center, Philadelphia’s Penn Center) that afforded new ways of experiencing space and the city. Instead of offering the faux-countryside, 20th-century designers summoned concrete and right angles to create dynamic public spaces rooted in modernist functionalism. In the postwar years, as industry abandoned cities en masse and corporations moved white-collar workers to lush suburban campuses, cities and captains of industry commissioned the best landscape architects in practice to activate declining downtowns with plazas and parklets. In smaller urban projects like Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, Fountain Place in Dallas, and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, designers like Lawrence Halprin, Kiley, and M. Paul Friedberg offered contemporary city experiences that both responded to and represented these profound changes in the American urban form. This not only applies to plazas from the boomer or Gen X era, but to Millennial landscapes, too. Just as chokers and platform sandals are cool again, designers are expressing renewed interest in successful 1990s postmodern landscapes, like Wagner Park or Pershing Square. Despite their significance, these parks are now threatened by thoughtless development. Unlike their forbearers—most of which were baked into city plans or carved from large swaths of open space—modernist landscapes like Freeway Park in Seattle shaped vestigial areas, harnessed from leftover space (like vest-pocket Paley Park in Manhattan), or repurposed former industrial land (Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco). In their comparatively tiny areas, designers deployed textural materials like concrete, gridded trees into mini urban forests, and masked obtrusive city sounds with water features. Despite their historic significance, these sites are constantly imperiled by bad maintenance, and the public antipathy that follows—“What’s with all that concrete, and where are all the flowers?” While it can take decades for an artist’s work to be appreciated, as Halprin noted, landscapes and the land on which they sit are often at the mercy of changing real estate interests and don’t have time to mature in the public perception. Though some, maybe most famously Boston’s Government Center, are wildly unsuccessful and are being (sensitively) adapted right now, many upgradeable landscapes whose potential could be teased out with thoughtful changes are instead being plowed over with heavy-handed schemes that dishonor the original design intent. Maybe because they are underappreciated, many postwar urban parks and plazas are threatened by market forces and dumb human decisions: out-of-place nearby development, revamps that turn parks into front lawns for speculative real estate, rising downtown land values, and, paradoxically, resilience measures that anticipate future coastal flooding. Compared to buildings, landscapes have fewer protections afforded to them. Since June, there’s one less: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the demolition of a Sasaki fountain and plaza that anchored the base of Citicorp Center, a suave Hugh Stubbins–designed 1970s angle-topped tower on Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street. The architect would faint if he were around to see the flowerbeds proposed for the base of his building. Though developments like these can be jarring, the cities around these landscapes have changed substantially, too. After fleeing in the mid-20th century, people and prosperity have returned to cities. Though regional development is always uneven, there’s a persistent and widespread demand for walk-to-work neighborhoods with a healthy mix of day-into-night life. Downtown is hot. And tastes have changed, too. As megaprojects like Hudson Yards and smaller regional ones like SWA’s San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, demonstrate, there’s a desire for more programmed space, with Ping-Pong tables and colorful, interactive public art. These landscapes reflect a turn from urban production to urban consumption; though the social life of these public spaces still includes people-watching and book-reading (or phone-staring), spaces are increasingly programmed around shopping, tourism, and scenery that’s good content for Instagram. Planners today promote infill housing and mixed-use everything, so visitors to these downtown parks are, increasingly, residents too. Outside of a few true classics that have never lost their luster, how do modernist landscapes fare against their newer predecessors? For this feature, we chose some of the notable urban landscapes of that era currently under redevelopment to assess where they are now, and how they’re being adapted—or not—for the future. Their designers never intended for their landscapes to be built and forgotten. There’s little to love in badly patched concrete, treeless planters, or dry fountains. We’re looking anew at famous landscapes by the best of the best and at those that are less familiar. Some honor the landscape architect’s original design intent, while others…don’t. Preservation isn’t about ossifying landscapes in some vintage ideal, but framing updates around the original design intent. Across the country, designers are looking at landscapes with consideration of their significance while adapting them for contemporary knowledge of ecology, accessibility, and programming. In a May 2017 talk at the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Meyer, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, explained why landscapes of the 1950s through the 1980s are significant today: They are a record of postwar modernization and urbanization, and they should be reimagined—not cast in amber—for the 21st century. “Adapting modernist landscapes does not require demolition and redesign,” Meyer said. Just like the designers who revamped the 19th-century city park in the 1970s, these projects will need careful updates for today’s users, made with intelligent materials, to facilitate life in the present while looking back to history, not to pickle the past but to energize urban life.
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The iconic St. Louis Arch is revamped with new landscape designs

“Our project is at the end of a seventy-year project,” said Gullivar Shepard, principal at Brooklyn-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), of his firm’s St. Louis CityArchRiver design. Back in 2010, MVVA’s team won a competition to rework the landscape around the St. Louis Gateway Arch—technically the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial—to make it more universally accessible, easier to maintain, and more integrated into its urban context. Expanding and popularizing the site’s little-known museum was also a key goal. While the client was technically a foundation, the firm would have to work closely with the site’s owner and preservation-minded steward, the National Park Service (NPS). The challenge was complex: The landscape was hardly a clear-cut expression of Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley’s designs.

Kiley was on Saarinen’s original design team, whose 1947 proposal won the memorial competition. But the project languished until 1957, when funding became available. Saarinen and Kiley were internationally renowned by then, “so they went back to the drawing board, literally, and came up with a new design for the memorial,” said NPS Historian Robert Moore. “Basically, it evolved from a rectilinear-looking plan to a very curvilinear plan that echoed the curves of the arch itself.” Moore described how the curving paths and ponds were Saarinen’s ideas, while the allées and cypress circles came from Kiley.

The NPS subsequently stepped in and became involved in the design, thinning out Kiley’s dense vegetation. After the completion of a 1964 “final landscape plan” with Kiley (Saarinen had passed away in 1961), the NPS continued without him. Money to build the landscape only became available in earnest in the early 1970s, with much of the landscape elements in place by 1974, though final plantings were made in 1983. During this time, the NPS made small changes to Kiley’s ponds and the special stairs Saarinen had designed. “Again, [there were] many hands in the design,” said Moore.

The resulting shortcomings are numerous. Eighty percent of visitors, said Shepard, don’t even know there’s a museum underneath the arch. Many drive in from the highway, park on the on-site parking lot, take the tram to the top, and leave. The park is also cut-off from the city by highways, which didn’t exist in 1947.

In addition, the decision-making process was complicated by the fact that “this is not an actual historic landscape or actual historic building or fabric,” said Shepard. “It’s a monument to a historic concept, a moment of time.”

MVVA broke down the proposed interventions into 14 key decision points, each a constituent part of a larger landscape resuscitation.

Ultimately, key interventions included building new, fully accessible paths—embedded in the landscape—that snake down from the arch plateau to the river, replacing the allées’ infestation-prone ash trees with London plane trees, and bulldozing the parking lot to create a new seven-acre park that connects to Washington Avenue, a major urban corridor of St. Louis. The biggest (and perhaps most controversial) intervention was a new circular museum entrance embedded in a berm that leads up to the arch plateau. A new vegetated bridge, which leads directly to the new museum entrance, will replace caged highway overpasses.

While the stakes are high for the memorial, this project could have broader implications for other NPS sites. “This was the project that everyone in the Park Service has been very carefully watching,” stated Shepard. If the NPS, an organization “not built for change,” can successfully update a complex site like this, then perhaps similar projects could be possible in other cities.

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Upgrades to Ford Foundation Building are approved

On April 19, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the $190 million renovation to the Ford Foundation Building at 320 East 43rd Street. The building, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates with its iconic atrium by designer Dan Kiley, has been largely untouched since it was completed in 1967. In 1997, the LPC designated the exterior, atrium glass walls, and garden of the foundation headquarters as official landmarks. The new upgrades are mostly focused on bringing the building up to code and will be conducted by Gensler with Bill Higgins of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners as consultants, while Raymond Jungles Studio will handle the plantings.

This undertaking will include doubling conference space and dedicating two floors to other nonprofit organizations, creating a new visitors center, art gallery, and public event spaces, and reducing Ford’s own office area by one-third.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said, “This means more accessibility for people with disabilities; [and a place that is] more open to visitors and the public, including a visitors center and art gallery; more open to our colleagues and sister institutions through expanded meeting facilities; and a more open working environment for our own staff to encourage collaboration and reduce hierarchy.”

However, at the presentation in April, commissioners and Historic District Council (HDC) director of advocacy and community outreach Kelly Carroll had reservations. Carroll pointed out that many of the buildings the HDC reviews have little evidence of their former glory, while the Ford Foundation still retains its original brass doors, planters, modernist tile pavers, and signature indoor-outdoor flow—a rare gift. “An approval [to remove features] today can easily be a regret a generation from now,” she said. In particular, she voiced concerns over removing planters—which are currently ADA compliant—and suggested that the team look into automating the bronze doors rather than tossing them.

Others, such as Tara Kelly of the Municipal Art Society, expressed similar concerns and suggested more greenery on the facade and entrance on 42nd Street. In the end, commissioners voted to approve changes. The renovation is expected to be complete by 2019.

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And Then There Were Five

The competition to improve the grounds and urban connectivity at the St. Louis Arch site has attracted attention from some major talents in architecture, landscape, and engineering. The list of competitors has been trimmed to five: the Michael Van Valkenburgh-led team, the Weiss/Manfredi team, SOM Chicago/Hargreaves/BIG, the Behnisch-led team, and PWP/Foster + Partners/Civitas. The winner will be announced in late September.
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Brutalizing Oakland

In the future, will there be a Brutalist Revival? Decked out with stainless steel trimmings by Mark Cavagnero Associates, the Oakland Museum of California is getting ready to usher in a Brutalist appreciation. Or at least a bit of nostalgia for a time when architects couldn't get enough of the monolithic purity of craggy concrete, before they realized what the environmental costs of melting down rock and reforming it were. The 1969 complex is undergoing the first phase of a $58 million retrofit and will reopen in May 2010. Most of the building and the gardens will continue just as they were. The original architect, Kevin Roche (who took over the project after Eero Saarinen's sudden death), effectively created a new topography spanning four city blocks. In a design that puts today's hoopla over green roofs into perspective, the low terraced buildings are subsumed under the the rooftop gardens and planters in Dan Kiley's landscape design, with foliage trailing down the tops of walls. But the low profile of the building, dubbed "the bunker" by locals, doesn't lend itself to displaying art. (The art gallery is on the top level, with California history below, then natural science--complete with fish tanks--below it, bringing the whole range of museum-going experience together.) In this first phase of the renovation, two courtyards have been transformed into light-filled, white-walled galleries. (The building's embrace of the outdoors resulted in a few patios that languished in obscurity). At twice the height of the main level, the spaces are a welcome escape from the low (11-foot) concrete ceilings. The remainder of  the floor has similarly been outfitted with white walls, so that the paintings no longer have a concrete backdrop--a move that curator Philip Linhares is grateful for. Mark Cavagnero's office, which has racked up several civic wins recently, also had to figure out how to cover the central stairway, exposed to the sky. To complement the concrete, they first considered a canopy of zinc, rejected because it was softer and not as durable as their final choice, stainless steel.  According to architect John Fung, the stainless steel is brushed in a "non-directional" way, so that it appears to glow rather than glint. Interestingly, the day after the press tour, another museum in the neighboring city of Berkeley was in the news. The Berkeley Art Museum lost its new home, which was going to be designed by conceptual master Toyo Ito, due to lack of funding. But it's definitely moving out at some point, and the fate of the 1970 Mario Ciampi building, another Brutalist classic, is undetermined.  That space is quite lofty, but that openness comes at the price of stability, apparently. Fortunately, the Oakland Museum of California has raised nearly all of the funds necessary to complete its renovation.