Posts tagged with "Foster + Partners":

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Chicago culls its O’Hare expansion shortlist to five big-name firms

Five finalists have been selected in the competition to design the new $8.7 billion expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, narrowing the field from the longlist of 12 released in September. The shortlist features a mix of local names and international studios: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Santiago Calatrava, Foster + Partners, Chicago’s own Studio Gang, and Colorado’s Fentress Architects. The expansion, part of a modernization initiative dubbed O’Hare 21 by outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, will totally replace the V-shaped Terminal 2, a holdover from the airport’s opening in 1944. O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world and currently services nearly 80 million passengers a year, and O’Hare 21 will expand the airport’s footprint from 5.5 million square feet to 8.9 million square feet. Such a large project means that these teams likely won’t be going it alone. Fentress is joined by Brook Architecture, Garza Architects, and engineering and architecture firm EXP, Calatrava will be working with local firm HKS, while Foster + Partners has teamed up with local firms Epstein and JGMA, and Studio Gang has partnered with Corgan Associates, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and STL Architects. SOM will also be joined by Ross Barney Architects and Arup in their bid. After a review by the Department of Aviation, one team will be chosen to design the Terminal 2–replacing O’Hare Global Terminal, while a second will be tapped to design the airport’s two new satellite concourses. Perhaps what’s most interesting is who didn’t make the cut. BIG was knocked out, as were HOK and Gensler. Even Helmut Jahn, a Chicago wunderkind who designed O’Hare’s Terminal 1 in 1986, wasn’t chosen. Now that the shortlist has been chosen, an official selection committee of business, civic, and transportation leaders from Chicago will choose who ultimately gets to design the new facilities (with local architecture firms and cultural institutions providing technical support). Mayor Emanuel is pushing the city to choose before he leaves in May of 2019, and if all goes as planned, the multi-phase O’Hare 21 should be complete by 2026.
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Stockholm rejects Foster + Partners’ Apple store in city’s oldest public square

Apple's product design may win the company accolades, but the same cannot be said of its recent forays into architecture. Stockholm is the latest city after Melbourne to push back on the tech behemoth's plans for a new store. What Apple is calling its "town square" concept, designed by Foster + Partners, is being decried as an attempt to privatize the city's oldest and arguably most important public space, Kungsträdgården, or the King's Garden. Stockholm's new city government, elected into office this month, has announced that the Apple store project is welcome elsewhere, but that it would block the company's attempt to set up shop in the park. Currently, Kungsträdgården establishes a direct visual link to the Royal Palace and serves as the site of the city's major celebrations, protests, and public debates. “It is the thread that pulls together the historical power of the monarchy with the commercial blocks of Hamngatan and the working-class districts of Södermalm. This is very important for democracy because it has to do with power, symbolically and spatially,” Johanna Jarméus of Nyréns Arkitektkontor, a Swedish architecture firm, told The Guardian. The design by Foster + Partners dominates the public square, making it appear to be the main structure defining the space, with the garden serving the building. Or, as the editor of Arkitektur, a major Swedish architecture magazine, put it more bluntly, “It’s like a parasite.” The Apple store design requires the company to annex about 4,000 square feet of public park space in addition to the plot it has already purchased. The company has made a similar proposal to use public land for its Federation Square store in Melbourne. The King's Garden plot is offered to developers on the condition that they offer restaurants and cafes for the park, and is currently home to a TGI Fridays. The Apple design would also require rezoning the site for retail. For Apple, the dominance of public space is itself the point. "We call them town squares because they’re gathering places where everyone is welcome,” as Apple's vice president of retail said last year at one of the company's staged launches. It appears that the residents of Stockholm and the 1,800 public comments, most negative, against the plan, disagree. Stockholm's city government may have declared its opposition to the Apple "town square" store, but there's a hitch—the company still owns the plot of land. Still, some are envisioning a public park where there is no building at all, requiring a much bigger, longer battle to define what the park's future will be.
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Foster + Partners’ Mexico City airport scrapped by public referendum

Mexico City’s new Foster + Partners–designed airport has been canceled while already under construction. In a referendum today voters rejected the partially completed project that’s been beleaguered by accusations of corruption, ecological irresponsibility, and lack of community involvement. The referendum was originally proposed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president-elect of Mexico, as popular opposition grew against the project that was approved by President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2014. Not only was the project, called NAICM (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México), deemed inordinately expensive at an estimated USD$13 billion, its location was less than ideal. The wetland plain of Texcoco outside the city that it was to be built on is quite literally sinking—as much as 16 inches a year. Not only does building the airport require thick supports, like much of Mexico City, which was built on former lakes dredged by the colonizing Spaniards five centuries ago, but it the area accommodates stormwater runoff for the city, requiring a complicated and expensive system of plumbing, tunnels, and canals to manage potential flooding. Furthering the environmental infeasibility is the impact it would have had on numerous bird species as well as its effect of exacerbating the decline of the city’s already dwindling water supplies. As Fernando Córdova, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico told Alto Nivel as later reported in translation in Citylab: “It’s just the worst terrain.” USD$5 billion has already been put into the airport, which was designed to handle the ever-increasing traffic through North America’s most populous city, which also serves as a travel hub for much of the rest of Mexico and Latin America. The mega-project, which would’ve been the third largest airport in the world and the most expansive in all of the Americas, was noteworthy for its six million square-foot main terminal designed in a sci-fi X-shape with a sweeping canopy. The no vote won by a large margin, with 70 percent voting in opposition of completing the project, though, as others have noted, voter turnout for the referendum was underwhelming, with only around 1 in 90 registered voters turning out to the polls. Those opposed argued that the project was being built and developed by contractors and other parties as a series of political favors to line each other’s pockets. Still, regardless of the fate of NAICM, Mexico City needs a new airport. The current main airport, Benito Juárez International, is operating 50 percent over capacity and the strain on it is only growing. López Obrador and others have supported a significantly cheaper project that uses existing infrastructure by converting part of the Santa Lucía air force base into a commercial terminal. As for the thwarted Foster + Projects design, it was reported in The Washington Post that López Obrador suggested turning the remains of the unfinished airport into “a big sports and ecological center for Mexico City.”
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London dispatch: Bloomberg HQ should not have won this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize

This week, Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg European headquarters in London picked up the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize, an award ostensibly given to the best building in the U.K., marking the third time Norman Foster's firm has won the award. But was it actually the best piece of architecture on the shortlist of six projects? No. Let me start off by saying that the Bloomberg headquarters is by no means a bad building. The judging panel, chaired by Sir David Adjaye, was right to say the project “pushed the boundaries of research and innovation in architecture." They added in a statement: “Bloomberg has opened up new spaces to sit and breathe in the City,” and went on to laud “the visceral impact of the roof-top view across to St Paul’s from the concourse space,” the office’s helix ramp and its “dynamic new workspaces.” However, all of these listed items of praise are merely examples of pricey green gadgetry and fancy add-ons. While good in their own right, they have not come together well enough to form an exemplary piece of architecture worthy of winning the RIBA Stirling Prize. Inside, amid the myriad of seating, the scheme feels like a glitzy airport at times with stock markets being displayed on screens emulating departure boards. Views out are also hard to come by, besides one panorama of St Paul’s and a vista of the city reserved for Bloomberg's higher-ups as they dine.  The Bloomberg HQ may have also carved a new thoroughfare through this part of London, but it’s hardly space to breathe. The public feels somewhat ushered through the massive slabs of sandstone by undulating bronze fins that dominate the facade, being employed further up to aid air circulation and shun views out in the process. The only spaces where you don’t have to be a paying patron at an establishment to sit are two benches at the site’s southern corner, both of which have seating dividers to prevent rough sleepers. Poor people it seems shouldn’t be allowed to rest when in the presence of a $1.7 billion building. And that’s the project’s biggest issue: money. “Some people say the reason it took almost a decade to build this is because we had a billionaire who wanted to be an architect working with an architect who wanted to be a billionaire,” said former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his building’s unveiling. Norman Foster is the U.K.’s wealthiest architect. This year, partners at his firm shared $30.4 million between them, a 43 percent increase on last year despite a downturn in profits and turnover with the company having to lose staff in the process. As critic Oliver Wainwright noted in a tweet, Foster's 'non-resident in the UK for tax purposes' status prevented him from even picking up the award in person. What does all this say about architects and the profession? That to design a good building you must find a client with apparently limitless pockets? That as an architect it is more important to be obscenely wealthy over everything else? Bloomberg’s London HQ is a far cry from last year’s winner, dRMM’s Hastings Pier, which exemplified civic architecture at its best. That delightful scheme made extensive use of timber salvaged from a fire that burned down the previous pier. It was truly a community project. dRMM held close consultations with the public and the charity funding it, and the pier was built for the public of Hastings (and those visiting, of course).   There were far better examples of architecture on this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist too. Take Waugh Thistleton Architects’ Bushey Cemetery for example. Using walls of rammed earth sourced from the site it rests on, the project demonstrates genuine material innovation and manages to convey a sense of weight and be delicate at the same time. Bloomberg, meanwhile, shipped in 600 tons of bronze from Japan and granite from India, and despite the similar earthy tones, feels dauntingly heavy. An example of working wonders when on a budget was also shortlisted: Storey's Field Centre and Eddington Nursery in Cambridge by MUMA. Like Hastings Pier, this was a celebration of civic architecture, with a community center and kindergarten surrounding a landscaped courtyard. “By building at a lower height than approved at planning…Bloomberg shows a high level of generosity towards the City,” the judges commented. In light of this, Jamie Fobert Architects’ Tate St Ives was arguably more adept at concealing space. Buried underground, yet still allowing bucket loads of light in, the museum has somehow doubled in size. It’s a remarkable piece of architectural contortion that keeps locals and the museum happy. Another shortlisted project, Níall McLaughlin Architects’ Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre for the University of Oxford, like the two aforementioned projects, articulated light in spectacular fashion. The project provided a lecture theater, a student learning space, seminar rooms, and a dance studio of immense quality and leads by example the quality of spaces students deserve. London studio Henley Halebrown’s Chadwick Hall student accommodation for the University of Roehampton, the final project on the list, did the same. A win for the project could have sent a message about what the standard of student housing in the U.K. should be. The majority of current student housing stock is dire. With space standards for student housing thrown out of the window due to it being temporary accommodation, the area has become a safe bet for investors looking to cram as many units in for a guaranteed profit. A message, in fact, was sent, coming in explicit form from RIBA President Ben Derbyshire. “This building is a profound expression of confidence in British architecture—and perfectly illustrates why the U.K. is the profession’s global capital,” he said in a statement. “This role and reputation must be maintained, despite the political uncertainty of Brexit.” This, however, feels like a lazy excuse to award a project the Stirling Prize. Defaulting to listing “Brexit” as a reason should not be in the criteria. Neither should sustainability, a high standard of which should be a baseline for all shortlisted projects. Let BREEAM (the U.K. equivalent of LEED) deal with recognizing that. The RIBA Stirling Prize doesn’t have to send any message, though. It just has to recognize the best building, and this it has not done.
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London man dies after window falls from Foster + Partners’ Corniche tower

A pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene yesterday morning after a window unit fell from the 25th floor, reportedly the vacant penthouse unit, of Foster + Partners’ Corniche tower in central London. The Corniche, a 26-story, mixed-use luxury tower, was completed last summer and sits on Albert Embankment, a former brownfield on the southern bank of the River Thames that has recently seen a suite of luxury development. The man, reportedly a 53-year-old coach driver named Mick Ferris, was struck by the dislodged window unit—including the metal frame—at approximately 10:40 a.m. GST and was likely killed instantly. Images posted on social media from both inside and around the tower show the area cordoned off by the police and a missing window near the Corniche’s top floor. “Our sympathies and condolences are extended to the family following this tragic incident,” said a Foster + Partners spokesperson when the firm was reached for comment. “We await further information.” A spokesperson for St. James, both the developer and contractor for the project, expressed similar sympathies when reached for comment: “It is with great sadness that we learnt of an incident at our Corniche development on Albert Embankment on Tuesday, 2 October, 2018, in which a man suffered fatal injuries. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family at this incredibly difficult time. We are investigating this incident as a matter of urgency and working with the emergency services to establish what happened.” An investigation into the accident is ongoing. The Health and Safety Executive, the U.K.’s workforce health and safety enforcement body, is cooperating with local police to determine the cause of the incident. AN will update this article as more information becomes available.
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Neighborhood sues to stop Sutton Place condo tower

The troubled tower originally designed by Foster + Partners in Manhattan's Sutton Place neighborhood has hit yet another speed bump. Crain's reported that local residents have filed a lawsuit to block the condo building from going up at 430 East 58th Street, claiming that it has run awry of recent zoning changes. Locals are unhappy with the tower's height. Its scale is closer to the skinny supertall towers of nearby 57th Street, which is also known somewhat pejoratively as Billionaire's Row and is the home of some of the city's most expensive apartments. Sutton Place is, however, an affluent mid-rise and low-rise area, home to historic townhouses and exclusive brick apartment buildings. The project has never been welcome in the area. In an attempt to block its rise, the local populace successfully lobbied the city government to change the area's zoning to exclude structures of the tower's proportions. The developers then scrambled to get the building grandfathered into compliance by finishing the building's foundation before the new restrictions took effect last December. The city gave the developers an extension to meet the deadline, which is what the neighborhood is objecting to and suing the project over. The suit is aimed at stopping construction and shrinking the tower, which is currently planned to be 68 stories. The original developer, Joe Beninati, was a relative newcomer to the New York City real estate scene, and after a series of bad financial decisions he lost control of the project, and it went into the hands of Gamma Real Estate. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Foster + Partners is the current architect on the project. 
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Foster + Partners’ Mexico City airport could be cancelled by referendum

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president-elect of Mexico, recently announced that the fate of the new Mexico City airport designed by Foster + Partners will be decided by a public referendum to be held in October of this year. Mexican citizens will be able to decide in a vote whether or not the airport should be canceled. López Obrador, or AMLO as he is also known, led a fiery campaign for president. He trumpeted leftist and populists messages while attacking corruption that he said was endemic in the Mexican government. The New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) was, he said, mismanaged and marked by excessive and wasteful spending, and he promised to shut down the project if elected. López Obrador has proposed that an existing military airbase be converted to civilian use instead of completing construction on the new airport. The vote is scheduled for the last week of October even though López Obrador will not formally take office until December 1 of this year. The project, which was won by Foster + Partners in 2014, is well under construction, and stopping it now would mean losing about US$5 billion already spent. The project is estimated to cost US$13 billion in total, and its first phase has been scheduled to open in 2020. Foster + Partners' design features a massive undulating canopy with an exposed space frame underneath. In renderings, the roof surface allows dappled light to come through large open spans between large footings where the canopy touches down to the ground. Arup is the project's structural engineer, Mexican firm fr-ee is the local collaborating architect, and Grupo de Diseno Urbano is the landscape architect. The airport is planned to handle 66 million passengers annually and cover an area of approximately eight million square feet.
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Foster + Partners revises Melbourne Apple store

Frequent Apple collaborator Foster + Partners has gone back to the drawing board for their plans to build a flagship Apple store in Melbourne, Australia’s Federation Square. The original scheme was unveiled back in December of last year, and the public pushed back over the location, the “Pizza Hut pagoda” design, and the potential demolition of the Yarra Building. Federation Square spans nearly eight acres and serves as Melbourne’s main public square, the result of a government-mandated reclamation of the industrial land on the banks of the Yarra River in 1999. The architectural design competition for the square was won by a coalition of teams including Lab Architecture Studio, led by Donald Bates, Karres en Brands Landscape Architects, and the local firm Bates Smart. Donald Bates is acting in an advisory role for the proposed Apple store project. The original Federation Square design includes an eclectic collection of three-story buildings organized around a central plaza. Each building is clad in zinc, glass, and sandstone, often in a seemingly-random, fractalized pattern. The square contains a number of cultural resources, including the Ian Potter Centre for Australian art, and the Koorie Heritage Trust in the Yarra Building. The group responsible for maintaining the square, Fed Square Pty Ltd, has been quick to point out that the area has always had private retailers, and that the square operates on a commercial model. Foster + Partners’ original plan for Apple Federation Square would have replaced the three-story Yarra Building with a two-story glass “pagoda” meant to open up views of the river. The glass cube would have been enlivened by two bronze skirts, resembling a double-height version of Foster’s flagship store in Chicago. After Melbourne residents took to the internet, local council meetings, and workshops to protest, a steering committee was set up to gather input on what the public would like to see included. The revised building takes the aforementioned concerns into account and attempts to better engage the existing buildings in the square and the landscaped river to the south. The new building is much blockier and top-heavy than its previous iteration. The large rectangular top half seems to levitate when viewed from above as it cantilevers off of a smaller base and creates space for an array of rooftop solar panels. The change includes a public balcony overlooking the river and over 5,300 square feet of public space. Still, these changes aren’t enough for those who feel an Apple store is the wrong choice for Federation Square, full stop. The group Citizens for Melbourne is vowing to fight the addition, arguing that Foster + Partners have simply swapped a “Pizza Hut pagoda” for an “iPad”. If construction continues as planned, Apple Federation Square will open in 2020. Demolition on the Yarra Building is slated for 2019.
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Foster + Partners leads new path for British architecture apprenticeships

Future British architects may not have to go through the same full-time education as their predecessors. Aspiring architects in the U.K. will now be able to participate in architecture apprenticeships to gain entry into the profession. New standards established by 20 “trailblazer” U.K.-based architecture practices, led by Foster + Partners and developed in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), will offer students a new pathway to qualification as an architect. There are two stages: Part I accreditation, to become architectural assistants, followed by Part II and Part III qualifications which are the final stages before becoming an accredited architect. Both standards have also been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships, an executive non-departmental public body. Apprenticeships combine practical experience in the profession alongside academic courses, which can be delivered by any U.K. university offering an Architects Registration Board (ARB) qualification. Those who participate will be exempt from tuition fees and receive a salary. The program is meant to encourage students of different socio-economic backgrounds to enter the profession and is a step forward towards a more socially inclusive architecture profession. “This vital initiative will help us to improve the diversity of our profession, to attract young people to study architecture and provide more accessible routes to qualification and employment opportunities,” said RIBA President Ben Derbyshire. “The new Apprenticeship Standards will help to encourage the widest talent pool and address the underrepresentation of architects from lower socio-economic backgrounds who, without parental support, face barriers to full-time education.” Universities are expected to be ready to deliver courses starting September 2018. The 20 participating architecture groups are:
  • Foster + Partners (Chair)
  • Lipscomb Jones Architects (Architectural Assistant standard sub-lead)
  • Hawkins/Brown (Architect standard sub-lead)
  • Seven Architecture (Architectural Assistant assessment sub-lead)
  • Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (Architectural Assistant assessment sub-lead)
  • Scott Brownrigg (Architect assessment sub-lead)
  • Pollard Thomas Edwards (Architecture Apprenticeships Guide sub-lead)
  • Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
  • ARUP
  • BDP
  • Grimshaw Architects
  • HLM Architects
  • HOK
  • HTA Design LLP
  • Perkins + Will
  • PLP Architecture
  • Purcell
  • Ryder
  • Stanton Williams
  • tp bennett
     
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AN tracks the largest projects in Saudi Arabia

This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue. Read the first part of our Saudi Arabia feature here. With so many large-scale projects going up and wholly new urban areas in development, it can be hard to keep track of the myriad established architecture offices working across Saudi Arabia. Here is a quick guide to some of the biggest, tallest, and most cutting-edge projects in the works across the country. King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture Snøhetta Opening 2018 Snøhetta’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture is the by-product of a design competition led by the Saudi Aramco Oil Company, which wanted a new knowledge incubator for Saudi Arabia to symbolize the nation’s aspirations for a diversified economy. The one-million-square-foot complex will feature a 930-seat Grand Hall as well as a cinema, library, exhibition hall, museum, and archive, among other offerings. The desert-bound structure is designed to resemble a series of stacked pebbles clad in parallel bands of metal piping. Inside, these give way to graphic, linear patterns that reveal a delicate metal structure underneath. Meanwhile, the Grand Hall's ceiling is wrapped in perforated copper panels. Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower)| Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Calthorpe Associates Opening 2020 When completed, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill’s 3,280-foot Jeddah Tower will stand as the tallest building on Earth. The organically shaped pinnacle will be the focal point of the Kingdom City development (population: 210,000), a forthcoming $20 billion economic area master planned by Berkeley, California–based Calthorpe Associates for Saudi Arabia’s west coast. The tapered skyscraper is structured to mimic desert vegetation and is built with petal-shaped apartment blocks at its base. It will also contain a hotel, commercial spaces, and a variety of observation platforms above. King Abdullah University of Science & Technology BuroHappold; HOK Completed 2009 In 2009, St. Louis, Missouri–based HOK designed and built an 8,900-acre campus for the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, in just over 30 months. The 940-student university contains some of the most advanced scientific lab equipment in the world and features 5.5 million square feet spread across 27 buildings, including two million square feet of laboratories. The labs are arrayed across four 500,000-square-foot structures designed to be “flexible building shells” with universal floor plates that can accommodate different lab setups. The structures are wrapped in horizontal metal louvers to control for glare while the campus library is faced with translucent stone cladding that casts light from within at night. Haramain High-Speed Railway Stations Foster + Partners; BuroHappold Opening 2018 Foster + Partners and BuroHappold are working on a series of transformative high-speed rail (HSR) stations across the country as the Saudi government pushes to boost regional connectivity with a new 280-mile-long HSR line with stops in Medina, Mecca, Jeddah, and the King Abdullah Financial District. Designs for the stations are meant to seed new urban areas in each locale by fusing cavernous, 85-foot-tall arched interior spaces with strategically-placed solid facades to limit solar gain, overhead bridges to create covered outdoor spaces around the stations, and direct connections to the country’s most bustling cities. The line is expected to open sometime this year and will carry 135 million passengers per year by 2042. King Abdullah Financial District Henning Larsen; SOM Opening 2020 Danish architecture firm Henning Larsen has master planned a new business district on the northern edge of Riyadh, where 59 high-rise towers are now in the works. The firm took inspiration from the city’s historic center when calibrating the positioning of each of those towers, generating a taut, tall cluster of angled and closely set monoliths. The arrangement is designed to minimize solar penetration into the city, resulting in ambient temperatures—the designers hope—up to ten degrees cooler than surrounding areas. The massive, nearly complete development area has been in the works for years and features contributions from SOM, CallisonRTKL, Gensler, Foster + Partners, and many others. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center Zaha Hadid Architects Opening 2018 Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) recently completed the 750,000-square-foot KAPSARC (King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center) complex, a nonprofit research institution focused on “policies that contribute to the most effective use of energy to provide social well-being across the globe.” The honeycomb-shaped complex is designed to optimize solar and wind orientation and is made up of five buildings clustered around a series of interlocking courtyards topped by metal canopies. The complex, which opened earlier this year, was one of the final projects Hadid oversaw. Among other features, it includes a 300-seat auditorium, a library with 100,000 volumes in its archive, and an inspirational prayer area called a Musalla.
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Saudi Arabia is building a future for its millennial population

This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue and will be followed by a list of the largest projects currently underway in Saudi Arabia. When work on the Kingdom Tower by architects Adrian Smith Gordon Gill (ASGG) is completed in 2020 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, its elevators will bring visitors up to the building’s highest residential floors 114 stories up in roughly 52 seconds, where views will stretch out over the Red Sea and beyond. The trip, dizzying as it might sound, is symbolic of the speed at which Saudi Arabia is embracing new globalized perspectives as it seeks to pivot away from oil and toward a diverse, sustainable economy via its Saudi Vision 2030 plan, an initiative that seeks to crystallize this transformation. United States Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently touted the efforts at an economic summit, saying, “We're standing with [the Saudis] as they're about to transform both their society and their economy. This new move I think could be even more dramatic and more far-reaching for the whole geopolitical sector than was the original hydrocarbon." He means it could be more transformative than oil. The nation has been undergoing change for some time now, as it embarks on the early stages of fulfilling the dream of its recently-deceased monarch—King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud passed away in 2015—who sought to re-open Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world after a period of relative isolation. Abdullah’s initial plans involved developing several economic development zones that function outside of domestic norms and laws. These new areas aim to make the Kingdom a node for global finance between the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, seek to spur innovation at home with investments in universities, and look to boost appeal among tourists and pilgrims to its many religious and cultural sites. The effort has continued under the new king—Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud—and the heir apparent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who are enacting further reforms under the mantle of their Saudi Vision 2030 program. Vision 2030 The many changes are due to necessity more than anything else—over 70 percent of the Saudi population is less than 30 years old—while job and housing prospects for this group are anemic under the existing models. To boot, over 200,000 Saudis are currently earning professional and academic degrees abroad and will eventually join ascendant Saudi millennials in demanding steady, well-paying jobs (and relaxed social mores) that the oil economy simply will not be able to provide. The National Transformation Program, part of Vision 2030, calls for creating more than 450,000 new jobs for Saudis by 2020, increasing the private sector’s contribution to the national GDP, and boosting housing production and incentivizing housing affordability across the country. New cities and neighborhoods will be developed to meet this need, with Saudi authorities expecting to spend more than $78 billion on Vision 2030 initiatives between 2016 and 2020 alone. The new cities, infrastructure, and urban monuments that result will embody the manifold economic reforms the state wishes to embrace as it moves forward. Vision 2030 seeks to add no fewer than five new megacities and many smaller developments to the country over the next decade or so. These large and multifaceted developments, generally speaking, will be designed to have regionally specific industrial focuses like global finance, agribusiness, and religious tourism, and will be connected via new transportation investments like high-speed rail on the west coast and an upgraded central airport in the capital city of Riyadh and the country’s second largest city, Jeddah. The result, should it come to pass, will be one of massive change embodied by glimmering, faceted towers, cul-de-sac-bound streets, and tightly packed townhouses. As new reforms take off, and earlier experiments come online, questions on the nature of the coming changes abound. Is the sacrifice of historic and natural sites in the name of progress worthwhile? Will the reforms stave off social unrest in the future? New Cities A recently announced plan calls for the creation of a new multinational economic area called NEOM, a 10,230-square-mile purpose-built city (nearly 34 times larger in area than New York City) planned on the edge of the Red Sea. The megacity, focused on energy, water, biotechnology, and food production, is expected to cost $500 billion and will be jointly developed with Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, all of which share borders or Red Sea access with the development. Although an official master plan for the region has not been unveiled, a design document prepared for the area calls for “opulent buildings with modern and traditional Moroccan-style architecture." Like other forthcoming economic zones, NEOM will be designed with judicial and governing bodies that exist outside traditional Saudi governmental structures, a bid to leapfrog over incremental reforms and develop globalization-friendly areas that are attractive to young Saudis, international investors, and tourists. At least four other economic zones were planned prior to MBS’s tenure, including the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), a 17.2-million-square-foot development master planned by Danish architects Henning Larsen on the northern edge of Riyadh. After lengthy delays, the leaf-shaped business district will be complete later this year. According to Henning Larsen, the district is planned in tightly grouped clusters of high-rise office and residential towers that are organized to mitigate solar heat gain. The faceted towers connect via networks of elevated skyways and will frame lively pedestrian zones along lower levels inspired by the region’s seasonal wadi riparian landscapes. Here, pedestrians will find shelter from the crippling heat while infrastructural elements capture and recycle runoff and rainwater. Overhead trams will provide further shade while the buildings’ varied geometries deflect direct sunlight. The firm studied the site’s solar and wind patterns intensely in order to generate a development envelope and site plan for KAFD that work together to bring down ambient temperatures by as much as ten degrees. KAFD will be connected to the rest of the city by a new metro system—one of many ground-up transit systems being built across the country—that will include six transit lines with 85 stations and 110 miles of track. The system is being developed by Bechtel, Siemens, Alstom, and Samsung, while station design is being undertaken by international architecture offices, including Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) and Snøhetta. At the center of the citadel will be HOK’s Central Market Authority Tower. Developed with Saudi architects Omrania, the 76-story office building will feature triangulated exterior walls wrapped in an outward layer of horizontal fins and perforated metal panels. The highly articulated building will be joined by 58 other skyscrapers designed by various international firms, including SOM, CallisonRTKL, Gensler, Foster + Partners, and others. Describing the project, Roger Soto, senior vice president at HOK, said, “We carefully designed the building to be a part of [its] place.” Another new economic zone is the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) outside of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. The 65-square-mile development is master planned by a consortium led by SOM and BuroHappold and is billed as “a new world city for Saudi Arabia” that will take the country “far beyond the oil-based economy,” according to Fahd Al-Rasheed, managing director and CEO of KAEC. The new megacity will ultimately house two million residents and is located near the major cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah. Carved into successive coastal, industrial, port, and business zones, the district will include the aforementioned Jeddah Tower by ASGG, which is currently under construction in the city’s “financial island,” a central business district. The nearby King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, also by HOK, opened in 2009 as the kingdom’s first co-ed university. The two nodes will sit at the nexus of the Haramain HSR line connecting Medina in the north with KAEC, Jeddah, and Mecca to the south. The rail line will feature stations designed by Foster + Partners and BuroHappold that are meant to act as large-scale welcome portals to each city. Each station is unique to its locale, but all present cavernous, 85-foot-tall arched interior volumes with intricate structural detailing. The stations, designed to strategically avoid direct solar glare and filled with wide-ranging functions, will also create accessible pedestrian zones at each stop, allowing travelers to seamlessly arrive into town car-free. When the 280-mile-long HSR line opens sometime this year, it will effectively create a contiguous urban spine along Saudi Arabia’s west coast with economic, educational, civic, and religious nodes. Two other economic cities are in the works, including the Knowledge Economic City (KEC) outside of Medina that will focus on intellectual property, knowledge-based industries, and medical, hospitality, tourism, and multimedia endeavors. The development is planned by AECOM as a residential hub and will offer housing for 150,000 Saudis across four distinct neighborhoods populated by apartment blocks, townhouses, and detached homes. The city will aim to provide roughly 20,000 jobs and is planned to contain large shopping and commercial areas. KEC is currently under development and is expected to be finished in 2025—five years later than originally anticipated. Smaller satellite cities across the country, anchored by cultural, academic, or economic institutions—like ZHA's King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh—are also in development. The energy- and technology-focused think tank headquarters and cultural center is envisaged as a cluster of courtyard pods. The building is joined nearby by the KAPSARC Community, a new 200-home sustainable neighborhood by HOK. The 500-acre development features umbrella-shaded community spaces, a spiritual district, and neat rows of geometric, off-white villas. HOK is also at work on a similar arts-focused community located beside Snøhetta’s King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (KACWC) in Dhahran. Snøhetta’s pebble-shaped cultural center contains an auditorium, a cinema, a library, and a museum, among other services, all spread out across a stack of bulbous, metal-tube-wrapped volumes. In creating a complementary residential component to KACWC, design principal Roger Schwabacher and his team at HOK aimed to “create a place to celebrate traditional Saudi craft that also doubles as a next-generation incubator space” for Saudi creatives, Schwabacher said. Too Much Too Fast? In the city of Mecca, however, development is moving too quickly for some. Mecca is the Holiest City in Islam and hosts over 2.4 million pilgrims during the 2017 Hajj and Umrah annual pilgrimages. Efforts are underway to expand that number to north of 17 million pilgrims in coming decades, a prospect that has resulted in many renovations and large new public and private works. Recent hotel expansions, in particular, have led to the loss of much of the historic fabric surrounding the Great Mosque at the center of the city. In 2013, for example, the house of Muhammad's first wife, Khadījah bint Khuwaylid, was torn down and replaced with a new public bathroom facility intended to handle the increased visitors. The loss, one of several high-profile demolitions in recent years, angered many and brought into question the lengths Saudi officials are taking to solidify tourism as an economic force in the country. Other high-profile improvements include the addition of wheelchair-accessible viewing ramps to the Great Mosque, as well as a forthcoming expansion of the Great Mosque’s worship spaces that will double capacity to 1.2 million worshipers. All of these changes can now be seen from the city’s tallest spire, the Abraj Al Bait tower, by German architecture firm SL Rasch GmbH. The 1,972-foot-tall Big Ben–like structure is rooted in a cluster of midrise hotel and shopping mall towers and was completed in 2011, ushering in a wave of high-rise development directly beside the Great Mosque. The massive clock-tower-topped complex is now joined by the multiphase Jabal al Kaaba hotel, an even more tightly packed cluster of mixed-use towers containing a total of 8,500 hotel rooms. The projects will soon be joined by additional developments by Foster + Partners, HOK, and other international offices. The Foster + Partners project, for example, will bring a crystalline bundle of hotel and apartment towers conceived under a philosophy of “luxury with humility,” marketing speak meant to attract wealthy pilgrims to the new high-end residences. Once completed in a few years, the project will function as a gateway to the new multimodal King Abdul Aziz Road, a 2.27-mile-long spine of development connecting central Mecca with the country’s transportation network. The road will contain a 200-foot-wide promenade and will be surrounded by 100,000 residential units and 28,000 hotel rooms. Regardless of the reception, however, one thing is clear: In Saudi Arabia, the future is almost here, and it looks very, very big.
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Morphosis reveals another winning design for China’s Unicorn Island

Morphosis Architects is one of the four winning design firms in the running to design Chengdu’s Unicorn Island in China’s Sichuan province, competing with Foster + Partners, a team of Arata Isozaki & Associates and Jun Aoki & Associates, and OMA. As China transitions towards a technology-oriented service economy, Unicorn Island was imagined as a centralized location where start-ups and established companies would be given the resources to grow. Whereas OMA’s plan for the island involved a crosshatch of different buildings for start-ups ringed by headquarters for the Unicorn companies (worth $1 billion or more), Morphosis has designed a series of curvilinear facilities that wrap around the island’s edge. While the island in Chengdu is small, Morphosis took the opportunity to bring big ideas, designing a campus that would be walkable, sustainable, and accessible via mass transit while also building up the city’s skyline. The firm broke the 165-acre island up into four quadrants, with each representing a stage of a Unicorn company’s growth. Flexible office space can be found in all four sections, as well as shared community amenities and a central park and hub for each. The northwestern quadrant has been set aside for education and will contain offshoots of the universities found in Chengdu proper, while the convention and showcase quadrant to the southwest will allow companies to demonstrate their wares. The eastern half of the island would be broken into north and south innovation quadrants, holding accelerator spaces, labs, and administrative support services. At the island’s core would be a massive “Unicorn Tower,” which would serve as the headquarters for the campus’s most successful companies. Other than the central tower, Morphosis chose to keep the other buildings low-slung and accessible from the ground level. Pedestrian access across the island was prioritized, and park-to-park walkways were overlain across the entire site. A proposed metro station near the Unicorn Tower would put most of the island within walking distance from mass transit. For their scheme, Morphosis worked with engineers Buro Happold. No estimated completion or start date has been announced yet.