Posts tagged with "Foster + Partners":

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In praise of precedent: How do architects use history for inspiration?

In the wake of the looming executive order decreeing neoclassical as the federal government’s “preferred and default style,” how can architects consider the past while still creating buildings and spaces that are of their time? Most architects seek the intriguing and inspiring when it comes to a new project, and for many, this means considering the project’s site, context, and history. And while the recent news about a potential executive order mandating neoclassical as the de-facto style for new federal buildings has architects up in arms, designers can look to the past in countless ways to create spaces that are meaningful reflections of their time and place, but free from the confines of a dictated historical style. For some, an interest in the past began even before practicing architecture. Tal Schori and Rustam Mehta, cofounders of the Brooklyn-based GRT Architects, proudly state that they “studied history before design,” and that this has instilled in them a love and respect for history that “yields an understanding that the past is layered and compatible with new work, executed confidently in its own voice.” Their approach looks to historical references, in particular architectural detailing, craftsmanship, and ornament, to create “something unapologetically new.” At a lobby renovation of the Fashion Tower, an Art Deco office building in New York’s Garment District and the new firm’s first project, Schori and Mehta lined the walls of the entry corridor with vertical panels of angled marble. The pleated pattern of the marble recalls the verticality of Art Deco motifs as well as the folding of textiles as an ode to the building’s origins. GRT’s self-proclaimed “aesthetic and historical agenda” was further explored in a line of concrete tiles for Kaza Concrete. The triangular tiles, available in three different sizes, were cast with asymmetrical grooves in deep relief and designed so that they can be arranged in a variety of ways: Installation in a regular pattern emulates a flattened fluted column; alternating directions can create a herringbone pattern, and a nonrepeating arrangement leads to an abstract pattern. The interplay of symmetry, tone, and texture results in a tile collection that is firmly in the land of modernity while looking over its shoulder to the past. For architect Elizabeth Roberts of the eponymous Brooklyn-based Elizabeth Roberts Architecture, an interest in history led her to complete a master’s in historic preservation before starting her own firm that focuses on renovations and additions to existing buildings that, in her words, “breathe new life into historic buildings.” Yet despite her “love for historic buildings,” she explained, she also believes in “authenticity”—that additions should appear “different” from the original structure while still “respecting their original massing, details, and materials.” Delicately glazed facades, modern furniture, and an eclectic sense of minimalism pervade her work and visually declare old versus new. But even where her work distinguishes itself from the existing fabric, she still begins every project by “understanding a building’s story” through research on its history, context, and neighborhood, she noted. Craftsmanship plays an important role as well, and she “enjoys seeing artisans continue their craft in our projects,” regularly hiring master plasterers and woodworkers who understand historic styles to create new, elaborate elements such as handrails. While some designers are inspired by materials, detailing, and construction techniques of the past, others look to the unique cultural heritage of the region to tell the story of a place through its built environment. In Hawai’i, for example, oral history and genealogy chants were the main means of passing down history for centuries, and many of these oral histories have been collected at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu — a source architect Ma Ry Kim, a principal and design director at the Honolulu-based firm G70, frequently uses as part of her initial research for the project. During the recent renovation of The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali, the museum’s archives revealed that prior to the construction of the 1971 hotel, the site had historically been covered with a native grass “that held morning dew, giving water and life to land,” said Kim. Inspired by this untouched landscape, she employed vertical elements throughout the project that hark back to the site’s tall blades of grass, from the wood battens on the exterior of the building to the carefully selected artwork found throughout the lobby and even in the woven textiles selected for guest’s rooms. For Kim, architecture is an important way to tell Hawai’i’s cultural story. She noted that many sites “tread on indigenous lands that were once protected and considered sacred places,” and she thus tries to “seek balance between the modern world and the historical markings of a place” in her designs. At another hotel renovation project, the Prince Waikiki Hotel, she learned of a long-forgotten ancestral stream that ran below the hotel’s foundations. The stream’s boundaries were graphically resurrected through contrasting flooring materials in the lobby, and the stream inspired the central suspended artwork created by local residents and employees that consists of nearly 1,000 copper hinana, a local fish—an ode to the area’s native landscape. But even projects in the heart of major metropolises like New York City can nod to their existing context, like Foster + Partners’ new tower in Midtown Manhattan at 100 East 53rd Street, which pays homage to the modernist landmarks that surround it: the iconic Seagram Building and equally storied Lever House. Peter Han, partner at Foster + Partners, detailed how the firm “focused on the relationship between 100 East 53rd Street and the Seagram Building, aiming to create an appropriate counterpoint to the classic office tower.” The building’s crisply white, undulating skin contrasts with the Seagram Building’s dark bronze facade, while the massing of a “9-story bustle,” as Han described it, sitting at the base of the tower, “echoes the volumes of its neighbor,” Lever House. Indeed, while styles may come and go, the past—and its use as a source for inspiration—will always exist, ad infinitum.
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The Nobel Center is trying for a new home in Stockholm—will Chipperfield return?

After being scrapped in 2018 following a four-year-long firestorm of public controversy, court orders, and royal criticism, Stockholm’s Nobel Center has found a new future home at a waterfront site roughly a half-mile from the original location. As the Nobel Foundation announced in a recent press statement, the Nobel Center—a planned museum, awards venue, and administrative hub for the prestigious set of international prizes—will now be located at Stadsgårdskajen near Slussen in central Stockholm. A waterfront section of the Swedish capital city best known for its mad tangle of 1930s-era roadways, Slussen, which found an early and ardent fan in Le Corbusier, is currently in the midst of a massive regeneration scheme master-planned by Foster + Partners. An area that just happens to be in the midst of a dramatic reinvention seems like a natural fit for the Nobel Center, especially when considering the original David Chipperfield Architects (DCA)-designed project was booted from its planned location next to the Swedish National Museum on Stockholm’s historic Blasieholmen peninsula for being too big, too loud, too incongruous with its storied surroundings. Sweden’s Land and Environment Court squashed the project in 2018 by denying it a building permit, writing that DCA’s shimmering, brass-clad design, which had already been scaled back in 2016 after facing significant public uproar, “would affect the readability of Stockholm's historical development as a port, shipping, and trading city.” The court further stated that construction of the center would “cause significant damage” to the historic fabric of Blasieholmen. The Nobel Foundation opted not to appeal the court’s decision. Not fitting in or upsetting the neighbors likely won’t be an issue in Slussen, where everything is in flux. “Now that the Nobel Center is finding a home in the heart of Stockholm, an important piece of the puzzle in the development of Slussen is falling into place,” said Vice Mayor for City Planning Joakim Larsson. “At one of the city’s largest and most important transport hubs, a house for culture and science with public activities fits very nicely into our vision of transforming Slussen from a traffic interchange into a meeting place for everyone in Stockholm.” With a new site for the seemingly doomed project now secured, there’s still the million-dollar question: Who will design it? As reported by The Architect’s Journal, the Nobel Foundation has yet to select an architect to win over the locals with version 2.0 of the center. The foundation does note that it's “necessary to design an entirely new building" while revealing that the eight firms involved in the 2013 design competition, including winner DCA, have been approached. “We are keen to make use of the experience we have from that process,” said the foundation of the original competition. “Now that the location is set the Nobel Foundation will begin the process of choosing an architect.” “We are delighted to hear that a new site for the Nobel Centre has been agreed upon in the area of Slussen,” responded DCA in a statement to The Architect’s Journal. “The Nobel Foundation has communicated that they will not open a new competition. Clearly there will be further discussion about how the new project will proceed both in scope and in project organisation.” Beating out firms including OMA, Snøhetta, SANAA, and Bjarke Ingels Group, the London-based DCA won the original commission to design the $132 million complex—a complex complete with library, restaurant, exhibition areas, office and conference space, and a stunning auditorium that would have served as a permanent home for the annual Nobel Prize ceremony—in 2014, which was really just the beginning of what AN called a “turbulent journey.” If that journey had ultimately concluded in favor of the Nobel Foundation with little delay, the organization's permanent home at Blasieholmen would have opened to the public last year. Building the new Nobel Center is slated to begin in 2025 at the very earliest; work on an already-planned road overhaul at Stadsgårdsleden has to wrap up first. Once that happens, the Nobel Foundation anticipates that its future home will be completed within two years.
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London Mayor vows to fight Tulip appeal, assembles $450k war fund

Less than a month after developer Jacob J. Safra filed an appeal to keep the possibility of erecting the Foster + Partners-designed Tulip tower in London alive, Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to keep fighting. Mayor Khan had originally rejected the proposal in July of last year and dismissed it as “poorly designed.” That came after the Greater London Authority (GLA), the agency responsible for enforcing the London Plan, which dictates sustainable growth in the city, dinged the tower. At the time, the GSA cited the 984-foot-tall Tulip’s design—which would balance a 12-story glass observation pod atop a hollow concrete stem—as inappropriate, and the potential for the building to block historic sightlines. They also raised the issue of the Tulip’s base, which would consist of an incongruous two-story retail podium. With the appeal, Safra, founder of the J. Safra Group, which also developed the Foster + Partners-designed Gherkin at the neighboring 30 St Mary Axe, will have the case heard before Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick or another government minister. However, as BDonline notes, Khan already wrote to Jenrick last week to voice his displeasure, and has amassed a $450,000 “war chest” for the GLA to fight the appeal with. BDonline has broken out the costs, but Khan has allocated nearly $200,000 for the leading counsel (legal advice) and another $77,000 for architectural consultation. In his letter to Jenrick, Khan reportedly wrote, “The Tulip is an inappropriately sited visitor attraction, which would make no such economic nor positive social contribution to London that would outweigh its harm to a world heritage site, the City’s skyline, and the public realm at ground level.” This echoes the reasoning Khan gave when he used his veto powers to stop London’s Planning and Transportation Committee from greenlighting the project, despite their earlier approval. No hearing date for the appeal has been set yet, but the battle over the Tulip’s approval is shaping up to be a long one.
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BIG, MVRDV, Foster + Partners and more shortlisted to design artificial islands in Malaysia

Five heavy-hitting international teams have been shortlisted in a competition to design a master plan for a network of new islands off the coast of Penang, Malaysia. Foster + Partners, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and MVRDV are among those left in the running out of 124 initial entries.  Organized by the Malaysian Institute of Architects Northern Chapter and the Penang Government, the project will result in the construction of a 4,500-acre site made from reclaimed earth—split into three islands—located just south of the Penang International Airport. Known as the Penang South Islands Project (PSI), the positioning of the future islands is key as the government aims to spur economic development in the area ahead of 2030, while also easing traffic congestion in Penang. The new islands will also serve as spaces for industrial manufacturing and technological growth, incorporating smart city and smart park features, according to The Star. Each of the following teams will be given an honorarium of $125,000 for their design work. Competition organizers are expected to select a final winner in early February. - BIG and Hijjas Architects + Planners with Rambøll and Ernst and Young; - Foster + Partners and GDP Architects with WSP (U.K.), Grant Associates, Urban DNA, and Pragma; - MVRDV and Alm Architects with Mobility in Chain, Deltares, Transsolar, and Rebel Group; - Tekuma Frenchman and Eowon Architects with Level Agency for Instructure, The Pearl River Hydraulic Research Institute, and Skymind AI Berhad - UNStudio and Architects 61 with Strelka KB,  schlaich bergermann partner, and more
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Developer behind Foster + Partners’ London Tulip tower files appeal

The team behind Foster + PartnersTulip tower wants to put the project back on the drawing board after the proposal was blocked last summer by London Mayor Sadiq Kahn. Building Design reported that the tower's developer, billionaire Jacob J. Safra, recently filed paperwork with the City of London Corporation to revitalize the project just three days before the six-month appeal window was set to expire.  Designed for a Central London lot next to the Gherkin (which was also backed by Safra’s company, J. Safra Group), the tulip-shaped observation skyscraper would stand 1,000 feet tall with only 12 stories spread across a thin, concrete support stem and a bulbous glass topper. Since the first visuals of the building emerged in November 2018, critics have claimed that if built, the structure has the potential to block views of the Tower of London, a world heritage site. Khan used his veto power to stop London’s Planning and Transportation Committee from moving forward with the project, despite the fact that the agency had already approved the educational center and external gondola design as a means to bring visitors and public school children to the sky-high space. Khan said the overall design wasn’t sufficient, claiming it wasn’t a piece of “world-class architecture that would be required to justify its prominence.” Increased congestion was also a major concern.  Both Historic England, the London City Airport, and The Greater London Authority (GLA) agreed with Khan’s sentiment. GLA published a 15-page report in early 2019 detailing why the Tulip scheme failed to comply with the London Plan, a framework meant to help achieve economic and sustainable development without sacrificing the city’s historic character.  Now that the appeals process has launched, Tulip fans can expect an inquiry to take place in the near future. Locals have already speculated that the appeal could reach the highest office in British Parliament and that the Robert Jenrick, the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, could make the final decision.  
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Norman Foster's original Two World Trade Center will replace BIG's tower

Bjarke Ingels’ planned design for Two World Trade Center (2 WTC) is out. As the New York Post reports, Silverstein Properties has dropped the 2015 tower proposal in favor of Foster + Partners' original vision A newer rendering of the building has yet to be released, but Larry Silverstein and Norman Foster are reportedly making numerous alterations to the 2006 design. “The old design is being significantly modified to be more reflective of contemporary needs and taste,” Silverstein told The Post. Foster had initially conceived of the 88-story building as a singular skyscraper that split into a segmented, diamond-shaped fractal topper, but was passed over after much back and forth for the boxier, more contemporary scheme.  BIG had designed a 1,340-foot-tall tower with a series of setbacks starting from the bottom of the building all the way to the top. From certain angles, it resembled six glass boxes stacked on top of one another, each getting smaller the higher the 80-story tower rose. At the time, 21st Century Fox and Rubert Murdoch’s News Corporation were anticipated to move into 2 WTC, though by early 2016 it became clear they wouldn’t, and the lack of an anchor tenant likely slowed down construction. Silverstein said that he plans to lease out “Tower Two” this year, meaning the final design should be released somewhat soon.  Two World Trade Center is the final tower left in Silverstein’s grand plan for the World Trade Center complex and is sited on the corner next Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus at Church and Vesey Streets. 
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Museum of Architecture’s 2019 Gingerbread City explores transportation

Every year, London's Museum of Architecture challenges architects to create a fantastic and futuristic city made entirely out of gingerbread, marshmallows, and other sweet treats. Now in its fourth year, Gingerbread City is a miniature candy land designed to consider the future of the urban environment and spark public dialogue about architecture and how we interact with the cities around us.  While the city itself is delightfully whimsical and theoretically edible, the ideas embodied within its sugar-coated walls represent real insights on technology and sustainability. With transportation as this year’s theme, over 100 designers contributed imaginative ways of rethinking mobility in cities while shining the holiday lights on how architects and planners approach both the urban and natural landscapes. In order to participate, architects, designers, and engineers selected and purchased a plot from a master plan of the tiered city developed by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design. Plot options ranged in size from “tiny” to “large,” as well as plots for specific London landmarks, landscapes, and bridges.  Gingerbread City is a really important project for Tibbalds because of the way it makes everyone who visits think about cities and what they mean. It prompts questions about the many things that designers and place-makers have to deal with in creating interesting places that work for those that use them,” said Hilary Satchwell, director of Tibbalds, said in a recent press release. “Fast, fun, edible urbanism is a great way into some important discussions about the value of place.” Complete with lighting, an operational train, and tons of punny names such as “Waffle Iron Tower,” “Wafer Bridge,” and “Gingerbread Modern,” this year's Gingerbread City takes place at Somerset House, or “Sugarset House” as Hawkins\Brown titled their submission. Participants include returning architects such as Foster + Partners, SOM, PDP London, PLP Architecture, and Phase3. Many other firms have joined for the first time including Grimshaw, KPF, and HKS. The city is complete with various districts including a University District, Cultural Quarter, Sustainable Quarter, Gingerbread Waterfront, Castle Hill, and London Quarter Island. Building types include mixed-use, bridges, houses, a stadium, university, train station, urban farm, ferry terminal, and many other spaces that are critical to the contemporary city.  With more than 40,000 public visitors annually, this year’s exhibition will also include a series of gingerbread house making workshops for families as well as a shop. The Museum of Architecture is also celebrating the launch of a new grant-giving fund which will support projects that engage the public with architecture. According to Melissa Woolford, the museum's founder and director, “The Gingerbread exhibition supports our year-round work as an architectural charity and this year sees us able to set up a grant-giving fund so we can support more public-facing and entrepreneurial projects.”  Gingerbread City is currently on display at Somerset House and will be on view through January 5, 2020.
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'Leaked' visuals claim to show the future of 270 Park Avenue...and it's tall

As Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) iconic 270 Park Avenue, once lauded by Ada Louise Huxtable as one of New York’s contributions to a “dramatic revolution in architectural design,” prepares for a painstaking demolition process, new details have surfaced regarding its replacement. JPMorgan Chase announced in February 2018 that it would demolish the 707-foot structure to make way for a taller building on the site. The original building was completed in 1961 by SOM partner Natalie Griffin de Blois, the first woman to serve as lead architect in a midcentury corporate design project, and a key figure in the history of women in American architecture. Since the announcement, details of the replacement have been scarce. Aside from the fact that Foster + Partners is leading design and Adamson Associates Architects is listed as the architect of record, little information has been released about the actual building. That is until an alleged tipster reached out to New York YIMBY earlier this week with images of the project model and 3D renderings of the final project. The images show the building with an asymmetrical setback design that gradually becomes narrower as it extends upward, topped with a parapet. While New York YIMBY maintains that an anonymous tipster submitted the renderings, some industry professionals are skeptical. A side-by-side comparison shows that the new building was superimposed onto a previous rendering of Tower Fifth from earlier this year, and AN has not been able to confirm the authenticity of any of the images. The original SOM structure is currently surrounded by scaffolding and cranes as crews prepare for the demolition. A completion date for the new tower at 270 Park Avenue has not yet been announced.
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Will Francisco González-Pulido design Mexico City's new airport?

Francisco González-Pulido of the Chicago-based FGP Atelier could be the mystery architect behind the design of Mexico City’s new, long-awaited airport. As AN previously reported, a cost-saving replacement to Foster + Partners’ $13 billion vision broke ground in June at the Santa Lucía Air Force Base located 29 miles outside the city center. No architect was named at the time and since then, construction hasn’t actually started. In fact, it’s been suspended on numerous occasions by a local judge until just yesterday when the green light was given to start work.  Despite the stall, news has broken that González-Pulido was invited by the federal government without bidding to collaborate on the airport project given his extensive background designing terminals in Bangkok, Chicago, and Munich. An investigation by national publication Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) discovered that the Mexican-American architect was involved, but could only confirm that he was an advisor, not specifically the architect of record. González-Pulido only suggested that his design for the airbase would be “energetic, functional, an emblem with which Mexicans identify, very technological and sustainable.”  When Norman Foster’s design for NAICM (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México) in Texcoco was canceled last fall, Mexico’s new president Andres Manual Lopez Obrador handed the project over to the Ministry of Defense (Sedena), who selected the Santa Lucía as the site for a $3.8 billion Felipe Ángeles Airport. The largely-rural area, some have said, could become an airport city. But the new terminal wouldn’t be centered around commercial air travel like the former plans in Texcoco. Instead, it might be used to receive flights from low-cost airlines and freights from cargo companies.  Other national news outlets have reported that González-Pulido, who participated in the original NACIM competition in 2014—then as president of Helmut Jahn’s firm, will create the final design for the Felipe Ángeles Airport. But so far, no renderings have been revealed. According to MCCI, plans submitted for the environmental permits seemed to have been done by engineer José Mariá Riobóo, a former campaign adviser to the president.  AN has reached out to Francisco González-Pulido for comment and will update this article accordingly.
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Foster + Partners reveals a lush green-roofed design for a hospital in Shanghai

Last week, Foster + Partners and the nonprofit Cleveland Clinic announced their new design for the Luye Lilan Hospital on Shanghai’s New Hong Qiao International Medical Center (IMC) campus. The design promises to challenge the “traditional hospital model” in order to provide patient-centric healthcare that ultimately will help “improve recovery times”, according to a September 19 press release.  Ben Scott, a partner at Foster + Partners, said that, “The Shanghai Luye Lilan Hospital offers an opportunity to create a new world-leading blueprint for healthcare in the future, integrating the latest technology and patient-centric care in a flexible facility that is immersed in nature.” Indeed, the first rendering released shows a glossy, tiered X-shaped structure surrounded by lush greenery both on the roof of the building and cascading down the terraces and into the surrounding context.  The rich landscaping is informed by the “wealth of evidence” that points to the fact that access to green views and ample natural light both improves recovery times and provides a more pleasant workplace experience for medical professionals and staff. The low verticality of the design was intended by Foster + Partners to establish a more intimate and domestic space that helps patients feel more at home in their surroundings and less mentally burdened by the medical environment.  Another feature that stands out in the rendering is a full-height open atrium which the firm expects to make wayfinding more intuitive, reduce travel time for patients and staff, and maximalize interconnectivity between all groups of people involved in the hospital. The architects hope that the building’s form will lead to modular planning, and an increased flexibility in the programming of spaces as the integration of new technologies becomes inevitable.  Aside from being flexible in its programming, the building’s design aims to promote collaboration between the separate departments as well, by integrating social spaces for meetings and research for the staff instead of keeping them segregated. The hospital will house world-leading specialists in fields such as cardiology, urology, digestive disease, and oncology.
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Foster + Partners tops Apple Aventura with wavy white precast roof

Foster + Partners has broken out of its traditional glass-box bubble and designed a different kind of Apple Store—one that’s arguably distinct because it wasn’t built in a major city center, or within another development (and doesn't resemble a Macbook). Apple Aventura in Aventura, north of Miami is a piece of actual mall architecture that ripples above and beyond its predecessors in terms of design.  Located in a new wing of the posh Aventura Mall, the two-story building isn’t a huge departure from the firm’s other work for Apple. It is, in fact, boxy and of course includes trees inside. But the undulating white concrete roof evokes a certain feeling of fluidity in the bayside shopping center that doesn’t exist elsewhere.  “We love the honesty and purity of the concrete,” said Stefan Behling, head of studio at Foster + Partners in a press release.  Behling and the design team worked closely with Jonathan Ive, the former chief design officer of Apple. They said the building’s exterior design mimics Miami’s white art deco-style architecture, as well as its nautical design scene. “This store is very ‘Miami’ to me,” said Ive. “Its special trees, the light, and the new roof. It is also quintessentially Apple, marrying the outdoor lifestyle with a sense of freedom and creativity that is intrinsic to the way we work.”  According to Foster + Partners, the wavy roof design was made from seven precast concrete arches that together form a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The entire structure is held up by steel columns each covered with another thin architectural precast column that's also painted white. Per other Apple stores, this one boasts floor-to-ceiling glass windows, revealing all the activity within the stop.  The result is a light-filled Apple store that actually breaks a big design boundary for the tech giant: Of all its retail spaces, the building is the only one to use precast concrete as a predominant structural material. The idea was first introduced within Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, also known as Apple Park, in 2017. Inside Apple Ventura, the ground-floor is decked out with rows of elongated wooden tables that serve as Apple’s signature product displays. A large terraced seating area anchors one end of the store, allowing guests to relax while waiting for their Genius Bar appointments or to secure space for an in-store event. The flight of interior steps is outfitted with leather seating and charging stations.  Outside the store, a densely planted garden features teak tables and chairs that seamlessly reference the interior architecture. Customers can also hang out in the shade of the outdoor “Genius Grove” while they wait for assistance.  The Apple Aventura store is situated just steps away from the spiraling Aventura Slide Tower by Carsten Höller, a 93-foot-tall piece of public art that's among the most famed parts of the 2.8-million-square-foot shopping campus. The entire site is the second-largest mall in America.
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Virgin Galactic unveils ultra-lux Gateway to Space

Virgin Galactic, the branch of the British Virgin Group corporation that aims to render commercial space flight a reality, has officially unveiled the interior of its "Gateway to Space" building at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The facility will play a critical role in the company’s space tourism endeavor, including as a workspace for Virgin employees and a waiting area for the families of prospective private astronauts.

The Gateway to Space building sits on the 18,000-acre Spaceport America campus and was originally designed by the international architecture firm Foster + Partners in 2011. With Virgin Galactic’s civilian space travel program beset by numerous delays, the building has served primarily as an aircraft hangar for the past eight years. The now completed two-story interior is designed to accommodate lounge space for guests on the first level and staff offices on the second. A third floor, which is still under construction, will be used as a passenger training center for three days of coaching before each flight.

While one might expect a spaceport to be full of tech gadgets and screens, the design of the passenger lounge is surprisingly warm. Labeled Gaia, and designed by the London-based Viewport Studio, the lounge makes use of natural materials and colors that ground the space in the surrounding landscape. With expansive views of the desert just outside the Gateway's double-height windows, the natural wood textures, stonework, and earth-tone upholstery contribute to the overall visual unity of the experience. Most of the seating around the perimeter of the space faces outward, giving guests prime views of the land, runway, and sky. Viewport has worked with other branches of the Virgin Group before, including as an aircraft interior designer for Virgin Atlantic.

With a high-end bar at its center and all of the components of a first-class airport lounge, Gaia promises to live up to the swanky—and completely unprecedented—experience of space tourism. Only the families of ticketed passengers, each of who will pay upwards of $250,000 for a few moments of weightlessness at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, will have access to the lounge. Passengers themselves will also be able to use Gaia before and after their flights. Virgin Galactic aims to launch its first civilian astronauts into space in 2020.