They seem hesitant to call it a merger, but architecture biggies FXFOWLE and CO Architects announced today that they are joining forces in a "joint venture." The New York and Los Angeles firms made the move, they said in a release, "In order to expand each firm’s geographic and expertise reach." The companies will maintain their individual identities, with the exception of joint projects, under which they'll be called CO/FXFOWLE. CO Architects, it should be noted, is known for its institutional and healthcare work, while FXFOWLE's portfolio, marked by its focus on sustainability, is a little more wide-ranging, from architecture to interior design to planning. The move actually took place in December, and the firms are emphatic that both will remain on equal footing. The deal, said the announcement, "represents a genuine collaboration between the two firms in all project services, rather than the customary design architect/associate architect relationship."
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Rather than add a few hundred more words to the tens of thousands already devoted to praise the Diller Scofidio + Renfro / FXFOWLE renovation of the Julliard School and Alice Tully Hall, I think today that I will remember the original architect, Pietro Belluschi (1899-1994). As a young faculty member at the University of Virginia, I got to know his work a bit. He designed the UVA School of Architecture. The building was muscular, had clear structure, and well expressed the late 1960s/early ‘70s last gasps of Brutalism. Belluschi was born in Italy, where he earned a degree in civil engineering at the University of Rome. When an opportunity came to move to Portland, Oregon, in the 1920s, he took a position in the architectural office of A.E. Doyle, eventually rising to full partner after the founders passed away. Eventually he gave up his Portland practice to take on the deanship at MIT in 1951. The academic position enabled him to consult on many interesting projects, including with Walter Gropius on the Pan Am Building (now Met Life), and with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on a number of projects. He designed the Julliard School and Alice Tully Hall, a travertine clad essay in late Brutalism which opened in 1969. In 1972, he received the AIA Gold Medal—the highest individual award given by the AIA. You can still see his handiwork—mutated and dematerialized by the expansion of the Julliard School out to Broadway. Benjamin Gilmartin, AIA, of Diller Scofidio + Refro, and acoustician Mark Holden of JaffeHolden conducted today’s tour of the Hall—so there was a lot of talk about the finer points of its acoustics. Holden noted that the original hall had what he called “B+” acoustics, but that because of the aging of the original wood interior—likened by Gilmartin to that of the General Assembly chamber at the United Nations—the sound had lost its “sheen and clarity.” A lot was made of the “intimacy” of the hall. It is covered with a “superskin,” it “blushes” as veneer composite panels are illuminated from behind. I liked the portrait of Alice Tully, standing tall in gold-encrusted evening garb at the age of 80 with her trusty white moppet of a pooch resting at her feet sporting tiny blue satin bows on his ears. She elegantly greets the donors as they proceed to the upper level lobby with the outdoor balcony. It was in use as a conference room when we passed through. Surprisingly underwhelming finishes up there…just gray felt on the walls and grey carpet. I kind of missed those old chandeliers. -Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA For the info on the tour of today’s Building of the Day click here: David Rebenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. Each “Building of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter. For the rest of the month—Archtober—we will write here a personal account about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy. Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture.
It was a panel I couldn’t refuse: To moderate a talk with two architects from China about sustainability. Not that it’s a topic with which I am very familiar, but I would guess that even architects working there find much about the Chinese approach to environmental issues a mystery. I do know that the country has a $375 billion dollar construction industry devouring resources and that, at least ten years ago, a new coal-fired plant was being built every ten days. But things are changing fast and the chance to talk to Wang Degang who has his own 20-person firm in Nanjing and with Mesh Chen Dongliang who has been working for the past six years at Arquitectonica’s Shanghai office about their impressions was quite an opportunity. The event called “Deconstructing China: Dialogues on Design Process and Sustainability” was organized by the Trespa Design Centre, a pretty ambitious move for a manufacturer of high-end architectural panels but entirely in keeping with the company’s agenda to make the center an inspirational and educational source for architects and designers. English was a problem. But it was not an insurmountable one, and the two architects were wonderfully game making a huge effort to provide the most upfront answers to questions comparing LEED and China’s approximately five-year-old Three Star green-building certification program and questions posing whether or not there is broad popular support for environmental measures. To the latter, they answered frankly that it was largely a government directive, guided pretty much by the desire to be competitive with the West. Mr. Wang offered that he was able to convince private clients to incorporate some green features by saying it was trendy. Mr. Mesh noted that the government is concerned about the environmental waste in the construction industry but has decided to deal first with the more urgent demands of industrial and water pollution. After that, he said, they will direct more attention to building green. Also on the panel was FxFowle’s director of sustainability, Ilana Judah who knows the LEED system cold and was able to reveal interesting differences and incompatibilities between the USGBC rating system and Three-Star, the most interesting of which was that the latter is performance based and buildings cannot be certified until a full year after occupancy. It also came out that, at this point, LEED is the default program used in both international buildings and buildings of any ambition and that only some 20-30% buildings currently in China have achieved, or aim to achieve, Three-Star status. Generally, the two do not mix on the same project. When the floor was opened to questions, Cliff Pearson of Architectural Record asked about sustainable approaches to urban planning but the panelists seemed to agree that urban planning as we know it here is handled differently there. Or I think that’s what they said. A Chinese gentleman in the audience asked a drawn out, heavily-accented, and multi-faceted question involving intentionality, architects, government, and nature. The panelists looked to me to translate and I hazarded a complete guess: Do architects in China want to be green? They both answered with a resounding, Yes!
The past ten years have seen an impressive amount of economic growth and infrastructural development in India, and the nation is becoming more and more a well established market for American architectural talent. This trend doesn't seem to be changing as we embark on a new decade. One sign of that is the September 2009 opening of an office in Mumbai by structural engineering firm Leslie E. Robertson Associates (LERA). Founded in 1923 in New York City, LERA has contributed its services to many of the city's iconic structures (such as the World Trade Center) and has designed buildings all around the world, but this will be its first foreign office. A release by the firm cited a "growing workload" and the need to "facilitate client relations" as key reasons for the opening. LERA will join a number of other American architecture firms that have recently opened branches in the subcontinent, including HOK and Perkins Eastman. See some of the projects LERA has worked on after the jump.
Did you have a nice time watching Phantom of the Opera? Did you buy all that you could carry from The Disney Store? Have fun strolling down the soon-to-be-redesigned Broadway plazas? Why not pop around the corner and check out a peep show? I'm not talking naked ladies here, I'm talking real live sharks! This isn't a joke. In the very near future this may be an option. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Jerry Shefsky—a Toronto-based developer—is near to closing a deal with SJP Properties to put a 600,000-gallon aquarium in the base of the company's brand spanking new 11 Times Square office tower. In addition to the aforementioned sharks, the $100 million project would include tanks featuring rays, penguins, otters, and drier attractions such as a pirate museum. This could even serve as a model for other financially troubled projects in the city. Perhaps turn Stuytown into a zoo? Not that it isn't one already.
Another entry in the good bad news department today, as the Post breaks the big story that St. Vincent's hospital in Greenwich Village is on the verge of bankruptcy again. According to the tab, crosstown rival Continuum Health, which runs Beth Israel, St. Luke's and Roosevelt hospitals is prepared to take over the city's last remaining Catholic hospital, and it could close many of the hospitals services, such as surgical and in-patient care, and possibly even the emergency room, one of the few on the west side of Manhattan. So how is this good news, that this critical hospital might close? Well, that pride of place, combined with the first bankruptcy, was part of the reason St. Vincent's used to justify its major expansion and real estate deal with the Rudins, which would have created a new hospital by Pei Cobb Freed and a huge condo project by FXFowle. Now all that could be in doubt:
The proposal throws into doubt St. Vincent's existing plan to build a new medical facility and sell its campus to the Rudin Co. for $300 million to erect a condo complex. The hospital had only just gotten the go-ahead from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission last summer to proceed with its $1.6 billion modernization project after years of protests.While there is still time for a resolution to be worked out—we got about a dozen different press releases about the news from shocked and concerned politicians today—it looks like the hospital's expansion plan is at least on hold, possibly indefinitely. This could mean that the dogged efforts by preservationists to preserve the O'Toole building, formerly Albert C. Ledner's one-of-a-kind National Maritime Museum Headquarters, could be back on life support and possibly on the way to a full recovery. Not to mention a victory for the Village NIMBYists who felt threatened by two new towers in their low-rise, historic neighborhood.
My In Detail piece in the current issue is about Eleven Times Square, a speculative office tower at the corner of 8th Ave. and 42nd St., which was designed by FXFowle and is now in the final stages of construction. Lucky for you and me, Plaza Construction had the site photographed everyday for the past two years or so from the same vantage on a nearby tower, and has compiled these daily progress photos in the above stop-action video. There is much to admire in the presentation, but pay close attention to the erection of the structural elements. (Hint: The Tootsie Roll center of the Tootsie Pop goes up first.) Like at least half of all tall buildings constructed in New York City in the post-9/11 era, this is a composite structure of a concrete core with steel-framed bays. But this is the first of those buildings in which the erection of the concrete preceded that of the steel. As is the case with vampires and werewolves, the steel and concrete trades in this city do not mix, due in part to long-held grudges. My information tells me that, in the erection of previous composite structures, ironworkers refused to work beneath the less-schooled concrete laborers because they feared being hit by fumbled debris. So does the erection of Eleven mark an historic accord between the warring unions? Or is Plaza simply the Talleyrand of construction management, capable of smoothing the ruffled feathers of even the most angry birds?
We just got our invitation to the Municipal Art Society's annual MASterworks awards. Contained therein are the heretofore unannounced winners, as well. (You can find all four after the jump.) Sadly, the party is invite only, but it's at the new glassy, glamorous Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, so if nothing else, you can wander by Tuesday night and press your face to the glass, making puppy-dog eyes at we revelers therein. It'll be the perfect Oliver Twist/recession moment. If you're lucky/pretty, we might even sneak you in the side door. Best New Building: The Standard Hotel, by Polshek Partnership (Read our feature here.) Best Restoration: The Lion House at the Bronx Zoo, FXFowle Best Renovation/Adaptive Resuse: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Lyn Rice Architects Neighborhood Catalyst: Times Square TKTS Booth, Perkins Eastman/Choi Ropiha (Read more here.)
We've been following the proposed hospital cum condos plan for St. Vincent's rather closely as its percolated through the LPC the past year-and-a-half, but due to conflicting plans and just a smidge of St. Vincent's fatigue, we couldn't make it to yesterday's latest hearing on the Rudin condo proposal. As we understand it, though, it was no different than the proposal unveiled 51 weeks prior. What was on view, however, were some fancy new renderings of those same old buildings, which you can find here. According to the Times, the proceedings were raucous as usual, with some 80 opponents speaking out against the project, a 233-foot condo tower designed by FXFowle along with a handful of condo conversions made out of historic hospital building. These apartments, developed by Rudin Management, are meant to help finance the recently approved 286-foot hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed that will rise across Seventh Avenue on the site of Albert Ledner's former National Maritime Union Headquarters. "Essentially, they felt the building had to come down," LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon told us today in a phone interview. Did they happen to say how big is too big? "They didn't specify," de Bourbon replied. "They just said it was too bulky and too tall." Dan Kaplan, the FXFowle partner in charge of the project, assured us the firm would be back. "I was encouraged by the Commisisoners' constructive comments on the scheme presented," he wrote in an email. As for these renderings, it's always impossible to tell what a building will really look like once it's built, but these don't seem so bad, do they? Then again, the design team has often been criticized by the commission for manipulating their media to only produce the desired affect. But hey, who can blame 'em?
The Observer points us to a lawsuit filed today in State Supreme Court aimed at stopping the demolition of Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union HQ in Greenwhich Village, now known as the O'Toole Building. If you read the paper with any regularity, you should know full well the story of St. Vincent's Hospital's attempts to replace the one-of-a-kind "overbite building" with a 300-foot tall Pei Cobb Freed-designed hospital tower. Well, the lawsuit may be just in time, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission is due to vote today on whether or not it approves the outsized plans for the new hospital building. As we most recently reported, a majority of commissioners are leaning towards approval, meaning the suit may be the last chance to save Ledner's building. The petition, which can be found here, was filed by the Protect the Village Historic District and a coalition of preservation groups and neighbors. It effectively calls into question the commission's torturous 6-4 October vote, which condemned the building in question, on the grounds that the hospital, and its development partner Rudin, were not wholly forthcoming. The petitioners claim the developers mis-attributed their "constitutional hardship"--St. Vincent's argues that it cannot carry out its charitable duties in its current facilities and that it cannot find a suitable replacement site beyond the O'Toole building--and that this hardship was falsely accepted by the commission. Perhaps more importantly, they challenge the fact that the property was knowingly purchased as a landmark by St. Vincent's:
In addition, petitioners contend that because St. Vincent’s acquired O’Toole Building AFTER the restrictions imposed by the Landmarks Law were already in place, the Hospital could not have had “reasonable investment-backed expectations” of the sort that would justify a constitutional exception to the otherwise proper and lawful restrictions on an owner’s use of its property that are codified in the Landmarks Law.This has been a major issue for preservationist throughout the two-year fight because they fear it sets a dangerous precedent wherein any charity could purchase a landmark, claim it does not suit its needs, and then demolish it. The hope is that with the subpeona power of the courts, the petitioners can bring to light many of the concerns that were never fully aired in public at the commission, such as the financial position of the hospital and any closed-door discussions and analysis performed by the developers with regards to alternative site. Still, one prominent land-use attorney who often goes before the commission doubted the suit's success. The attorney, declined to comment because, on the one hand, a number of associates lived in the neighborhood and were upset by the proposal, while on the other, the firm had and might yet deal with similar claims. Generally speaking, however, the attorney said the commission is always very cautious on such matters. "The hardship is rigorous, it's difficult" the attorney said. "It's difficult to meet the standard, and the commission is sure to dot all its 'i's. Usually, it's difficult to overturn these administrative decisions." Indeed, at the October vote, every single commissioner read from prepared remarks, something almost never seen, especially from the entire commission. An LPC representative even explained that prepared statements were used to be sure everything was on record and legitimate. The rep then added, "You know, in case there's a law suit." Well, the commission's gotten it's wish, so to speak. (The city has declined to comment until it receives the petition, which a spokesperson said it had not.) Whether this turns into another Atlantic Yards, or even another Grand Central, which is what got us here in the first place, remains to be seen. Then again, if they vote down the hospital tomorrow, maybe it won't even matter. But if not, we can only hope Joe Pesci is on the petitioner's side, 'cause he sure puts up a good fight.