In the world of shopping mall design, Victor Gruen’s name reigns supreme. The Austrian-born architect and urban planner is responsible for many early suburban shopping malls, which, believe it or not, were originally envisioned as pedestrian oases bustling with musical events, art, and civic functions. Gruen pioneered the typology, creating both the first open-air and the first fully enclosed suburban malls—the Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan, and the Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota. Not one to be limited by geography, Gruen also built similar complexes across the rest of the country. Though Gruen’s early works were originally designed for the automobile age, many have persisted and today are facing radical change. Converging trends in e-commerce and urbanization have lead to the increasing obsolescence of suburban shopping malls, the so-called “death of retail.” Of the malls that remain, several— like the Southdale Mall—are currently undergoing renovations to suit modern times. Gruen Associates, 70 years after its initial founding, is working on several suburban mall adaptive reuse projects. The Architect’s Newspaper’s West Coast editor Antonio Pacheco spoke to several of the firm’s designers—Ashok Vanmali, partner; Devon Barnes, principal associate; Matthew Parrent, senior associate; and Orlando Gonzalez, associate— to investigate how the “death of retail” is affecting suburban shopping mall design. The Architect’s Newspaper: What does your team make of the so-called “death of retail?” Devon Barnes: It’s not that that there’s less desire for consuming goods; there’s just much less interest in static places. Between a traditional shop on 5th Avenue and a pop-up on the High Line, for a loose example, the latter may be more successful right now. Why? Because it's a temporary, unique, experience-based, and placeand location-driven. Ashok Vanmali: Victor Gruen’s early malls were conceived to be hubs of larger communities. People going to the mall were not simply going somewhere to buy something, rather they wanted to have an experience where they could connect with others—and also shop. In my opinion, a problem that developed over the years was that shopping became only about buying things and less about the experience of being in a particular place. Orlando Gonzalez: Let’s remember: A lot of Gruen’s early works also included varied spaces for concerts, public functions, and temporary programmed activities. A lot of these functions, however, were stripped away over time for cost reasons. The public gathering spaces Victor Gruen originally envisioned were reduced to walking corridors and food courts in favor of more leasable space. It has not been so much the “death of retail” as it has been the neglect of public amenity space, and the condition of it, which married the pedestrian to the retail environment. AN: What are some of the other aspects of design Gruen Associates is focusing on in recent retail-oriented projects? Barnes: We’ve seen a strong shift toward fewer of the carbon-copy stores that brands used to depend on to maintain their image. Now retailers are taking a more site-specific approach to their “brand-itecture”—selling the goods in a space that is unique to that city. In many cities, retailers are taking over historic buildings in lieu of a leased spot in the mall to give their stores a sense of authenticity. Vanmali: The luxury retailers we work with focus on the experience and on ambiance— how comfortable the spaces are, how clients are served. For example, one of our strategies revolved around making the shop look more like a home than a store with elements like fireplaces, lounge seating, and artwork. That way, the customer doesn’t necessarily feel like they’re shopping. AN: A lot of the malls today are [also] converting shopping areas into food-focused hubs. People go out to eat and then shopping follows. Gonzalez: They’re re-creating public gathering spaces, as Victor Gruen emphasized early on. He wanted to bring the public open space he experienced in his native Vienna to the new public gathering spaces of the United States. These spaces were designed to catalyze interaction, collaboration, and socio-economic progress. These principles are very much in line with how we design similar types of projects today. AN: So do you see current contemporary trends as moving back toward that previous pattern? Vanmali: Somewhat, but it’s not really “going back,” it is more like recapturing some of the original ideas and excitement that malls once brought. I don’t think today’s technology-driven lifestyles fit into those old models exactly. It’s evolving. Matthew Parrent: There are a lot of aspects, however, that are similar. The intention with the Northland and Southland Malls in Michigan— some of the first malls we built in the 1950s— was to make the mall a town center. There would be a postoffice, a medical center, and housing. Barnes: The suburban mall revolved around the family car. Now we have smartphones— and live in urban hubs with better public transportation. I’d say “evolving” is a good word to describe that process. Parrent: The thread to today is there from those initial malls—people want public experiences, they want to gather, and they still want to shop. Shopping is not going to die. AN: Right, retailers aren’t necessarily losing money—it’s just coming from different places. Barnes: We, as architects, are excited about how brands are dramatically reinventing themselves right now. It gives us more room for creativity and our clients new options for generating revenue. Vanmali: Luxury retailers have always had to periodically reinvent themselves. Most retailers in malls sign five to ten-year leases, and, at the end of those leases, they go back and renovate the spaces with new concepts. Now that products are more accessible via the internet, the physical manifestation of a brand has to be even more special. AN: So, are malls going to have to reinvent themselves? Vanmali: Definitely, they are going to have to reinvent themselves for the communities they serve. Parrent: We can see those existing malls transforming already. We have had several projects where we have proposed to insert a variety of uses onto former parking lots to create more holistic developments. People want to shop in places that have some history. We worked on a conceptual master plan for the Southern California Association of Governments in Cerritos, California, recently, where we proposed creating a walkable regional transportation hub on a mall parking lot. Gonzalez: And in that project, we took supersized parking lots that are 800 or 900 feet wide and broke them up to be human scaled, walkable blocks that are 300 to 500 feet long. We are designing these types of projects with a mix of uses and multimodal streetscapes. The healthy integration of streets, blocks, and buildings at a human scale is a basic ingredient of any livable community. These ingredients have never really changed, only how we as designers have composed them.
Posts tagged with "Gruen Associates":
A partnership between the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, AECOM, Gruen Associates, Chee Salette, WSP, CH2M, Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA), and Tetra Tech has produced preliminary visioning plans for a segment of the Los Angeles River running through Downtown Los Angeles. The dramatic proposals aim to reconfigure a several-mile stretch of the concrete-lined river running from the southern tip of the Frogtown neighborhood north of Downtown to the Redondo Junction at its far southern end. Each of the seven teams was given a separate segment of the river to reconfigure and asked to take into account river-adjacent projects currently under development like BIG’s 670 Mesquit, among others. The teams were also asked to anticipate future planning approaches, including private-public partnerships and a potential extension of the Red Line subway to the Arts District. The proposals, according to a project website, are meant to focus on increasing pedestrian connectivity to the river while also “embracing bold, world-class design.” Gruen Associates, Barclay to Spring Street: Gruen Associates’ scheme seeks to reconfigure a narrow stretch of riverfront between Interstate 110 and the northern border of Chinatown by covering over an existing rail yard with a meadow and elevated public paths. WSP, Spring Street to Cesar Chavez Avenue: WSP’s proposal aims to create a series of stepped terraces that gradually meet the existing river bottom. The terraces expand as they reach the river, creating a broad, swoopy promenade. CH2M, Cesar Chavez Avenue to 1st Street: CH2M’s scheme creates a dramatic creek just south of Interstate 101 that rises up to meet the northern edge of the Arts District neighborhood. Renderings included with the proposal showcase broad bicycle and pedestrian paths as well as integrated seating and meandering trails. Chee Salette, 1st Street to 4th Street: Chee Salette’s proposal calls for a densely-packed sculpture garden sandwiched between Michael Maltzan Architecture’s (MMA) One Santa Fe complex and the L.A. River. The scheme features a river crossing that traverses the L.A. River’s bottom. Like the previous concepts, the scheme envisions placing a broad, stepped cap over the existing Metro rail yard that runs parallel to the waterway, where the Red Line extension would go. Mia Lehrer + Associates, 4th Street to 7th Street: MLA’s proposal extends work the firm has proposed for the adjacent 670 Mesquit project—MLA is landscape architect for that project, as well—by adding a riverine forest, wetlands, and stormwater filtration pools to the eastern banks of the river. The scheme also envisions creating a connection between the forthcoming 6th Street bridge park underneath the new MMA-designed 6th Street bridge and the nearby Hollenbeck Park. AECOM, 7th Street to Olympic Boulevard: The AECOM proposal aims to utilize a network of new pedestrian bridges over the river to connect the western and eastern banks of the river around a segment of the Arts District that has seen several new development proposals in recent months, including a new SoHo House outpost and an 110-unit live/work complex by Studio One Eleven. The AECOM scheme proposes a series of elevated park islands resting on diminutive feet and focuses on improving a Department of General Services-owned lot with demonstration gardens and a new solar farm. Tetra Tech, Olympic Boulevard to 26th Street: The scheme for the final leg of the study area includes the grounds surrounding the vacant Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building, which is currently slated to be redeveloped by Izek Shomof into a mixed-use complex. The Tetra Tech scheme envisions a new bridge at East Washington Boulevard over the river as well as a series of terraced gardens along the western banks of the river as well as a covered promenade along the eastern banks. No word yet on which, if any, of these proposals will actually be built. A budget for the bridge-heavy collection of ideas has not been released. See the LA River Design Dialogue (3D) website for more information.
Gruen Associates, Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Oyler Wu Collaborative have been selected to design a 12-mile long bike path running along the Los Angeles River through the city’s San Fernando Valley. The L.A. River has its headwaters in the Canoga Park neighborhood in the northwest San Fernando Valley, so the path will be a key and highly visible portion that will work in conjunction with the much larger, Frank O. Gehry and Associates-master plan for restoring the L.A. River. That wider project will use bicycle and pedestrian paths, parks, and public, open space to stitch neighborhoods along the 51-mile long concrete-lined flood control channel. By connecting to a three-mile long path already in existence that runs from Griffith Park, at the southeastern corner of the San Fernando Valley, through the Elysian Valley and into Downtown, the path will help mark a giant leap forward for the otherwise derelict flood control channel. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made the announcement Tuesday afternoon via press release, saying, “The Los Angeles River is a common thread that links us to our history, and connects us to the natural world. This bikeway will give all Angelenos a new way to experience our city, build accessibility to our revitalized river, and expand green space for families to enjoy. I am proud to work with all of the partners who helped us reach this milestone.” The San Fernando Valley portion of the trail will be made possible through a special partnership between the offices of Mayor Garcetti and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, with additional support from the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks and City Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez and David Ryu. The project team will take nine months to study the route for the new trail in order to develop community-vetted strategies for the path. Construction on the project will then proceed in phases, with an unspecified timeline for project completion. The 12-mile stretch will be engineered by civil and structural engineering firm Psomas. “We are thrilled to bring together this exceptional team to work with us in the design of the Valley’s river bike path,” said Gary Lee Moore, City Engineer. “We have selected a group of designers known for their experience in successfully addressing architectural challenges, as well as bringing innovative and experimental thinking to their work.”
Curved metal facade embodies spirit of mobility at LAX.The commission to design a new Central Utility Plant (CUP) for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) came with a major caveat: the original 1960s-era CUP would remain online throughout construction, providing heating and cooling to adjacent passenger terminals until the new plant was ready to take over."We had to keep the existing CUP up and running, build the new one, do the cutover, then tear down the old CUP and build a thermal energy storage tank in its place," explained Gruen Associates project designer Craig Biggi. "It was a very challenging project from that standpoint—working in a 24/7 environment, and getting everything up and running within a small footprint." But despite these and other hurdles, the design-build team (which included Clark/McCarthy, A Joint Venture as general contractors, Arup as A/E design lead, and Gruen Associates as architect) succeeded in delivering the new CUP in time to support LAX's newest terminal. Its curved stainless steel and glass facade captures the airport's spirit of mobility, and helps restore a sense of cohesion to an otherwise fragmented built landscape. LAX is a busy place, both aesthetically and with respect to passenger movement. "There's a lot of visual activity happening there," explained Biggi. "It's been built up over time, so there's this layering effect. This was meant to be an architectural design that not only simplifies some of the visual confusion, but addresses the context of the airport itself as a site that has a lot of movement." When shaping the building envelope, the designers looked at concepts of laminar flow, of which one example is the passage of air over an aircraft wing. "What we came up with was a streamlined architectural expression that ties together three distinct programmatic elements," said Biggi. "The project uses this expression to tie into the existing context by flowing around corners, then opens up at certain locations to allow the program to have ventilation and views." The CUP's primary facade is clad in stainless steel composite panels within a pressurized rain screen system. The architects chose stainless steel, explained partner-in-charge and project manager Debra Gerod, to respond to the potentially corrosive effects of jet fuel and other chemicals as well as the salty Southern California air. In addition, "we had to work to get a finish that wouldn't create reflections," said Gerod. "We're right underneath the control tower. Being mindful that the sun can be at any angle, bouncing off airplanes, that [became a] careful performance-based element" of the design. Non-curved sections of the CUP's envelope feature corrugated aluminum panels, which reduce the risk of reflection and help camouflage functional components including large doors that allow the installation and replacement of equipment. "How we were able to put these giant openings into the side of the facade and have it be blended in and aligned with the corrugated metal paneling—these were some of the things we really paid a lot of attention to," said Gerod. Similarly, the ribbon windows on the stainless steel facade help conceal exhaust louvers, in addition to providing views from the engineers' offices. "We always looked at opportunities for streamlining the aesthetic of the exterior," said Biggi. "We were looking for simple massing that looked fluid in its resolution." Gruen Associates designed the new CUP as a visual landmark for passersby, installing a massive window on the north facade in order to reveal the interior of the chiller room. "This is a bit of an homage to the old CUP," explained Gerod. "When it was first built, it was a really nice building: round, with lots of glass. By the time we got to it, things were spilling out in all directions. But as originally designed, it had a view into the inner workings of the plant." Meanwhile, the architects used blue-colored LEDs and reflectors moved by the wind to create a lighting effect on the adjacent thermal energy storage tank—which, like the nearby cooling towers, is also clad in stainless steel—that mimics the rippling motion of a swimming pool at night. "The lighting effect is meant to address passengers as they're driving down Center Way, and give some animation to the large mass of the storage tank," said Biggi. Here, too, the designers were careful to plan the lighting so as not to interfere with air traffic control functions. LAX's new CUP, which is targeting LEED Gold certification, promises a 25 percent increase in efficiency over the 50-year-old plant it replaces. With continued expansion in the offing, it did not arrive on the scene any too soon. Though much of the design was shaped by current conditions at the airport, including both functional considerations and an aesthetic embrace of the airport's hectic pace, Gruen Associates simultaneously thought ahead, to a larger—but hopefully visually more coherent—LAX. Should a proposed terminal extension to the west come to pass, the CUP's curved stainless steel facade will provide a backdrop for the newer buildings, setting the stage for a more deliberate approach to the airport's ongoing transformation.
"We decided to make a community. Instead of making typical blocks we proposed a vertical village,” said architect Ma Yansong, principle of MAD Architects, when he sat down with AN’s Sam Lubell last month. The firm just unveiled its first project in the United States: 8600 Wilshire, an 18-unit residential complex on Wilshire Boulevard. The hillside village scheme is a typological mash-up: a courtyard apartment building on top of a mountain-like commercial box. Or, in a West Coast vernacular: Melrose Place meets Fred Segal, the eclectic retailer known for its ivy-covered storefront. The 48,000-square foot design for Palisades Capital Partners includes three townhouses, five villas, two studios, and eight condominiums. “[We took] single family houses like you see in Beverly Hills and we stacked them together,” said Yansong. “We have different roof heights, because in the village everyone built their own house.” The firm, which has offices in China and California, brought the lessons of density and verticality from Beijing to LA. While only the pitched roofs are visible from the street, the residential courtyard is shared garden space, with more private exterior balconies given to each unit. “People are emotional, they realize some meaning behind those green, living elements,” said Yansong of the need to make natural spaces full of plants, even in a drought. Addressing the California water shortage, the exterior living wall will be water-efficient and planted with native, drought-tolerant succulents and vines. MAD worked with landscape architects at Gruen Associates, the local firm is also the executive architect on the project. 8600 Wilshire was recently honored with a design concept prize at the 45th Annual Los Angeles Architectural Awards, hosted by the Los Angeles Business Council, and expected to break ground in October.
The biggest new architecture project in Los Angeles just got a much smaller list of candidates. The General Services Administration (GSA) has released the shortlist for the new U.S. Courthouse in LA, a design-build project where architects are partnered with builders. When completed, the building, located on a 3.7 acre lot at 107 South Broadway, will measure 600,000 square feet. It’s projected to cost $322 million and be completed by 2016. The shortlisted teams include: Skidmore Owings and Merrill with Clark Yazdani Studio and Gruen Associates with Hensel Phelps Brooks + Scarpa and HMC Architects with McCarthy NBBJ Architects with Mortensen Shortlisted firms will now be expected to submit plans as part of a Request For Proposals. The winner is expected to be named by this August or September, and design is set to begin by the end of this year. Those who didn’t make the cut included Morphosis, Michael Maltzan Architects, Ehrlich Architects, AC Martin, Johnson Fain Architects, Fentress Architects, Rios Clementi Hale, and Cannon Design. Another exclusion was Perkins + Will, who GSA originally chose to design the project before it stalled several years ago.
Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first African American woman to become a licensed architect in the country, died on Monday in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times reports. Sklarek, a native of Harlem, went to Barnard College before graduating from Columbia's architecture school in 1950. She passed the New York State exam in 1954, becoming the first African American woman to receive her professional architecture license and earning her the nickname "the Rosa Parks of Architecture." She later moved to California where she was turned down for work 19 times before going on to work for SOM, Gruen Associates, Welton Becket, and the Jerde Partnership. Jerde partner Paul Senzaki recalled her ability to provide broad oversight with a personal touch. "While many people can provide administrative guidance, what I recall most was here willingness to spend time with staff and talk with them about their work," Senzanki said in a statement. "In many ways she was an educator/mentor who happened to practice architecture." Sklarek's more notable projects include overseeing staff at Gruen for the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and acting as project director at Welton Becket for LAX Terminal 1. Before joining Jerde in 1989, she co-founded one of the largest all-women architectural firms in the country, Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond. She would go on to become the first African-American woman inducted as a fellow at the AIA. Mabel O. Wilson, an associate professor at Columbia's GSAPP, recalled hearing Sklarek speak Howard University when Wilson was still a student. It was the first time she had seen an architect who was an African American woman. "I wasn’t seeing a reflection of myself in the field, and then there she was," said Wilson. She added that Sklarek's hard work and staying power aligns nicely with the ethos of the profession. "It still takes a lot of tenacity to land where she did and do the work she did at LAX--and that doesn’t matter who you are," she said. The Architect's Newspaper sends our condolences to Sklarek's family, friends, and colleagues.