Posts tagged with "Historic Preservation":

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Russia and Syria announce joint project to restore ancient city of Palmyra

Earlier last week, Russian and Syrian officials announced that they would team up to restore the National Museum of Palmyra. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, oversaw the signing in Damascus between the Hermitage, Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).  Located in the northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of what was once a great oasis city in the Syrian desert nest known for being one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architecture of this civilization often combined Greco-Roman and Persian influences with local traditions. However, the site had been targeted for deliberate destruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and in 2014, much of the city and nearby historic religious buildings were damaged. Over the course of 2015, ISIL (also referred to as ISIS) destroyed the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue, The Temple of Baalshamin, The Monumental Arch, and the Tower of Elahbel, among many other historic sites. A statement posted on the Hermitage’s website states: “Both agreements are a tangible step in the significant development of museum and research ties between Russia and Syria,” according to The Art Newspaper. The goals of the agreement include a collaborative effort between the Hermitage and the National Museum of Oman to restore 20 Syrian antiquities from Palmyra, followed by the later restoration of the city as a whole, which is still suffering from the damage created by ISIL. Representatives from UNESCO, DGAM, and the Aga Kahn Foundation will also form an advisory group for the campaign and work with the Hermitage to restore the selection of artifacts.  Piotrovsky said that restoring the museum is the first step and is “of particular value for the entire complex,” but reiterated that the ultimate goal of preserving the ancient city will be quite a process and, “we are preparing for the day after tomorrow, it’s not yet possible to do anything tomorrow.” However, this is far from the first attempt at preserving Palmyra's history; numerous attempts have been made to scan and recreate the structures and artwork found there, including creating a digital archive.
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Salt Lake Temple’s four-year renovation set to begin this year

“To some extent, buildings are like people,” said Russell M. Nelson, the 17th and current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). “Not only is the aging process inevitable, but it can [also] be unkind.” Nelson offered the metaphor in his speech at the 186th General Conference Session in April 2019 to announce that Salt Lake Temple, the largest LDS temple in the world, and the 10-acre Temple Square that surrounds it, will be closed to the public starting December 29, 2019, to undergo a four-year restoration. That series of upgrades that will make the site more accessible to the 3-to-5 million visitors the site receives annually. “This project will enhance, refresh, and beautify the temple and its surrounding grounds,” said Nelson. “Obsolete systems within the building will be replaced. Safety and seismic concerns will be addressed. Accessibility will be enhanced so that members with limited mobility can be better accommodated.” Members of the church called upon FFKR Architects, the largest architecture firm in Utah, to not only provide solutions to the temple’s structural issues, but to envision a combination of preservation, restoration, renovation, demolition, and new construction to be contracted by local company Jacobsen Construction. The formal temple entry point, for instance, will be improved with the addition of skylights that will provide sweeping views of the temple’s spires from the interior, and a new tunnel will be built underground to connect the Conference Center parking area with the temple’s grand hall. Though smaller existing buildings on the site will be demolished to make way for several features new to the grounds—including multiple temple entry pavilions, two visitor centers, and updated hardscaping and landscaping—the church has stated that all of the changes will be made with only the square’s original purposes in mind. “Efforts will be made to preserve the unique historicity of each temple wherever possible, preserving the inspiring beauty and unique craftsmanship of generations long-since passed,” said Nelson. “We will strive to preserve its reverent setting and character as originally directed by President Brigham Young.” To achieve a high level of fidelity in its preservation efforts, members of the local Church History Department were employed to perform research on the characteristics of the temple when it was first completed, including paintwork, murals, millwork, and furniture. Plans for the renovation began modestly when it was recently discovered that the 253,000-square-foot temple, first completed in 1893 by Thomas O. Angell, sits on earthquake-prone land and is in dire need of seismic and structural renovations. The last renovation, which took place between 1962-1963, included demolition of the original annex (due to its structural instability), the installation of all-new mechanical systems, plumbing, wiring, carpeting and light fixtures, and the redecoration of the entire building (Temple Square was officially designated a National Historic Landmark shortly after in 1964). It was determined that the upcoming renovation should include the replacement of the temple’s aging mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in their entirety while also implementing a significant seismic upgrade using a base isolation system that will take approximately a year to install alone. According to Brent Roberts, the church’s director of special projects, this will require placing hundreds of shock absorbers between the ground and the building’s footings and foundations. "It actually will now be the foundation of the temple, so when the earth moves, the base isolation system takes all that movement," Roberts explained. Base isolators have proven to be an effective safeguarding system for historic buildings and have even been employed in other historic buildings in the area, including The Salt Lake City-County Building, completed in 1894. “The base isolators take a lot of the energy out of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake,” said David Hart, the former executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board. “It's a really, really efficient way of reducing the force elements that are predicted to hit the building in a major earthquake.” As an extra precaution in the event of natural disasters, the temple’s iconic stone spires and walls will be strengthened while maintaining their original aesthetic character. Though Salt Lake Temple won’t open its doors again to the public until 2024, far-reaching efforts were made to make sure the construction process will not interrupt the regular functions of surrounding facilities and events. the church will ensure that there will be no street closures or impediments to pedestrian and vehicle traffic during construction, while the North Visitor’s Center and Salt Lake Tabernacle, a historic meeting hall on the western edge of Temple Square, will remain open for events.
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Massachusetts puts the Paul Rudolph-designed Hurley Building on the market

A piece of Boston’s brutalist Government Center has reached the end of the road. The Charles F. Hurley Building, designed between 1962 and 1966 by Paul Rudolph, has been placed on the market by the State of Massachusetts. Citing the building’s challenging layout—the top floor lacks windows on three sides, for starters, according to the Boston Globe’s report—as well as an outdated surrounding urban landscape, Governor Charlie Baker’s office plans to offer up the site for total redevelopment rather than adaptive reuse. The Hurley Building occupies a 3.25-acre site in downtown Boston, near North Station and the MBTA transit lines, and the move to open the site for development is expected to rake in tens of millions of dollars for the state. In pursuing a public-private partnership, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance plans to solicit an official redevelopment partner by mid-2020. The complex will accommodate new uses while retaining office space for some of the several state agencies currently housed in the building. Approximately 675 government employees work in the Hurley Building at the time of writing. News of the redevelopment quickly sparked a movement to save the building, which some consider among Boston’s brutalist treasures. The nearby Boston City Hall, built in 1968, has long been an icon of brutalism, even if it achieved that status through sheer controversy. Many architecture aficionados and critics have praised the Hurley Building's unabashed modernism, while a number of locals consider it nothing more than an eyesore. The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation published a blog post titled “S.O.S: - Save Rudolph’s Boston Government Center,” describing the Hurley Building as “one of Rudolph’s most interesting commissions, and a serious work of urban design.” In a call to action, the blog post encourages readers to leave comments on the Boston Globe article voicing their concerns with the project. Construction on the site is expected to begin within the next few years once the property finds a buyer. For now, the state is formulating plans to relocate its agencies to alternative sites.
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Did Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher build Philadelphia's modernist stone pavilion? The answer may save it from demolition

The city of Philadelphia is moving forward with plans to demolish the beloved modernist stone pavilion in Columbus Square, affectionately referred to as the 'Roundhouse' (not to be confused with the Philadelphia Police Headquarters at 8th and Race Streets, also colloquially known as the 'Roundhouse'). The building gained notoriety earlier this year when The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron attributed the building's design to the late Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, the first woman architect in Philadelphia and one of the first in Pennsylvania. However, the Department of Parks and Recreation has expressed its doubt of Saffron’s claim, attributing the project to Fleisher’s partner Gabriel Roth instead. Some claim that the Roundhouse lacks historical significance without direct attachment to Fleisher, making it an easy target for demolition in the wake of a $2.8 million renovation of Columbus Square. In a recent article for her column in the Inquirer, Saffron bluntly addressed the following questions: “Who’s right? And why should it matter at this late date?” Regardless of the architect’s identity, Saffron claims that the structure, which has been vacant since the city opened a larger recreational facility in 2005, deserves another chance. The whimsical modernist roof and hefty stone walls make it a unique time capsule from a bygone era, drawing parallels to Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, which has long been praised as a treasure of mid-century modernism. Since its completion in the 1960s, the Roundhouse served as an important center of community life for the surrounding neighborhood of Passyunk Square. Its single doorway opened into a small but inviting space in which park-goers could stop to rest, grab sporting equipment, and hold meetings. Even after years of vacancy, Passyunk Square residents have not forgotten the legacy of the Roundhouse; Philadelphia resident Jay Farrell launched a change.org petition to save the beloved pavilion, stating that “the Columbus Square Fleisher Pavilion is clearly a much-loved and familiar landmark in the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philadelphia and there is a strong desire among local residents to see it preserved and adaptively reused.” The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures thus far. While the future of the building remains unclear, the story of the Roundhouse has sparked important conversations about the unsung contributions of women architects and how we determine the historical significance of buildings.
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Six LGBT historic sites declared NYC landmarks

Just in time for LGBT History Month, the New York City Council announced at the end of September that six sites have been designated Individual Landmarks for their significance to LGBTQ+ history. While the six sites were selected during Pride Month this past June, they were required to go through a few more rounds of confirmations by the full 51-person City Council, the City Council’s subcommittee on Landmarks, and the Land Use Committee. While there are always naysayers in Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) public hearings, these significant landmarks have officially made it.  This is great news for both the LGBTQ community and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, an educational resource that began in 2015 with the goal of broadening people’s knowledge of LGBT history and geography “beyond Stonewall.” Sites are added to the project’s interactive map, which can be navigated through filters including “Cultural Significance,” “Neighborhood,” or “Era,” all of which aim to make “an invisible history visible.”  "I am very proud of these designations, which recognize that despite the obstacles they faced, the LGBT community has thrived in New York City," said Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Sarah Carroll in an earlier press release.  Below are the six newly-landmarked buildings:  Audre Lorde Residence (1898) Location: 207 St. Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island Architect: Otto Loeffler Audre Lorde (1934-1992), an American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist lived in this Staten Island home with her two children and partner Frances Clayton from 1972 to 1987. Born in Harlem, Lorde noted in an interview with Louise Chawla that this home was a perfect balance between nature and her commitment to raising her children in the city. While living there, Lorde was the Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature at Hunter College and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  Caffe Cino (1877) Location: 21 Cornelia Street, Manhattan Architect: Benjamin Warner Caffe Cino was designated for its significance as New York City’s first gay theater, as well as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway. The Greenwich Village Italianate-style building was occupied by Caffe Cino from 1958 to 1968 (closing a year before the Stonewall uprising) and currently houses a bar called The Drunken Monkey. The four-story tenement and store was constructed by Benjamin Warner in 1877 and features Philadelphia brick walls with iron and wood elements.   LGBT Community Center (1845) Location: 208 West 13th Street, Manhattan Architect: Amnon Macvey The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center has been an indispensable resource to hundreds of thousands of queer city dwellers since its opening in 1984. Colloquially known as “The Center,” the Italianate-style hub serves the community through health and wellness programs, political action, and social events. In 2001, the center brought on Françoise Bollack Architects to restore the facade and transform the former high school into its present-day program. James Baldwin Residence (Remodeled 1961) Location: 137 West 71st Street, Manhattan Architect: H. Russell Kenyon This building is “the most significant surviving building in the United States associated with the celebrated novelist, essayist, poet, and civil rights advocate James Baldwin,” claims the LPC designation report. Born in Harlem, Baldwin made this his Upper West Side residence from 1965 until his death in 1987. H. Russell Kenyon expanded an existing row house from 1890 into a modern five-story apartment house in 1961. While here, Baldwin participated in events including a meeting at Carnegie Hall with Dr. Martin Luther King shortly before his death, and where he wrote Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and No Name in the Street (1972). Women’s Liberation Center (1866) Location: 243 West 20th Street, Manhattan Architect: Charles E. Hartshorn From 1972 to 1987, this former Chelsea firehouse was known as the Women’s Liberation Center and was the home to many lesbian and feminist organizations, which broke away from the male-dominated LGBTQ organizations of the time. The space was run by volunteers and organized as a collective, serving as the primary meeting area for women fighting for LGBT rights through social service groups and political committees. Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse (1881) Location: 99 Wooster Street, Manhattan Architect: Napoleon LeBrun Another firehouse, this one in SoHo, was also designated. The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) used the building as headquarters from 1971 to 1974, making it one of the most important LGBT political and cultural centers during these years prior to the opening of the LGBT Center (number three on this list). The GAA lobbied for local civil rights laws, worked against police harassment, and aimed for the creation of fair housing legislation and employment. Located in the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District, the building features neo-Grecian and Queen Anne-style ornamentation including terra-cotta reliefs and stained-glass windows.
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AN gets up close with McKim, Mead & White at the Morgan Library restoration

Manhattan's Morgan Library & Museum is almost ready to show off its newly renovated McKim, Mead & White facade, the 2019 renovation being the first comprehensive overhaul of the landmarked building since its completion in 1906. But before the scaffolding comes down, principal conservator Glenn Boornazian invited AN to climb the ladders, and see the ceiling and detail work adorning the neoclassical institution up close.  The wing under renovation is the historic library itself, originally the mansion of J.P Morgan, which houses the famous Renaissance-inspired loggia, Morgan’s red silk-walled office, and the heart of the museum—the three-tiered reading room that holds rare manuscripts from the original handwritten A Christmas Carol to one of Bob Dylan’s personal notebooks.  The museum itself has been evolving rapidly since the 2006 Renzo Piano addition, a glass-box intervention that bridged the annex, library, and brownstone of the Morgan family compound framed by Madison Avenue and 36th and 37th Streets. The addition also created a new entrance for the museum with state-of-the-art amenities for visitors—however, the swap from the original 36th street entrance to the grander ‘museum-grade’ avenue welcome area directed visitors and general street traffic away from the original library's monumental facade. This renovation and cleaning of the Tennessee pink marble exterior is poised to refresh the building’s curb appeal. Up on the scaffolding, it’s impossible to overlook the extraordinary attention to detail in the intricate carving of each stone. One ceiling relief depicts a sailboat, with billowing sails projecting over an inch from its stone base, so prominent that Boornazian was able to wrap his hand around it like a door handle. This craftsmanship was only fully appreciable from where we stood, suspended on a platform two stories high, but granted the same treatment as an eye-level detail.  “If there was one crack, the stone was rejected,” said Boornazian, “The contractor almost went bankrupt trying to satisfy the standards of the project.” The joinery was a primary concern of the conservator, as time and settlement had begun to pry some of the expertly set stones in the ceiling program apart. “Today, this amount would have been unacceptable,” he added, pointing to a seam just slightly thicker than a strand of hair.  Physical alterations also extend from the facade to the overly-oxidized metal fencing, the prominent lioness sculptures framing the library entrance, the cast-bronze doors, and the lesser-known bluestone public sidewalk pavers. Yet, the marble exterior is only one facet of the regeneration project. When the scaffolding comes down, predicted to occur as early as this week, installation will begin on the landscape and lighting improvements, set to debut in spring 2020.  A new garden program by British designer and GSD faculty member Todd Longstaffe-Gowan will enliven the front entrance of the restored structure, and offer a rare strip of green space in the Midtown streetscape. Coming off of commissions like the grounds of Kensington Palace, the scale is relatively modest, but the sensitivity to history is shared. The low-lying planted selections will allow for full viewing of the building from the garden and street, and Renaissance Revival pebble slabs and McKim, Mead & White-inspired parterres will abound throughout the grounds.   “This project will reintegrate the monumental facade into the museum’s program,” said Morgan deputy director Jessica Ludwig, “and bring more people closer to the building’s details than ever before.” 
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Historic Detroit newspaper building will be razed for 12 parking spots

A curious thing is happening in downtown Detroit. An iconic building that once housed an early-20th-century local newspaper is slated for demolition and set to be replaced by 12 parking spots.  You read that right, just 12 parking spots.  The three-story brick structure at 550 West Fort Street initially served as the headquarters of Detroit Saturday Night from 1914 to 1929. It was designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, one of the oldest architecture firms in the U.S., now known as SmithGroup. Last week, the Detroit City Council voted to deny the building its own historic designation, which in turn allows a proposal by local developer, Emmet Morten, Jr., to move forward. The building will now be razed in order to provide more parking for a luxury condominium nearby. It’s long been part of the developer’s plans to expand its work in the Fort Shelby Hotel historic district, which houses the Fort Shelby Residences on the site of a demolished 18th-century military base. Preservation groups didn’t think the city would actually allow the small news building to go down, but over the last year, the City Council and the Historic District  Commission began showing signs that the structure wasn’t worth saving, as it lies just outside the historic district. Advocacy organization Preservation Detroit stepped in about 10 months ago and mustered over 3,600 signatures for a petition to protect and rehabilitate the building for future use.  This morning, protestors gathered outside the old Detroit Saturday Night building to ask the City Council to reconsider last week’s vote. According to the Detroit Metro Times, the event was organized by Detroiters for Parking Reform, a group calling for a moratorium on building new parking spaces:
“We have more parking spaces downtown than ever before, with nearly 40 percent of land in downtown Detroit devoted to this use," the group wrote to city council. "But somehow, we are convinced we need 12 more spaces where the historic Detroit Saturday Night Building stands today. This is a building that might otherwise be redeveloped for housing, business, and retail space. World-class cities are not defined by how much parking they have."
Detroit Saturday Night was published from 1907 to 1939. The news outlet moved into a bigger location, an Art Deco building also designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, after 15 years on West Fort Street. 
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Controversial expansion to Ottawa's Chateau Laurier rejected for now

The owner of what’s arguably the most important historic hotel in Canada wants to expand its northwestern backside with a modern addition that’s met with extremely severe criticism online.  Designed by Peter Clewes, principal of the Toronto-based architectsAlliance, the bulky, seven-story structure would bring 147 new rooms to the iconic Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a 107-year-old structure in Ottawa near Parliament Hill. Late last month, the City Council’s Committee of Adjustment rejected the request by property owner Larco Investments for a reduced rear yard setback on the addition. The denial effectively prevents them from breaking ground on the project. Built in 1912 and originally named after the First Grand Trunk Railway by then-owner Charles Melville Hays, the limestone-clad structure spans an impressive 660,000-square-feet, boasts 429 rooms, and sports a number of iconic turrets. It’s located in a section of Major’s Hill Park, a grand landscape in downtown Ottawa along the Rideau Canal. Some opponents of the expansion project say it would hinder views of the surrounding cityscape, much of which is on federal land. In the September 27 setback hearing, the committee acknowledged that these heritage features would be threatened and as one city council member also noted in the Ottawa Citizen, that the design isn’t compatible with the “shapes and materials” of the hotel. All these factors were outlined in the committee’s final decision: 
“The committee is of the opinion that the approval of (the) variance would allow for a new build that does not respect the landscape and character of the heritage features of the historic properties that surround the site, specifically those of the Rideau Canal, Major’s Hill Park and the Parliamentary Precinct, in contravention of the policies currently in place for compatible design and protection of views to these sites.” 
But Clewes, who has attempted to explain his design decision over the last few years, said the addition was imagined with the utmost respect for the historic site. In a 2016 interview with Maclean's, he claimed the hotel’s use of limestone and deeply incised windows was considered in the new project in order to complement the existing building.  “We’ve chosen to reinterpret that... but in a much more contemporary manner, which is a series of vertical windows in a somewhat whimsical pattern—some have likened it to a bar code,” he said. “What we’re trying to say is, look, the hotel is the most important building here, and we were simply trying to respond to that.”  If Clewes’s proposal was realized, it would be built on the site of a former parking garage located at the rear of the hotel. To signify the separation between the historic building and its contemporary predecessor, the architect added in a glazed structure so that “there’s a very clear distinction between what is old and what is new.”  But it’s not enough. Larco Investments has already secured heritage and site-plan approvals from the city council but has failed in trying to minimize the required setback for an addition to the hotel property. The reduction, according to Ottawa Citizen, would project out towards the park and “represents an increase in density on the site.” It's expected that Larco Investments will appeal the decision with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Photography Tour: Historic Theaters of Downtown Baltimore

Tour downtown Baltimore for fascinating stories and photography tips with photographer Amy Davis, author of Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters. Explore the revival of the historic Hippodrome and Everyman theaters and ponder the fate of other grand picture palaces on the city's west side, the Stanley and Mayfair. Bring your smartphone or digital camera and snap away as you walk along the route. This program complements the exhibition Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters. One-day Museum general admission pass with tour registration fee, which grants access to all exhibitions. Valid through November 30, 2019. Rain date September 28. $25. Pre-registration required. Space is limited to 15 people. Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable. Online registration for this program closes at midnight the day before the program.
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Oak Park's historic preservation commission rejects proposal for Frank Lloyd Wright visitor center

A major move shook up the world of all things Frank Lloyd Wright last week. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has long been planning to build a new Visitor and Education Center next to the modernist architect's hugely-popular Oak Park, Illinois, home and studio, but the proposal to move forward was unanimously rejected by the village’s Historic Preservation Commission.  To accommodate the potential 9,000-square-foot welcome space, the plan indicated that 925 Chicago Avenue, situated next door to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, would have to be relocated or demolished as a last resort. That, and later additions at 931 Chicago Avenue, where Wright’s mother lived—and where the Trust currently operates the site from—also needed to be removed, restoring the building to its original footprint. This didn’t sit well with the Commission or the nearly 30 people who spoke out against the plan at the public hearing and vote on August 27.  In a statement following the vote, the Trust said it is considering its next steps: 
“As a 21st Century organization, the Trust is resolved in its mission to honor the innovative vision and legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and to further contribute to the vitality of Oak Park as a living museum of significant architecture...Our commitment to design education will ensure that future generations value achievement in art, architecture and design for which Oak Park is renowned. To retain the value the Trust has added to Oak Park over the years, we must keep pace with standards of best practice in cultural tourism and education and set a tone of forward-thinking that Wright himself advocated.”
Located within the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, the proposal was slated to set the Trust up for a new space that would filter the 90,000 people who visited the famous site each year. Visitors currently enter and exit the historic locale through a cramped garage shop, noted the Chicago Tribune A design for the visitor’s center had already been in the works for the past few years since the Trust purchase 925 Chicago Avenue. The organization held a local competition for the project and announced in June that Chicago-based John Ronan had won. His vision included a reception hall, gift shop, a ticketing and information area, and an outdoor plaza with green space. According to the Trust’s chairman Bob Mill, the proposal was selected between it had a “quiet presence within the site” and used materials that reference the surrounding neighborhood. Despite what appeared to be a thoughtful proposal, there was overwhelming opposition to the project. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Landmarks Illinois, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy all denounced the scheme. The Village of Oak Park said the Trust must submit a new application with a different proposal through the Historic Preservation Commission.  Last week, the Trust issued a noted saying it will not appeal the commission's decision, but instead reconsider its plan.
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The iconic Round Bank in Bellmead, Texas, will be demolished

Among the Czech Stop kolaches, Robertson’s roast beef stands, and Buc-ee’s along Interstate 35 through Central Texas, the American Bank in Bellmead represents the most recognizable of icons. The characteristic round shape, with its namesake perched above like an Ed Ruscha painting, is the boldest of statements among a sea of pole signs and fast food joints. The Waco Tribune-Herald has reported that the iconic bank would be demolished in 2020, after recent attempts to determine a remodel for the structure was deemed “not economically feasible to get it up to serviceable condition for banking,” stated CEO Dana Hassell in the report. The renderings rekeased show a smaller replacement that evokes the round shape, framed by vertical wing walls clad in aluminum. Upon hearing of the impending demolition, preservation groups across the state have responded swiftly to save what Evan Thompson of the nonprofit Preservation Texas calls “a landmark.” Designed by then Dallas-based architect Durwood Pickle, the American Bank was conceived as a landmark from the outset, intended to create a lasting visual statement. In a 1978 interview for ENR, Pickle explained that the owners “wanted the image of at least a five-story building but they did not need that much space.” The 71-foot diameter, two-story structure was instead built atop a raised landscape plinth. A lightweight fiber-reinforced concrete (FRC) shell, one of the few early examples in the State of Texas, attaches at the second level and rises upward to become a five-foot high parapet. The entire composition places the building above the interchange level to frame the bank clearly within view. An invitation to conduct drive-up banking radiates outward from the round shell, setting up a very clear and bold statement at ground level and from above. It is a statement that the current replacement proposal fails to attain. Pickle’s intent clearly foreshadowed the bank’s impending concerns, however, its intentions were toward something greater, an experience rarely seen and that is quickly disappearing from our roadside theater. “People love this building because it's different,” explained Thompson. “It was designed with the intention of being a roadside landmark—and for forty years, it has been. The Round Bank is obviously one of the architectural highlights along the otherwise monotonous and repetitive stretches of interstate between Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin. Because the Round Bank provides a visual anchor for all those who sail along (sometimes fast, sometimes slow) I-35, its loss would be disorienting and damaging and a total waste.” The state-run Texas Historical Commission is also looking into the structure’s potential for historical tax credits. The loss of the American Bank would be an unfortunate one, visually of course, but also as an essential identifier for Bellmead and the Waco region. In capturing these images for the article, Dallas-based architectural photographer Parrish Ruiz de Velasco, shared his thoughts on the bank that is located near his family home. “It is one of those landmarks that you can’t miss and I think it is important to the community,” explained Velasco. “Upon sharing images I received several messages from friends and people I’ve never met, all saying the same thing—Gotta love the Circle Bank!” All photographs used in this article were taken by Parrish Ruiz de Velasco. His work can be found at parrch.com
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Fate of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower still up in the air

After years of back and forth, Tokyo’s iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower may face demolition after all, according to Citylab. The 13-story building, which has stood in the Shinbashi neighborhood since 1972, is a distinct relic of the Metabolist movement that dominated architectural discourse in post-World War II Japan. Maintenance issues have plagued the site for over a decade, with certain stakeholders now reiterating that demolition might be the most economical option.

Many architectural historians consider the Nakagin Capsule Tower to be one of the best surviving examples of Metabolism, a movement that explored methods of large-scale reconstruction for Japan’s war-ravaged cities. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Metabolists like Pritzker Prize winners Fumihiko Maki and Kenzo Tange emphasized the need for Japanese architects to emulate organic systems in their designs for urban megastructures, highlighting how metabolisms in complex organisms work to maintain living cells.

Kishō Kurokawa, a prominent voice in Japan’s post-war cultural resurgence and the author of the 1977 book Metabolism in Architecture, designed the Nakagin Capsule Tower at the request of the Nakagin real-estate company’s president, Torizo Watanabe. The structure is an agglomeration of 140 prefabricated “capsules” affixed in varying orientations to two concrete cores. Each unit is one hundred square feet in area and has a single porthole window. The highly formulaic design enabled construction crews to assemble the entire structure in only 30 days, resulting in a tower that hosted both commercial offices and private residential space. Kurokawa also intended for the capsules to be removed and replaced as needed. Ironically, the ability of capsule occupants to refurbish or replace their individual units was supposed to preclude any sort of large-scale demolition of the building. Perhaps the current state of affairs in Shinbashi is a reflection of the model’s shortfalls.

Over the years, not a single one of the 140 capsules have been removed or replaced. Many are still in use as apartments or offices, but some have been repurposed as storage compartments or outright abandoned. Certain owners have made an effort to preserve or restore their capsules, but many have fallen into visible disrepair. In 2007, the tower’s management company announced that asbestos had been found in many of the units and cleared the entire building for demolition. Financial difficulties at the construction company that was tapped to lead the lot’s redevelopment stalled the project, and the debate over whether to tear down the Nakagin Capsule Tower has remained at a standstill ever since.

By 2018, Nakagin Integration, Inc. had become frustrated with high maintenance costs and sold the land under the building, which currently operates as a condominium, to a real-estate company. In a move permitted under Japanese law, the new land-owner then prohibited any new sales in the tower and considered the site’s potential for redevelopment. As Jiji Press reported last month, though, an unnamed foreign buyer has expressed interest in purchasing the land and preserving the tower.

While maintaining the Nakagin Capsule Tower has grown into too great a burden for some managers and unit owners, the movement to preserve the building has also amassed support. Activists and organizers formed the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Conservation and Regeneration Project to protect the building from developers in bustling Shinbashi. One member, Tatsuyuki Maeda, now owns 15 units in the building and hopes his investment in the property will help tip the scales in favor of preservationists.

Regardless of one’s standpoint on the importance of architectural preservation, the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s status as a rare built example of Metabolist architecture is indisputable. Investors will ultimately decide whether this legacy is worth defending, but preservationists are slowly accruing more of a stake in the building.