Rice+Lipka Architects have completed a carriage house “campus” for the Staten Island Historical Society (SIHS), building three arched storage areas for the SIHS’s historical artifacts from corrugated steel. Faced with the task of housing the society’s 62 wooden carriages, Rice+Lipka created linear spans that would be able to house the society’s entire collection as well as space for restoration work and education events. Despite working with a budget of only $1.78 million, the firm was able to build out 10,000 square feet of enclosed space, and costs were kept low by using one structure for both support and the building’s skin. The three houses surround an open-air roundabout that carriages can use to get in and out of the wooded campus, and doubles as a staging area for fundraising events. The interiors of each house were designed for climate controlling the sensitive contents within. Instead of an active heating and cooling system that could run the risk of failing, Rice+Lipka lined the inside of each house with thick, tufted quilts that would keep a constant temperature and humidity, and slowly acclimate the carriages. Large overhead fans were installed to keep the atmosphere hospitable to visitors, and a mechanical exhaust removes hot air in the summer. Concrete would have stressed the carriages’ wheels, so flexible plywood panels were arranged in a staggered grid for the flooring. Outside, each carriage house was sealed with reflective, powder-coated aluminum panels at either end; one building in red, one in orange, and one in magenta, with a number of circular panels on each wall corresponding with the building’s number. The awnings above each colored end wall were extruded to create an additional 1,300 square feet of covered gathering spaces.
Posts tagged with "Historic Preservation":
Chicago’s beleaguered Cook County Hospital is slated for redevelopment after sitting idle for 16 years. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will transform the Chicago landmark into a dual-branded Hyatt House/Hyatt Place hotel, accompanied by medical office space and retail. Leading the project is the Civic Health Development Group (CHDG) along with Chicago-based developer John T. Murphy. Walsh Construction is the general contractor with Koo Architecture as the interior designers. According to Cook County, the development plan is valued at over $1 billion dollars. Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking on June 12, along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioners, as well as Landmarks Illinois president and CEO Bonnie McDonald. “This beautiful historic building has sat empty and unused for far too long.” Preckwinkle said during the event. “This project creates historic and lasting urban transformation in the heart of our County.” With construction commencing immediately on the National Register of Historic Places-listed building, the project is expected to receive approximately $24 million in federal historic tax credits. Designed by Cook County architect Paul Gerhardt, the 1916 Beaux Arts hospital was constructed to provide medical care to Chicago’s exploding population of Eastern European immigrants. It was also a renowned teaching hospital, with doctors pioneering the practices of blood banking, sickle cell anemia care, and modern laboratory work. Later rear additions to the two-block-long brick and terracotta structure grew the Near West Side hospital to over 3,000 beds. With the building proposed for demolition a year before its closure, Landmarks Illinois added Cook County Hospital to its annual list of threatened buildings in 2001, then again in 2002, 2003, and 2005. A reuse study published by Landmarks Illinois in 2003 noted that Cook County had earmarked between $20 and $30 million for asbestos remediation alone prior to the proposed demolition. That same study also noted that in 1999, Cook County felt non-medical use of the hospital wouldn’t fit the character of the neighborhood. The new development is slated to open as soon as late 2019.
At the tail end of Historic Preservation Month is what would have been Richard Stanley Nickel’s 90th birthday, on May 31. The storied historic preservationist’s legacy still looms large amongst architecture and historic preservation intelligentsia like no other practitioner living or dead. In Chicago, Richard Nickel’s hand seems to guide how the built environment is documented, gives a level of honesty to those that practice architectural salvage, and provides a saint-like martyr for traditional preservationists. No one interfacing with the Chicago School of Architecture–specifically the work of Louis Sullivan–is able to detach themselves from what Richard Nickel wrote or what he saw. Nickel has been studied and dissected in many ways before, but a new organization seeks to take a fresh, objective look at the raw body of his work. Bianca Bova is associate director of the Chicago Architecture Preservation Archive (CAPA), who, along with storied City of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, is at the helm of the organization devoted to "the documentation and stewardship of materials" of early urban preservationists, specifically Nickel. “Richard Nickel is a moving target,” says Bova, “and CAPA is an open resource to help maintain his ongoing relevance.” CAPA is in the process of creating a full inventory of the collection, which is complementary to the contents of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries architectural archive. While the Richard Nickel Archive includes negatives, photographs, contact sheets, architectural drawings and other effects, including Nickel’s personal library, CAPA’s collection comes from Richard Nickel’s friends, like Tim Samuelson, and architect John Vinci. It contains salvage, personal items, the working files of The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan, and perhaps most importantly Nickel’s datebook, which Bova has poured over and determined that many of the individuals within it are “still around and have a lot to say.” Richard Nickel has long been presented as a tireless martyr, a preservationist willing to lay down his life. On April 13, 1972, Nickel left home early to salvage architectural fragments inside the Chicago Stock Exchange, an 1894 structure by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan slated for demolition after a lengthy advocacy campaign. Demolition halted after Nickel didn’t return home that evening. Friends and family continued to search for him for a week, only finding his briefcase and hardhat amongst the rubble. Once demolition resumed, a worker spotted what looked like a human shoulder, two floors beneath the Trading Room, in the Stock Exchange’s sub-basement. Richard Nickel had been crushed to death, but his body had remained intact. Debris and rubble, along with cold water seeping into the building had kept decomposition at bay. An autopsy later revealed that Richard Nickel had suffered from pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis, a result of breathing in 20 years of dust and airborne debris from salvage sites. Through the nature of his death, Richard Nickel’s legacy began to take on a cult-like status, a perspective that Bova feels Nickel would take issue with. “He was a good person, but not a saint.” The collections at CAPA, housed inside Mana Contemporary Chicago, strive to allow Nickel to speak for himself through primary source material. While CAPA may provide a 21st century answer to preservation, Bova is reserved when asked about how Richard Nickel might feel about the contemporary historic preservation movement, “I would never presume to speak for Richard.”
A staircase becomes the focal point of Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco's textural exploration of materiality, texture, and history. There is a riot going on with the staircase. An army of little interventions has taken the house by storm, showing the many lives, agents, politics, and temporalities of the interior. The infamous gotelé (stippled paint) that covered all the popular houses in Spain during the aftermath of Francisco Franco’s death is now used as a pattern in a polyurethane curtain; a hanging garden of tropical plants bridges the outside landscape and interior views; a crown-like neon lighting fixture embedded in the ceiling shows the negative of the exterior—a crenel-topped tower with lancet arch windows; a porthole that looks into the staircase provides opportunity to observe it all. This staircase is just the beginning of a constellation of actions that the New York-based architect and curator Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco imagined for the renovation of this house. It is located in Cardedeu, an old village 27 miles from Barcelona that experienced significant suburban development during the Spanish real estate boom of the 1990s, transforming from a pleasant agricultural landscape into a high-density urban spot. Instead of appeasing the many contradicting histories of the place, Casanovas dug into the possible discordances of the materials that populate the house, taking familiar objects and turning them into a heterogeneous network of connections and conversations. In this sense, the folkloric crochet typology used for quilts is revived with the technology of Dyneema, an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene fiber. At the same time, Casanovas considered the work to be a collective endeavor, taking into account not only client consideration but also the collaboration of teams for each intervention and even the photographic representation of the project itself. The importance of the objects marks the position of the designer. For Casanovas, the house’s original design, materials, and construction details reveal the pursuit of opulence that drove part of real estate–boom design in Spain—from the entrance veranda supported by prefabricated, cast Doric columns to the hall and the staircase covered in mass-produced Andalusian tiles, all showing the varied influences, sense of belonging, and re-territorializations of aesthetics. The privileged views over the old town from the house’s back facade at the edges of a suburban area and cow fields are under continuous threat; once the country experiences an economic recovery, the fields will probably be urbanized. But the hanging garden inside the house acts as a reminder of the possibilities of a parliament of living agents. The aesthetics invoked through these interventions are cataloged like an archaeological site, where signature design objects coexist with popular items, such as figurines or inherited furniture. These elements, along with Casanovas’ interventions, employ different ranges of technologies. The idea is to modify the architectural thinking itself and re-signify it: Instead of taking the old and new objects as isolated elements, Casanovas has brought them together to consider them as vertices in a network. The whole image seems like a teenager’s bedroom in which the varied elements do not build a monolithic universe; rather, they articulate a possible multiverse. They explain the relationship between subjective and objective means when accounting for symbolic and imaginary creation in the area of representation. They do this through shared agencies constituted in particular spaces and times, where other agents—groups (the real estate developers), individuals (the clients), objects (the different interventions)—are implicated. The distinct elements help create fluidity among spheres, categories, and relations and are used simultaneously to manage the consequences of such fluidity. Starting from a recognition of the material’s role as an ensemble of processes that form, constitute, and extend the reticulated character of social relationships, we understand that it does not only concern people, but also legislations, conceptions of landscape, and senses of belonging. The staircase is a riot because it doesn’t perform as a pacifier in the context of an architectural design, but as a continuous conversation wherein the familiar elements can gain agency in the discussion of spatial elements. The house is no longer a space of consensus and peace, but a realm of material disputes.
Demolition of historic coal plant reveals tension between Chicago’s preservationists and environmentalists
Demolition prep work has begun on a long-controversial coal generating plant in Chicago’s Little Village. The Crawford Generating Station (CGS) began operation in 1924, one of five such stations in the city providing power via the burning of fossil fuel at a large, continuous scale. After decades of pollution, including the settling of coal dust on nearby houses and school grounds, as well as high rates of respiratory illnesses in Little Village and neighboring South Lawndale, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization began pushing for a clean power ordinance in Chicago. Faced with community opposition as well as the threat of expensive federal requirements to update pollution controls, Midwest Generation, the owner of the Crawford Generating Station and the neighboring Fisk electrical plant, both closed in 2012. Hilco Partners purchased the station in 2016 and filed a demolition permit for the buildings on March 26 of this year. Hilco Partners plans to remediate the site, a process expected to take a year or more, with the end goal the delivery of a “new economy” site, such as a logistics center or technology hub. But with the demolition of the shuttered coal generating plant comes multiple community and procedural concerns for both Hilco Partners and the City of Chicago. The CGS, designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, is “orange-rated” on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, a designation of architectural significance that makes the property subject to a hold of up to 90 days from the issuance of a permit so the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development can explore alternate options to demolition. In the case of the Crawford Generating Station, according to the Demolition Delay Hold List, the permit was released the day after it was filed. “What has just happened with the Crawford Generating Station is baffling,” said Eric Rogers, a South Side historic preservation advocate. “Following the letter of the law halfway, the city added it to the Demolition Delay list. But then, inexplicably, the mandatory delay was waived, and the demolition permit was released. Sometimes this is done when unsafe conditions necessitate an emergency demolition, but there is no indication of that being the case with Crawford.” While Little Village cheered the closing of the Crawford Generating Station as a polluter, the long-term perspective of success is jeopardized by the battle over a new use for the site. The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization is pushing for a conversion of the coal plant site into an economic development asset that will directly impact the neighborhood, as well as develop guidelines for the sites that could include public green space, needed in the dense communities of South Lawndale and Little Village. Rogers, who also manages Open House Chicago for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, continued, “Crawford is an enormous and durable structure, and could be adapted to provide space for local industries—perhaps urban agriculture, food production, or green technology—to operate and grow and create jobs.”
The preservation nonprofit Docomomo US has announced the winners of its 2018 Modernism in America Awards, recognizing 13 people or projects that have sensitively preserved, or advocated for the preservation of, modern icons throughout the country. “By recognizing the important design and preservation work being done around the country that often is overlooked,” said Docomomo US president, Theodore Prudon, “the Modernism in America Awards program is bringing further awareness to the substantial contribution that preservation in general - and the postwar heritage in particular - makes to the economic and cultural life of our communities. " The 2018 recipients of the annual Modernism in America Awards, now in its fifth year, will be honored on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at the Design Within Reach Third Avenue Studio in New York City. This year’s jury was composed of Docomomo US’s Board of Directors. The prizes were awarded in the following categories: Design Award of Excellence, one Special Award of Restoration Excellence, and the Citations of Merit. Design Award of Excellence winners: General Motors Design Dome and Auditorium Location: Warren, MI Original Architect: Harley Earl and Eero Saarinen Restoration Team: SmithGroupJJR (See Docomomo US for full list) Client: General Motors Award: Commercial Design Award of Excellence From the jury: “This is the perfect example of how to treat an icon.” Jury member Eric Keune adds, “The renovation demonstrates the great care that was given to the original design team’s vision, while simultaneously bringing the spirit forward with a gentle guiding hand and using contemporary technology. It is noteworthy and commendable that General Motors was willing to invest and upgrade the building for the same use even though the company has continued to transform themselves over time.” Lenox Health Greenwich Village Location: New York, NY Original Architect: Albert C. Ledner Restoration Team: Northwell Health, Perkins Eastman, CANY, Turner Construction, BR+A, Silman, Cerami & Associates, Russell Design, Sam Schwartz, VDA, Langan Engineering, Louis Sgroe Equipment Planning Client: Northwell Health Award: Commercial Design Award of Excellence From the jury: “This beautiful and unique building is an incredible piece of urban architecture whose restoration respectfully honors the building’s original concept while creatively adapting a dramatic structure to a new purpose. This project offers clients and cities alike valuable lessons about the transformative impacts of architecture and design; specifically, the often-surprising elasticity which waits patiently, and at times unexpectedly, in certain works of modern architecture.” Hill College House Renovation Location: Philadelphia, PA Original Architect: Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley (landscapes) Restoration Team: Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC (Architecture), Floss Barber Inc. (Interior Design), Keystone Preservation Group (Materials Conservation), OLIN (Landscape Design) (See Docomomo US for full list) Client: University of Pennsylvania Award: Civic/Institutional Design Award of Excellence From the jury: “This project highlights the commitment to restore a beautiful but overlooked campus structure and honors the lasting values found in modern architecture. The work accomplished by the design team not only respects the original vision, but also addresses the needs of students today, improving functionality and gaining a LEED certification – Saarinen for the 21st century.” George Kraigher House Location: Brownsville, TX Original Architect: Richard Neutra Restoration Team: Lawrence V. Lof (Project Lead), Texas Southmost College Client: City of Brownsville and Texas Southmost College – Dr. Juliet V. García, president, and Dr. José G. Martín, provost Award: Residential Design Award of Excellence From the jury: “Restoration of the Kraigher House is a compelling story of the power of public and private partnerships. Beginning with the grassroots advocacy efforts of Ambrosio Villarreal, to the Kraigher House's inclusion on Preservation Texas’ and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's endangered lists, restoration of this rare and significant Neutra residence by the Brownsville community is a strong testament to the power of partnerships.” Imagining the Modern: The Architecture and Urbanism of Postwar Pittsburgh Location: Pittsburgh, PA Project Team: Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Rami el Samahy with Ann Lui, Mark Pasnik, Cameron Longyear, Shannon McLean, Brett Pierson, Andrew Potter, Rebecca Rice, Valny Aoalsteindottir, Silvia Colpani, Lindsay Dumont, and Victoria Pai - over,under (Architects-in-Residence) (See Docomomo US for full list) Client: Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh Award: Survey/Inventory Award of Excellence From the jury: “This comprehensive and multi-dimensional project established a broad context to understand a cross section of modernism through multiple lenses in the context of a single city. The project team is recognized for this deeply researched and beautifully presented exhibition that encouraged participants to take a fresh look at the architecture and urbanism of postwar Pittsburgh.” Starship Chicago: A Film by Nathan Eddy Location: Chicago, IL Project Team: Nathan Eddy (Director) Award: Advocacy Award of Excellence From the jury: “When most preservation efforts are reactionary, Nathan Eddy has taken a unique and proactive approach and sparked much-needed conversation and action before a building faces demolition. Starship Chicago is thoughtful, beautiful, informative, and engaging and brings to light what a powerful medium film can be.” Tom Little: Georgia Advocacy Location: Atlanta, GA Recipient: Docomomo US/Georgia chapter president Tom Little Award: Advocacy Award of Excellence From the jury: “As a result of Tom’s dedication and advocacy, he has been instrumental in saving a number of significant buildings in the region. As the founding president of the Georgia chapter of Docomomo US, Tom continues to be a steadfast advocate for modern buildings and we acknowledge his dedication in sharing the organization's mission through local leadership and advocacy.” Special Award of Restoration Excellence: Unity Temple Location: Oak Park, IL Original Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright Restoration Team: Harboe Architects, PC (Restoration Architects), Project Management Advisors, Inc. (Project Management), Berglund Construction Company (Contractor) Client: UTP, LLC From the jury: “This is a comprehensive restoration of one of the canonical and pioneering works of American modern architecture. It allows future generations to not only use, but learn from, and see this building as it was originally designed by Wright.” Citations of Merit: 115, Geotronics Labs Building Location: Dallas, TX Original Architect: Printz and Brooks Restoration Team: DSGN Associates (Architecture), Constructive – Rick Fontenot From the jury: “It is important to call attention to a project that takes a typical, small company office building and revitalizes it as an example to others who may embark upon similar projects.” Jury member Meredith Bzdak added, “This is a well-executed restoration and a good model for the treatment of other modest mid-century buildings like this around the country.” George Washington Bridge Bus Station Location: New York, NY Original Architect: Dr. Pier Luigi Nervi Restoration Team: The Port Authority of NY & NJ – Engineering Department, Architectural Unit, STV, Inc. From the jury: “As bus stations continue to be lynchpins of modern urban transportation infrastructure, the restoration of the GWB Bus Station was thoughtfully executed and serves as an important example of a government agency choosing to invest in the restoration of a significant modern resource instead of opting for new construction.” Lurie House Location: Pleasantville, NY Original Architect: Kaneji Domoto Restoration Team: Lynnette Widder (Lead) (See Docomomo US for full list) From the jury: “This is a beautiful and well-considered renovation done with extreme care and appreciation of environmental efforts as well as the Japanese-American architect’s cultural orientation.” Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture Location: California Project Team: Adam Arenson From the jury: “Arenson’s research has uncovered an extensive legacy of ‘every man modernism’ that was largely unknown and underappreciated, and brings attention to main street architecture with real design value and the impact of individual grassroots efforts.” UC San Diego Campus-wide Historic Context Statement and Historic Resource Survey Location: San Diego, CA Project Team: Architectural Resources Group – Katie E. Horak, Principal, Andrew Goodrich, Associate, Micaela Torres-Gill, Paul D. Turner, PhD, NeuCampus Planning – David Neuman UC San Diego, Physical and Community Planning - Robert Clossin (AICP, Director), Catherine Presmyk (Assistant Director of Environmental Planning), Todd Pitman (Assistant Director and Campus Landscape Architect) (See Docomomo US for full list) Client: UC San Diego From the jury: “This project is significant because of the ever-increasing pressures universities face in improving their campus building portfolios while maintaining significant architectural resources. The inventory will help better protect these resources and has the potential to educate this particular campus community and other college and university systems across the country.”
Already the home of work by Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn and Stephen Holl, Metro Detroit’s Cranbrook has acquired the Melvyn Maxwell and Sarah Stein Smith House, a 1950 Usonian home in Bloomfield Hills designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for two Detroit public school teachers. The home comes to Cranbrook via a donation from the Towbes Foundation and provides the institution with ownership of the Smith House as an educational resource. The Smith house has been preserved exactly as it was when the Smiths lived in it. While studying at the City College of Detroit, now Wayne State University, Melvyn Maxwell Smith saw an image of Fallingwater during a slide presentation and was instantly hooked on Wright. With equal financial backing from his wife Sarah Stein Smith, the couple travelled to Taliesin, where they asked Wright to design a home for $5,000. Wright negotiated $8,000 and waited for the couple to save up to purchase a suitable piece of property. Deeply occupied by his work on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Wright communicated regularly with the Smiths once he delivered the design for the home and urged Melvyn Maxwell Smith to work as his own general contractor to keep costs down, and one that would allow Smith to control the quality of work. Smith gathered a team of contractors, journeymen and friends to work on the house, including those that agreed to work for a reduced rate in exchange for the privilege of being a part of the project. With the Smiths paying as they went, construction moved slowly. As the house was nearing completion, the Smiths found themselves without funds to purchase the windows. Real estate investor Al Taubman, another FLW super fan, found himself visiting the construction site just as Melvyn Maxwell Smith was boarding up the window openings with plywood. After listening to Smith lament that he was down to his last $500, and worrying that inclement weather would damage the house, Taubman had installers from the Pittsburg Plate Glass Window Company arrive the next day to measure and install the windows and sent the Smiths a bill for exactly $500. Over time, the Smiths filled the house with sculptures and designed objects by artists associated with Cranbrook. Melvyn Maxwell Smith lived in the house until his death in 1984. Sarah Stein Smith stayed until moving to California in 1991. The Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is responsible for stewarding the Smith House and is also undertaking an oral history project to collect stories from artists and contractors that worked on the project.
The Chicago City Council recently approved the landmark designation for the Old Chicago Main Post Office. Built in phases from 1921 to 1932, the 2.3-million-square-foot structure is located on the western bank of the south branch of the Chicago River in Chicago’s Near West Side. The building’s brawny nine-and twelve-story art deco design is the work of Chicago architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, a successor to D.H. Burnham and Company. The Old Chicago Main Post Office was constructed with a 40-foot-wide rectangular hole running through the center of the building, intended to accommodate a provision of the 1909 Plan of Chicago for a Congress Street extension from the South Loop to Chicago’s West Side. While various plans were floated for the extension in the 1930s, the space wouldn’t come into full use until 1955, when the Congress (now Eisenhower) Expressway was completed, connecting the Loop to the western suburbs. The building’s main lobby sports lavish details like white marble and gold glass mosaics, but its original function was utilitarian in nature, with the majority of the spaces dedicated to feed conveyors, hoppers, mechanical tables, and chutes that supported a variety of mail sorting operations. The Old Chicago Main Post Office remained in operation until a modernized facility was completed in 1996, leaving the building vacant. While the Old Chicago Main Post Office was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, providing it with the opportunity to capitalize on Federal Historic Tax Credits, it is the local designation that provides a measure of protection from demolition and insensitive alteration, as a National Register listing is primarily used for planning purposes and is honorary. Local designation of commercial, industrial, and income-producing non-for-profit buildings also provides building owners with the opportunity to capitalize on Chicago’s Class L Property Tax Incentive, which reduces property levels for a 12-year period provided that half of the value of the landmark building is invested in an approved rehabilitation project. According to the City of Chicago, the property’s owner, 601W Companies, is implementing a $292 million rehabilitation of the building as retail spaces and offices led by Gensler. The interior and exterior spaces will be comprehensively updated. The work will also repair existing rights-of-way for the Eisenhower Expressway as well as the Amtrak railroad facility located underneath the building.
On April 12, Boston’s Pinkcomma Gallery is opening its Brutal Destruction exhibition. In the context of contemporary demolitions of Brutalist buildings and complexes, such as Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments and Orange County Government Center, Brutal Destruction joins the growing reappraisal of maligned Brutalism as architecture worthy of historic preservation. Curated by Chris Grimley, of the Boston-based interdisciplinary practice over,under, Brutal Destruction is a collection of photographs of concrete architecture undergoing the process of demolition. By examining the widespread dismantling of Brutalist structure, the exhibit seeks to stir up debate regarding their disfigurement and society’s seeming incapacity to repurpose these half-century old architectural works. Grimley frames Brutalism within the larger narrative of the architectural conservation movement. Similar to Brutalism, historicist and classical styles such as the Victorian or Second Empire faced similar rhetorical and public attacks and were cast as outmoded and outdated forms. Grimley suggests that just as we regret the mass demolition of historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century, we should pause to properly assess America's concrete heritage before wiping it out entirely. The exhibition is part of the ongoing Heroic Project, a book and advocacy web archive cataloging Boston’s substantial Brutalist legacy.
Caution and timidity have been the ruling traits of Houston’s commercial real estate market for the past three decades. But, in the last few years, local developer Steve Radom and his team at Radom Capital have been working almost single-handedly to bring architectural sophistication back with their recent series of commercial developments. From the 1970s through the mid-1980s, Houston was an international architectural mecca. During these years, developers famously competed with one another to commission the best architects to design ever more sensational projects in a crowded real estate market. Then, a collapse in oil prices wrecked the city’s economy. In the decades since, with its high-flying developers grounded, Houston’s architectural scene has stubbornly trailed that of its nearby neighbors, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. The recent fracking oil crash has only exacerbated the situation. Even Gerald Hines, Houston’s greatest modern developer, has turned away from the outstanding architecture that brought him fame and success. Today, his buildings are tasteful, yet completely unremarkable. In this milieu, Radom’s commercial retail projects are noteworthy. Radom and his team commission talented architects on the basis of their design excellence. They insist on rigor and quality in concept and execution. Rather than follow an established set of safe but boring development rules, their projects cleverly reimagine the most banal of building types: the strip mall. The results are exciting. The fact that they have leased immediately in Houston’s unsteady economic climate demonstrates again that good design is a good business practice. Radom’s largest project to date is Heights Mercantile, a low-rise retail center partially located inside the Houston Heights Historic District a couple of miles northwest of downtown. Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture designed the shell-and-core build-out and some of the interiors. Up-and-coming Houston architects Schaum/Shieh and Content Architecture designed additional interiors. The Houston branch of the international SWA Group was the landscape architect, while Houston-based graphic design firm Spindletop devised the graphic identity. Heights Mercantile includes a mixture of six new and remodeled buildings—two of which are protected historic landmarks— spread across eight properties that were acquired in four separate transactions over a 14-month period. From 1967 to 2007, Pappas Restaurants, a local restaurant group, used three of the existing buildings as their headquarters. Two of the former Pappas buildings were remodeled to include a suite of shops and a wine bar. The third Pappas building, a one-story prefabricated metal warehouse used for cold storage, was demolished and replaced by a two-story building containing retail and restaurant space on the ground floor and a fitness club and offices on the second floor. The two protected historic buildings are one-story wood frame bungalows. They were converted into a clothing boutique and an ice cream shop. A small one-story wood frame building was built behind one of the bungalows and houses a cafe. Although Houston lacks zoning, it has other methods of land-planning. Among the most onerous are its excessive off-street parking requirements, which forced the design team to be creative in organizing the site. By reusing instead of replacing the Pappas buildings, the developers were able to maintain the existing, but now illegal, head-in parking. The bulk of the additional required parking was fitted between the bungalows and the new two-story building. According to the developer, the city requested that the final property Radon bought directly north of the bungalows facing Heights Boulevard be devoted completely to parking. Fortunately, the 140 parking spaces do not overwhelm the development, thanks to creative landscape and siting decisions. Houston Heights, like the city of Houston, is a tattered collection of heterogeneous residential and commercial buildings. Platted in 1891 as a streetcar suburb, it actually contains very few pre-1900 Victorian houses. What remains of its historic architecture is mostly Queen Anne worker cottages from the 1910s and bungalows from the 1920s and ’30s. These are interspersed with garden apartments from the 1960s and ’70s and the occasional one or two-story postwar commercial building. Up until 2010, when the city’s preservation ordinance was changed to prohibit demolition in designated historic districts, the last Queen Anne cottages and bungalows were quickly being replaced by townhouse developments and lot-filling faux-Victorian houses. Heights Mercantile wittily addresses its motley neighborhood by providing its own assorted mix of buildings. Rather than replicating the same building across the site, as most recent strip developments in and around Houston Heights have done, the architects consciously worked to make each building look and feel different. Furthermore, they casually spread them across the site, which is split up in a very ad hoc Houston manner by an active street, a popular hike and bike trail, a drainage easement, and an abandoned alley. The results celebrate the mess that is Houston. And, along with some clever landscaping interventions, they feel inviting and fresh rather than chaotic and dreary. If this is the vision Radom and his team want to promote for Houston, then I’m all for it. And judging from its completely filled lease spaces, so is the real estate market.
It's an all-too familiar story: a beloved local institution bites the dust as a developer swoops in to build apartments. But one modest Seattle restaurant has found a number of advocates that are fighting for it to gain lazndmark status. The restaurant is Spud, a fish-and-chips spot with roots that date back to the 1935, and it's the restaurant's Green Lake location that's at the center of campaign (several other Spud restaurants exist, though they are run by different ownership). After a developer announced plans to raze the six-decade-old structure in order to build a four-story apartment building, representatives from Historic Seattle and Docomomo WEWA are speaking out in support of having the building designated a city landmark, with a Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board hearing scheduled for later this month. The current plan has Spuds reopening on the first floor the new building, but preservationists argue that demolishing the current structure would mean losing one of the finest examples of the modernist style in all of the Northwest, Seattle's Daily Journal of Commerce reports. Dating back to the 1950s, the 1,637-square-foot fish shack was designed by Edward L. Cushman in the playful Googie style of midcentury modernism. The popular postwar style was designed to attract the attention of drivers to roadside fast-food restaurants, gas stations, and motels, and, like many of the type, Spud features a distinctive butterfly roof and neon sign. So far, the developer of the proposed apartment building, Seattle's Blueprint Capital, is going along with the landmark process, even requesting the landmark hearing as a proactive measure. Meanwhile, local preservationists, citing the fact that the building has been occupied with a working Spud location ever since it was built, have proposed looking at alternative designs, such as a scheme that would incorporate the new structure into the existing site.
The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) will host a workshop series on the three—and only—museums designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The series will discuss the care and keeping of Sanskar Kendra Museum and the Government Museum and Art Gallery (in Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, India, respectively), as well as the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Le Corbusier’s Three Museums: A workshop on their care and conservation is part of the GCI’s ongoing Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, which is an international program to advance the conservation of 20th century heritage, specifically modern architecture. The conservation of modern architecture presents a number of issues outside of ideological constraints. Concerns stem from material and structural decay: Keeping it Modern, a conservation grant program associated with the Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, notes that the innovational materials and structural systems found in modern architectural heritage were often untested, leading to their poor performance over time. According to the GCI, the three museums share a number of traits such as an exposed concrete frame, thick concrete pilotis, and surrounding public plazas. All three were designed around Corbusier’s “concept of a museum of unlimited growth,” a museum plan that allowed for the future expansion of the cultural institutions. The workshops, taking place from February 4–6 in Ahmedabad and on February 8 in Chandigarh, include representatives from all three museums and the Fondation Le Corbusier. Participants will discuss the potential paths of improvement for the architectural conservation and collections management for each building. Susan Macdonald, the head of GCI Field Projects, hopes the workshops will generate a conservation network for the three related sites. The events, she explained in a press release, are an opportunity for "museum participants to consider what is significant about their respective museums as individual buildings and as part of the larger collected work of a great architect, each can better develop the necessary conservation policies to care for these significant buildings and their important collections."