Posts tagged with "Infrastructure":

Placeholder Alt Text

Dancing geometry wraps new Brooks + Scarpa transit hub in Seattle

  facadeplus_logo1
Brought to you with support from
The Angle Lake Transit Station and Plaza is a seven-acre, 400,000-square-foot mixed-use complex for Sound Transit, a public transit agency serving the Seattle metropolitan area. The project was awarded to Los Angeles–based architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa after an international design-build competition was held. It was completed earlier this year. With over 4,000 people living within a one-half-mile radius of the station, the project offers community-focused exterior and interior spaces such as specially designed drop-off areas, retail spaces, bike storage facilities, and electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Facade Manufacturer APEL Extrusions and Intermountain Industrial Fab
  • Architects Brooks + Scarpa
  • Facade Installer Harbor Pacific/Graham
  • Facade Engineering Brooks + Scarpa, Lars Holte, P.E., Walter P. Moore
  • Location Seatac, WA
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System cast-in-place and post-tensioned concrete structure
  • Products custom-formed anodized aluminum panels
The transit hub is a seven-story, cast-in-place and post-tensioned concrete structure with an exterior facade that uses over 7,500 custom-formed blue anodized aluminum facade panels. Using ruled surface geometry, the undulating facade is formed by connecting two curves with a series of straight lines to form the surface of the facade. Each of the custom aluminum facade elements was designed and segmented into standardized sizes for the most efficient structural shape and material form, while maximizing production, fabrication and installation cost efficiency. This technique allowed the design team to work with complex curved forms and rationalize them into simple, cost-effective standardized components, making them easy to fabricate and efficient to install. The entire facade was installed in less than three weeks without the use of cranes or special equipment. The architects say the facade concept was inspired by William Forsythe’s improvisational piece, ‘Dance Geometry,’ where dancers connect their bodies by matching lines in space that could be bent, tossed or otherwise distorted. Translating this into construction, the architects explored how simple straight lines can be composed to produce implied curvature. “This idea lessens the need to think about the end result and focus more on discovering new ways of movement and transformations.” Ultimately, Brooks + Scarpa provided analysis, constructability, and digital documents for direct and automated fabrication. Working from the assumption that automated fabrication techniques would not be utilized in the project, one of the challenges of the project was to develop a workflow that would result in constructable, rationalized geometry. To achieve this, the project team worked closely with fabricators to translate digital ruled surfaces into segmented standardized sizes responsive to material requirements and fabrication efficiency. The bottom and top chords of the facade surface were segmented, which reduced their profile to measurable arcs for a pipe roller, or straight-line segments for standardized shapes. Beyond the facade, Brooks Scarpa’s plaza design caters both to transit users and the community at large by accommodating community events, such as festivals, farmers’ markets, art exhibits, and other outdoor public gatherings. Ornately designed seat walls, pathways, paving, native planting, and storm-water catchment features help to engage transit users as they move through the space, creating quiet places for social interaction while waiting for a transit connection. Beyond this plaza, the parking structure is designed to best practice standards for future adaptive reuse. These design features, along with specific energy-efficient materials and systems, allowed Angle Lake Transit Station and Plaza to be an Envision-certified sustainable mixed-use facility. Envision is a rating system similar to LEED, administered by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure for infrastructure projects.
Placeholder Alt Text

Puerto Rico’s energy crisis calls for sustainable solutions, not more of the same

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria pummeled into the Puerto Rican coast with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, deluging the entire island with rain and quickly pulverizing its energy grid. The entire island was left without power. Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure is notoriously fragile. As Ruth Santiago, a climate advocate and attorney with Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc., a Puerto Rican environmental law group, told AN, three fallen trees in 2004 once took out energy for the entire eastern seaboard. Santiago explained that this was largely a geographic problem. Energy is by and large produced by two power plants – the Aguirre Power Complex in Salinas and the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla. An additional coal-burning plant owned by US-owned AES Corporation is another player. Yet these sites are huge distances from some of the most populated cities. Nearly 230,000 kilowatts of energy are produced by the Aguirre plant, extending through power lines over the central mountain range of the island to the metropolitan area of San Juan, which along with its neighboring cities has a population of about 2 million people – over half of the island's total population of nearly 3.5 million. Transmitting energy at that distance makes the whole grid extremely prone to collapse. In September 2016, a similarly massive outage occurred, but this time due to faulty maintenance, Santiago explained. A general lack of resources and oversight means it is difficult to maintain the grid in the long term, especially as it faces the duress of hurricane-power winds and as these storms become more intense with climate change. Luis G. Martinez, Senior Attorney and Director of Southeast Energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told AN that Puerto Rico's energy problem has been caught in a vicious cycle for quite some time. Earlier this summer, the Puerto Rican power utility PREPA filed for bankruptcy with a $9 million debt. Petroleum isn't cheap, and Puerto Rico is one of the only islands in the Atlantic to operate off of a petroleum-based energy grid (it is the source of about half of the island's electricity). When prices spike, utilities spend all their funds securing fuel, sinking further into debt and unable to break the cycle until they are no longer able to borrow money. Until about two years ago, Martinez said, the Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority (PREPA) was operated with very little oversight. In 2014, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) was created to regulate PREPA. Two days after the storm hit, another infrastructural system showed signs of imminent collapse: the Guajataca Dam located on the northwestern end of the island, a 90-year-old, 120-foot-tall structure holding back about 11 billion gallons of water. Three nearby towns, Isabela, San Sebastián and Quebradillas, were immediately evacuated, displacing thousands. Supplying relief from the mainland United States faces its own challenges. Yesterday, President Trump waived the Jones Act for a period of ten days. The Jones Act is a century-old law requiring goods delivered to Puerto Rico to be carried there exclusively on American-owned vessels. This Act has been hindering the delivery of relief supplies to people in need. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) was responded: "For an entire week, the President was touting his concern for the shipping industry, while refusing to suspend the Jones Act. A ten-day waiver, as the Administration has announced, is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy ... To that end, I repeat my call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act." The President shows no signs of budging. On the ground, recovery efforts are unfolding in myriad ways. Santiago has been working with local advocates on a short-term response to the island's energy crisis, noting that long-term solutions like sustainable energy sources – localized, solar micro-grids being the ideal – are important, but should be implemented carefully in the months to come. For now, she said, municipalities need smaller-scale solutions: cell phone chargers and generators chief among them. She described recently visiting a facility where individuals with diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer were going without their medications because they could no longer be refrigerated. Fortunately, some groups have arisen to work on long-term solutions to the frail energy grid, alongside the efforts of Puerto Rico-based organizations. A Brooklyn-based initiative called Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a project of the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), is focused on solar energy solutions. In their first phase, they are seeking to provide mobile solar-energy hubs, which are being prototyped in Santurce (a district of San Juan), which will be scaled up to be based in Caguas, a city in the central mountain range of the island when they have more resources. These hubs, if effective, will be able to provide limited power to the residents of small towns around the island. CMRC's mission is quite extensive both in time and scale: by the end of 2017, they hope to deliver more than 100 mobile solar kits to be assembled in public spaces in municipalities, training communities to install the projects along the way. The timeline for the initiative extends through 2021, when they hope to advocate for solar energy for the entire island as a permanent replacement to today's over-stretched grid. The organization has experience implementing these kinds of projects, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when CMRC produced scalable solar panels and generators for the hard-hit Rockaway peninsula in New York City. As Santiago explained, with the economic and fiscal crisis the island was already undergoing when Maria hit, any investments should be made in renewable energy and micro-grids, and set the stage for future investments in the same field. As the Hurricane Sandy anniversary approaches on October 29, let us not forget that the same effects in Puerto Rico are currently being suffered tenfold, while receiving much less coverage in the news. When asked what he thought was missing from coverage, Martinez had an immediate response: "The degree of desperation is not being expressed properly. People don't know when food, medical care, or power will come back. People need aid immediately." In Puerto Rico, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including:

Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, is one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery.

ConPRmetidos (Committed) is a non-profit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need.

Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, is a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities.

Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc. (Environmental Dialogue Committee, Inc.) is the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos, Inc. (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative).

In the stateside diaspora, here are a few groups participating in recovery work:

El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts.

Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm.

Note: We know this list is not comprehensive, and encourage you to leave additional resources in the comments section.
Placeholder Alt Text

Four initiatives for architects post-Harvey: A call to action

Austin was spared the wrath of Hurricane Harvey, but the destruction weighs on all of us here in Texas. What can we do as architects to respond to a natural catastrophe of such size? The first priority is humanitarian: saving lives and providing comfort and aid in every form. As I write this, people are still being rescued, hospitals face evacuations, flood waters remain, and two chemical plants have exploded. The tragedy is real and very human. The Texas Society of Architects is holding trainings sessions in safety assessment. AIA Dallas has mobilized a disaster action committee. But the scope of the disaster challenges architects throughout the country as the long-term tasks of rebuilding begin. Tens of thousands of homes, businesses, civic buildings, schools, water systems, power plants, and factories will need remediation or reconstruction. Architecture, as we usually practice it, quickly comes up short in giving direction to follow. But that only means we need to define new paths. In figuring out how to proceed we make our profession useful and visible to the public at large. Modernists dreamed for decades about reconstructing the city in rational terms, but the realities of economics and politics always thwarted them. Collaboration was the siren call of modernist design education. The current crisis provides an opportunity to realize some of those dreams and to create new modes of collaboration. In principle, the federal government takes a primary role in recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has moved into action in disaster recovery. It provides several assistance programs and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. The Small Business Administration provide its own stream of funding. Early estimates for residential property losses range from $25 billion to $37 billion. The governor of Texas has mentioned a figure of $150 billion. A half-million homes have been affected in an area the size of New Jersey. The National Flood Insurance Program is already more than $24 billion in debt from previous disasters. How effective such agencies will be in dealing with a catastrophe at this scale remains to be seen. Architects can and do have a direct advocacy impact at the levels of state, county, and city governments. We need to raise the questions that should be on the dockets when public entities confront rebuilding: where do people live and where should they not live, now and in the future? Do we reconstruct with the same techniques and materials normally used, or is there a better way to build in areas that are threatened by flooding? Houston was built on swamps naturally prone to flooding, but the city is not moving. Its medical center—almost a city in itself—secured its campus by having flood gates in place. What other techniques can mitigate against flooding and hurricane damage? How do we build with the resilience that climate change is demanding? We not only need to raise these questions, but we must lead in finding the answers. A second initiative involves new methods of rebuilding infrastructure. Architects ought to be engaged with these efforts, even if buildings themselves are not the tangible result. Conceptualizing new means of large-scale remediation for immediate threats to health and safety is essential—that’s a first step. Coordinating the infrastructure of buildings, transport and highway systems, power and human lives follows. These are ultimately design issues that are rarely integrated. We can lead in these integrative ventures and dissolve the differences between architecture and infrastructure. A third initiative suggests new approaches to the mass rebuilding of houses. The residential housing industry has highly effective techniques to produce massive numbers of dwellings at several scales. Yet the gap between the architectural profession and the housing industry is immense. We architects dismiss the entity that produces 95 percent of the housing in America. Why not join with the housing industry to help replace the vast number of residences that will need reconstruction? By collaborating, we can bring fresh insight not only to the design of the domestic residence but also to site planning. The look of a house is far less important to homeowners than to architects, but the siting of a home affects their quality of life daily. The planning and plotting of residential tracts has changed little for decades, and common practice ignores orientation and climate. If suburbs remain the staple for much of the domestic life that needs rebuilding, then let’s contribute to designing them. Finally, while Houston will be a major focus of reconstruction, small towns with limited resources will face their own challenges. The swath of destruction extends from Port Aransas in southern Texas into Louisiana. These communities could greatly benefit from the expertise of the architectural profession. After a summer of toxic politics and depressing social conflict, the challenge of Hurricane Harvey may provide a glimmer of the altruism we desperately need. Anthony Alofsin, FAIA, is the Roland Gommel Roessner Centennial Professor in Architecture at the University of Texas, Austin My thanks to William Richards for his helpful comments.
Placeholder Alt Text

Harvey’s danger lives on in the threat of petrochemical pollution

When Hurricane Harvey strenghtened and redirected toward Houston, refineries and other petrochemical companies began a frantic scramble to shut down facilities before impact. This process in itself produces notoriously high emissions (a lesson learned time and again from other hurricanes that have hit the Gulf Coast hard like Katrina and Ike), but the Texas metropolis faces another unique problem—Harris County and environs are home to some of the most densely-polluted superfund sites in the country, a legion of petrochemical waste pits and ponds monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 13 of the total 41 sites were flooded in Harvey's fallout, with the EPA unable to access many of the city's sites, as reported by the Associated Press last Thursday. By Saturday, the EPA had examined two sites in Corpus Christi, found no flooding or leakage, and blasted the AP's report in a public statement – notably without providing evidence to the contrary. In their exclusive, the Associated Press described the "acrid smell of creosote" filling the air in a neighborhood situated between two superfund sites, the Sikes Disposal Pits and French LTD. They also took video from a boat peering into the 3.3-acre Highlands Acid Pit nearby—entirely covered by the roiling San Jacinto River, dredging up open toxic sludge. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, levels of a carcinogen called benzene reached 324 parts per million, above the level at which safety workers are federally required to wear breathing equipment. Scott Frickel, an environmental sociologist at Brown University's Superfund Research Program, is concerned that the coverage of Houston's post-Harvey recovery has been overwhelmingly focused on Superfund sites, important though they are. He has examined the response of federal regulatory agencies like the EPA to similar problems after Hurricane Katrina, the largest in the agency's history at that time. A potentially greater danger, he argues, are the small, scattered industrial facilities owned by corporations and private entities. In a study, Frickel and others found that 90% of historically existing industrial facilities don't appear on regulatory hazardous site lists. Although there's no certainty all these sites are contaminated, many probably are, and account for a large margin of undocumented emissions. Frickel explained: "In part these sites are 'missing' from regulatory oversight either because they are small enough to skirt the current reporting requirements or larger facilities that closed down prior to 1980's when CERCLA regulations began and were redeveloped into some other land use. Also, it may be worth noting emissions reporting now is voluntary." Their omission explains – in part, at least – why the EPA ignored historically industrial areas of New Orleans during the long recovery from Katrina, allowing the city to repurpose those same areas for housing reconstruction without risk studies carried out beforehand. This feeling was echoed by Billy Fleming from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design, albeit with a concern about larger facilities. Fleming remarked that with facilities in almost every neighborhood of the city, he'd be hard-pressed to think of a place where residents shouldn't be concerned about pollutants. Superfund sites aside, the EPA is not required to monitor emissions from those larger petrochemical facilities. But based on past precedent, we can expect any data provided by those 500-plus facilities with potential spillage to be sparse and unreliable. Fleming also broke down the legacy of urban sprawl and superfund sites on Houston in a recent Guardian article and on Twitter: Another point raised by Frickel was that, with the proliferation of private wells in Houston (also largely unregulated), any hazardous floodwaters that infiltrate them may pose additional threats, unless there was a commitment to chemical monitoring. The long-term health consequences of a flood as devastating as Harvey's are vast, ranging from breathing difficulty to liver cancer, and therefore difficult to measure at an epidemiological scale. Flood-induced mold is identifiable as an immediate nuisance for respiratory reasons; New Orleans residents reported a "Katrina cough" years after the storm. The secondary disaster, other than immediate emissions from the shutdown of petrochemical facilities, are the chemical releases produced during the cleanup itself. These are wide-ranging and poorly understood: one example is the unexamined health outcomes of itinerant immigrant workers brought in to move debris and demolish damaged homes who are exposed to substances like asbestos from old buildings and vinyl chloride from newer ones. Because they move on to the next job in the next city, any health data disappears with them. As we look at preventing human-made disasters like Harvey's ruinous flooding from a planning standpoint, watchdogs, advocacy groups, and experts should be closely watching the EPA and the Trump administration's attentiveness to environmental regulations as the chemicals continue their slow, inexorable spread through the water supply and air of affected areas.    
Placeholder Alt Text

What can architects learn from Walmart’s fulfillment centers?

Architects are fascinated with infrastructure, or better yet, anxious about it. Infrastructure is far larger and more pervasive, blanketing the earth with its concrete and asphalt, yet it also threatens architecture with irrelevance. Infrastructural architecture is dangerous: The ubiquitous big box that houses warehouses, distribution centers, data centers, and processing plants is optimized to the point that architects are excluded. Perhaps because of this, condition studies of the big box and its implications have been wanting. Jesse LeCavalier’s The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment helps fill the void. As the title makes clear, LeCavalier focuses on the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, and how its overarching obsession with optimizing logistics manifests itself in built form. For those interested in the dangerous encounter of architecture and infrastructure, the book is worth reading. While LeCavalier’s book is an academic study, it eschews the empty and abstruse theorizing that has marked such recent efforts, producing the best book on architecture and infrastructure of this decade. The book is composed of five chapters bracketed by an introduction and conclusion: “Logistics,” which delineates LeCavalier’s thesis, followed by “Buildings,” “Locations,” “Bodies,” and “Territory,” each of which explores how Walmart embodies logistics in a different condition. Logistics, LeCavalier argues, has taken over from mass production and become the new organizational paradigm for our age. Where mass production was formed around relatively stable, physical forms of organization, logistics is ever mutable and contingent, constantly responding to the conditions it encounters. The built products of logistics embody this condition, with the stability of carefully designed envelopes giving way to what he calls “a constantly transforming network of calibrated and interconnected interiors.” It’s this point that’s crucial to those of us hoping to understand the “big box.” This term “big box,” LeCavalier points out, belies the complexity of the horizontal surfaces of floorplate and roof, which gives the building its infrastructural capacity to optimize throughput, notably by eliminating as much of the back area of the store as possible. In opposition to any idea of architecture as autonomous form, the exterior adapts to make the store tolerable whatever the local condition. LeCavalier painstakingly details case studies of the negotiations Walmart makes with local planning authorities and the resulting effect on the (endlessly mutable) building envelopes of its stores. LeCavalier observes that, in a paradoxical twist, form and building envelope take precedence at Walmart’s data centers since the rapid rate of change of digital technology ensures that those buildings need to be planned before a final layout can be envisioned. But to talk of Walmart’s data centers as formally intended is itself a paradox: The goal of these structures is to disappear through camouflage. At times I wanted the book to be more architectural—to have larger illustrations and in color. Recently many of University of Minnesota’s publications have given the impression of being published on demand by Blurb or Lulu and the squat format and the quality of the cover underscores this. But ultimately this allows the book to be more manual-like, more like the precipitation of information from a manual of logistics into physical form and that fits the subject matter well, so I can’t complain. More disappointing is that the drawings by LeCavalier, one of our most accomplished draughtsmen, are small and hard to read, but again this seems a decision of the press rather than the author. Moreover, had the book been a glossy architectural publication, it might have compromised the argument. Still, I wished to see LeCavalier brilliant analytic axonometric drawings included in some form. Perhaps a future publication will follow containing more of these.
The Rule of Logistics is an important book. For too long, what passes for the avant-garde has chased form for form’s sake, to embody the triumphant exuberance of the city and its neoliberal boosters. But last November, blue lost and red won, urban elites were undone by the heartland working class, the culture of Whole Foods shown up by that of Walmart. LeCavalier’s book, published some months before the election, underscores that the heartland is as permeated by the forces of the network as the urban center. The Rule of Logistics allows us to decode the spatial implications of this condition even as it suggests that architecture needs to learn from the architecture of the big box, much like it did from grain silos and factories in the early 20th century. Just as the election served as a wake-up call to well-intentioned urban liberals, The Rule of Logistics reminds architects that the most advanced work in the built domain is not in the city but in the sprawl outside it, that it’s not cool form but efficient logistical operations that pave the way to our future. The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment by Jesse LeCavalier University of Minnesota Press, $30.00 Kazys Varnelis is the director of the Network Architecture Lab and cofounder of AUDC, as well as the author of several books about infrastructure and network culture.
Placeholder Alt Text

Donald Trump disbands infrastructure advisory panel

Donald Trump has disbanded the Advisory Council on Infrastructure—a panel which was still in the process of being formed. The council was due to inform the President about how to spend up to $1 trillion on improving infrastructure, including public projects such as bridges and roads. The news comes after Trump dissolved two other panels: The American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum, making it three panels disbanded within the space of a week. However, as Bloomberg reported, corporate chief executive officers had already begun to quit after Trump's reaction to the Charlottesville riots. It was during an event surrounding Trump's  executive order to streamline infrastructure projects that the President answered questions on the riot and failed to denounce white supremacists. New York developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth—of the LeFrak Organization and Vornado Realty Trust, respectively—were in line to head the $1 trillion plan. The pair is supposedly good friends with the President, or at least they were, when they were touted for their roles in January this year. Fifteen other advisors, representing the finance, real estate, consultancy, and other industries, were also meant to advise Trump on how to deliver his infrastructure goals, something which was a major part of his election mandate.
Placeholder Alt Text

Trump will revoke an Obama-era order on flood risk regulations

President Donald Trump is all for building mega-infrastructure projects—that was one of his campaign’s trademark promises. He wants to build big and fast. But Trump's latest rescission of an Obama-era executive order, which stipulated all government-funded projects follow strict building standards to reduce exposure to flooding, may end up costing taxpayers a lot more.

Trump will revoke the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard with the goal of streamlining the environmental review of infrastructure projects, as first reported by Reuters. This move is part of his new executive order that aims to establish "discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects," according to a statement the White House released yesterday.

The current standard for these government projects requires that designers factor in projections for climate change and flooding as a consequence of rising sea levels and increasingly intense downpours. In effect, it meant that buildings would be built to a higher vertical elevation to address all flood risks and ensure taxpayer dollars would be preserved for as long as possible. This standard, introduced by former president Barack Obama as one his many measures tackling climate change, was required for all infrastructure projects, from public housing to highways.

But speaking today at Trump Tower, Trump denounced the current permitting process as "over regulated" and "a disgrace." He claimed that instead of taking twenty years to build a highway, under his new executive order a highway will be built in under two years. "We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly and inexpensively,” he said. 

Demonstrating a similar lack of concern for climate change when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, Trump has already rolled back many of Obama’s regulations on climate change. The elimination of this requirement could ultimately do more harm in the long run—even with a faster timeline, without flood-safety measures, taxpayers could end up paying up to billions over time, flood policy expert Eli Lehrer told Reuters. And it’s not a matter of if it floods, but when. 

The U.S. has already suffered an estimated $260 billion in flood related damages between 1980 and 2013.

Trump’s decision is undoing “the most significant action taken in a generation” to safeguard infrastructure, Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA, said to Reuters. “We can either build smarter now, or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods,” he said. “And it will.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Subway service stinks and the MTA has a new plan to fix it

[UPDATE 7/26/2017: This article was amended to include a statement that MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota made at the press conference on 7/25/2017 regarding his and the MTA's accountability for the plan outlined here.] This afternoon MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota laid out a short-term plan to improve declining service across the New York City subway system. Lhota began by outlining some of the causes of the current deterioration of service, including a record volume of customers (6 million riders a day, due in no small part to increased number of tourists), lack of capital investment, and aging infrastructure. The first phase of the MTA's efforts will tackle the causes behind 79 percent of major delays. While medical incidents, track fires, car malfunctions, water damage, and station malfunctions were each the blame, more than half of the major delays were due to signal, track, and power problems. Lhota's list of countermeasures was extensive, but included:
  • Speeding up the replacement of the 1,300 most troublesome signals (40 percent of signal mechanisms are more than 50 years old)
  • Starting a Emergency Water Management initiative to seal leaks and clean grates
  • Increasing the number of train car overhauls from 950 to 1,100 per year
  • Creating a new MTA app and a separate online dashboard to keep riders informed on MTA activities and improvements (the dashboard will be available in the next month to six weeks)
  • Initiating a pilot program to remove some seats from select cars on the Shuttle (S) train between Grand Central/42nd and the L train
  • Adding seven more EMT teams at various stations to handle sick customers
  • Initiating a public awareness campaign to stop littering on the tracks, which can lead to track fires
  • Increasing the rate of station cleaning from every six weeks to four weeks
  • Adding 12 emergency teams to 12 locations to speed up incident response times
  • Eliminating recorded announcements on subway cars
The cost will be a challenge—this yearlong "stabilization" phase will cost $456 million in operating costs, plus $380 million in a one-time capital. Without access to funds from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the federal government, or increased fares, the city and the state will have to food the bill. Lhota said that he and Governor Andrew Cuomo are proposing the two entities split the cost evenly. In discussing the ever-prickly funding issue, Lhota, echoing Cuomo, made sure to note that the MTA runs the subway, while the city owns it (the mayor's office disputes this interpretation of the subway's rules). Phase Two will include implementing the designs of the MTA Genius Transit Challenge, new subway cars, and an entirely new signal system. Lhota stated this second phase may cost $8 billion. During the conference, Lhota said the MTA would take responsibility for executing this plan. "Hold me accountable for everything that I've talked about today," he stated in response to a reporter's question, "because I do believe the responsibility begins here and ends here with everyone at the MTA and everyone at the transit authority." Hours after the press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio held his own presser inside the City Hall R/W station to address Lhota's remarks. He called the agency's plan a "positive" and "important" first step to getting subway service back up to par, noting that the state needs to apply the resources it already has at its disposal. "The MTA is finally beginning to own up to its responsibility," he said. All good, right? Less than two hours later, Lhota issued a salty response to de Blasio's comments, fanning the flames of a city-state saga that's already sardine-packed with petty jabs, light shows, messy snacking, and a whole heap of grandstanding:
“It is befuddling that the Mayor praised the MTA repair plan, but said he would not agree to fund it 50/50 with the State. One-half of a repair plan won’t make the trains run on time. The MTA is looking for the city to be a funding partner that assists the 6 million New Yorkers, the mayor's constituents, who use the subway."
Placeholder Alt Text

President Trump renews calls for $1 trillion infrastructure plan

Speaking at the U.S. Department of Transportation, President Donald Trump has iterated his eagerness to swiftly implement a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. "One of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure—and that is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build," he said at the department last week. Trump wants the speed up the approval process of improving highways are other U.S. infrastructure. According to the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Report for 2015-2016, the U.S. ranks 11th globally for infrastructure, yet is third overall for economic competitiveness. The report also stated that the of "most problematic factors for doing business" in the U.S., inadequate supply of infrastructure was the source of 5.2 percent of the problems. Over the course of a decade, The White House proposes spending $200 billion of federal money as part of the trillion-dollar public-private partnership. The President also said how the White House is pressing on with "massive permit reform," forming a new council that will supposedly streamline and eliminate red tape when dealing with infrastructure projects. "This Council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process," Trump said, as reported by Reuters. He continued, adding that any federal agency that "consistently delays projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties. We will hold the bureaucracy accountable." Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is also reaching out the public for comment and advice for other changes the Trump administration can make to reduce delays in infrastructure approval. On that note, Trump, according to Reuters, cited the infrastructure of old and reminded everyone of his taste for Keynesian-style economics. It took "four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam—but today it can take 10 years just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project," he lambasted. The President, meanwhile, displayed his distaste for the "16 different approvals involving ten different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes," needed when applying for infrastructure permits.
Placeholder Alt Text

Architects used to design industry and infrastructure—that needs to happen again

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’sChicago digs deep to fight flooding, but the city’s geology may provide another solution.” The article below was authored by Hanif Kara, a practicing structural engineer, the Pierce Anderson Lecturer in Creative Engineering at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and Visiting Professor for Architectural Technology at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, since 2008.
As the world’s population rapidly expands, the need for architects’ engagement in the industrial and infrastructural realm becomes increasingly urgent. Yet, with the exception of a few cases, architects remain conspicuously absent from the conception, design, and implementation of such projects. WHY ARCHITECTS? Today architects play a minor role in the design of industrial and infrastructural projects. Yet this was not always the case. The history of modern architecture, intricately tied to the rise of industrialization from the mid-18th century on, is rife with architects’ contributions to the industrial realm. Innovative creations such as Thomas Pritchard’s Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, England (1775–1779)—often cited as the first single-span cast-iron structure—purportedly set the stage for later developments, including Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer’s seemingly weightless Faguswerke factory in Alfeld on Leine, Germany (1911–1912), which is hailed as an embodiment of an early 20th-century industrial aesthetic. Likewise, across the Atlantic Ocean, Albert Kahn utilized reinforced concrete to design a series of wide-span automotive plants, ideal environments for the efficient assembly-line production, or Taylorization, for which Henry Ford’s factories became known. These are but a few of the many architects who worked on industrial architecture alongside businessmen and engineers in the early 20th century. In the years following World War II and as the global economy moved toward recovery in the 1950s and 1960s, architects continued their involvement with industrial projects. The United States saw architects such as Eero Saarinen and the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) engaged in industrial work, notably with their contributions to the burgeoning industrial campus complex type. In Europe, architects such as Angelo Mangiarotti in Italy, Fritz Haller in Switzerland, and Norman Foster in England began enlisting prefabricated modular building systems, which allowed vast, flexible, open-span factories to accommodate a variety of manufacturing setups. These prefab systems, which could be erected more quickly and more economically than previous industrial buildings, became a widespread alternative to individually designed factories. Not surprisingly, the building owners’ desire to cut costs coupled with the efficiency of prefabricated modular systems to steadily eclipse the architect’s role in industrial building design. Mass production and “industrialized systems” hastened the rapid construction of many different building types during this period. Simultaneously, seeing fewer opportunities for creativity in such “mundane” or “ugly” work, architects turned their attention away from industrial and infrastructural projects. Additionally, the growth of other disciplines gave rise to engineers and project managers, who legitimately claimed to be able to produce buildings rather than “design” them, further undermining the role of the architect. Despite the shift to service- and knowledge-oriented industries in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, a time marked by the emergence of widespread economic and ecological changes, architects’ contributions to these building types have remained conspicuously absent. Yet this need not be the case. Architects bring much to the conception and creation of such projects, beginning with a holistic approach that extends beyond functionality to embrace the physical, social, and environmental issues that affect each project. By virtue of education and experience, architects hone the ability to devise creative spatial configurations to address real-world problems. Furthermore, architects are trained to design not just for the present, but for the future ways in which buildings may be used. This skill in particular figures prominently into our contemporary landscape, where in many cases a building’s physical presence may long outlive its initial purpose. And, as numerous examples in our past and present demonstrate, such industrial buildings do not have to be ugly. The past few decades saw a minor eruption in the adaptation of redundant existing industrial buildings and large-scale infrastructures for public use. Projects like the Tate Modern (England, Herzog & de Meuron) and the Hamburg Philharmonic (Germany, Herzog & de Meuron); the Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art (Argentina, Ermete de Lorenzi); the Zollverein Power Station (Germany, Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, B.ll and Krabel); the High Line (United States, Diller Scofido + Renfro); the Contemporary Jewish Museum (United States, Studio Libeskind); and the Modern Museum of Malm. (Sweden, Tham & Videg.rd Arkitekter) have captured the public imagination and become new architectural touchstones. Note that many of these readapted structures exist in developed areas that have transformed from industrial to service societies (a cycle likely to repeat in the future). In addition, these projects involve not only the reuse of materials, but also a respect for the old while infusing the new. They are complex projects that encourage cultural interactions and multiple programs in spaces previously conceived for singular functions and occupied by only a few individuals. These buildings and structures were initially created to serve a specific use; yet through architectural interventions, they have been successfully repurposed as cultural icons. Architects introduced unique skills and perspectives to these transformational projects, all largely well received. In turn, these adaptations have bolstered their architects’ reputations. We believe that architects can add similar value to, and likewise benefit from, the design of industrial and infrastructural projects. In particular, we are focused onWaste-to-Energy (WtE) facilities, which are much needed in both developing and developed societies. Along with global population growth and increased urbanization comes an exponential rise in the production of solid waste. In 2012, urban populations generated roughly 1.3 billion tons of solid waste. By 2025, the World Bank estimates that this number will likely increase to 2.2 billion tons. How do we address this mounting volume of waste? This question becomes all the more pressing when we consider that landfills—currently (and historically) the most prevalent means of waste disposal—are quickly becoming less plausible due to space restrictions, environmental concerns, mandates to close existing sites, and legislation that prevents the creation of new landfills. Waste-to-Energy facilities offer a proven and increasingly attractive solution for dealing with solid waste. Indeed, far from the pollution-spewing industrial behemoths of yore, WtE plants are an environmentally conscious option for coping with garbage. Strategically placed near or within urban areas, WtE plants can generate alternative energy for local use and eliminate the need to transport waste to rural areas or across state lines, thus reducing travel-related emissions. And as we will later discuss in detail, WtE infrastructure offers a range of beneficial possibilities for future development, including opportunities to develop hybrid programs that positively impact their communities. Such innovative arrangements are already in operation in Sweden, recognized as a leader in WtE use, as well as other countries. WHY WASTE-TO-ENERGY? There is little doubt that, as the world’s population grows, local WtE infrastructure will be increasingly needed in cities. As densities increase and consumption patterns change, WtE will continue to emerge as an acceptable and affordable source of renewable energy alongside a portfolio of other sources, such as solar, wind, and biomass. As additional WtE infrastructure is conceived and constructed, architects’ involvement will help ensure the best functional, social, and aesthetic results. Indeed, a handful of high-profile architects, including Bjarke Ingels and Zaha Hadid, have recently engaged in WtE projects, signaling a shift in thought regarding the desirability of and value generated by architects’ involvement in such projects. With these ideas in mind, we selected WtE facilities as a means to re-engage architects and interdisciplinary design with industrial buildings and infrastructure. We conducted design research on novel and effective ways to rethink the relationship of architecture and waste—a (re)planned obsolescence. THE WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY The Waste Management Hierarchy is an internationally recognized ranking of the various waste management practices in the order from most to least preferred with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Priority is given towards the prevention and reuse of waste followed by recycling, energy recovery, and disposal. Energy recovery from the combustion of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a critical component to this hierarchy because it diverts and ultimately decreases the total volume of waste that would have otherwise been destined for landfills. The WtE Design Lab chose to narrow the focus of design speculation around the method combustion—as opposed to pyrolysis and gasification—because it is the most widely implemented. Ranked a tier above natural gas but just below solar photovoltaic, the energy produced by this renewable energy source has a reduced carbon emission record—as compared to petroleum and coal—by offsetting the need for energy from fossil fuel sources and reducing methane generation from landfills.

This article originally appeared as Architects, Waste and Design Research on urbanNext.
Placeholder Alt Text

New petition wants to transform New York’s commuter infrastructure

The creation of a new or renovated Pennsylvania Station for New York has become a staple for the local daily news.

It is often presented as an architecture issue: the need for an alternative to the seriously flawed 1968 building on the site, or a quick fix for its 21 aging rail tracks. But ReThink Studio, a transportation think tank, has a well-thought proposal that considers a future for the station as a node in a much larger regional plan. It makes the point that any proposal to transform the station is meaningless unless its relationship to a much larger area is considered and well thought out. It is not just an architectural issue, but a planning issue that needs to be addressed by all levels of government.

Today, New York’s commuter rail infrastructure is a nightmare. Fixing this starts with phase one of Amtrak’s Gateway project for two new Hudson River Tunnels. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said that all of us need to push for this effort.

You can watch a video of ReThink Studio's plans below. If you are convinced by its conclusions, there is now a way to contact our elected officials and ask them to support the plan. By signing this petition, the studio will send a letter to President Donald Trump; Senator Mitch McConnell; Representatives Paul Ryan, Bill Shuster, Rodney Frelinghuysen; and Senators Mitch McConnell, James Inhofe, and Thad Cochran.

Placeholder Alt Text

190,000 evacuated as California’s largest dam nears failure

The Oroville Dam, which supports California’s second largest reservoir and is the tallest dam in the country, is showing increasing likelihood of failure after an exceedingly wet winter rain season. This year's rainy season has brought record rains to the state after years of drought. The 770-foot-high dam is located in northern California 75 miles north of Sacramento, the state capital. The dam, built between 1961 and 1967, holds roughly 3.5 million acre-feet of water—an acre-foot is equal to the volume contained within a sheet of water one acre in area and one foot in depth, or, 43,560 cubic feet—and is integral to the California Water Project, the state’s expansive flood control and irrigation system that delivers water from the wetter and more sparsely-populated areas in the north to the drier and more densely-populated communities along the coast and south. The dam, which holds back Lake Oroville, suffered a partial fracture along its emergency spillway early last week. The emergency spillway acts as a relief valve for the dam and is designed to be opened up when water levels in the dam get too high. It was used for the first time in the dam’s history this weekend. The damaged spillway is not paved over in concrete like the main spillway, but instead, exists as a wooded slope. The damage caused engineers tasked with managing the dam to slow down the release of excess water along the emergency spillway and, as a result, the reservoir reached capacity over the weekend. Use of the emergency spillway persisted to alleviate the high water levels. Despite assurances from officials that the dam was safe and structurally sound throughout the weekend, officials announced emergency evacuation orders late Sunday as it became obvious that water being released over the emergency spillway had resulted in the steady erosion of the hillside holding the dam’s foundations. The state’s Emergency Mass Notification system sent out the following message via email Sunday afternoon:
Emergency Mass Notification Message (2/12/17 4:20 p.m.) This is an evacuation order. Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered. A hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. Operation of the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could lead to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville. In response to this developing situation, DWR is increasing water releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second. Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill.
The dam sits above a wide swath of wooded and agricultural areas, including the communities of Oroville and Yuba City. As a result of the evacuation orders, roughly 190,000 residents were asked to leave the area to find higher ground. Engineers were able to lower the water level enough over Sunday evening to cease use of the emergency spillway, a development which will theoretically allow engineers to observe and try to repair the damages to the dam. Joe Countryman, a member of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and a former engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told the Sacramento Bee, "I think between now and Thursday, when the next storm arrives, they need to get the reservoir down as low as they can. Tomorrow, they need to start grouting the hell out of that embankment to try to shut off where that leak is." As a result of the potential catastrophe, The Los Angeles Times reports Governor Jerry Brown has put the entire California National Guard—a force of 23,000 of soldiers and pilots—on call for the first time since the Los Angeles riots in 1992. As of 7:00 AM Pacific Time, the dam is still in immediate danger of partial failure. We will bring more updates as they happen. For a list of evacuation sites and shelters, see the Butte County website.