Austin’s new Central Public Library, designed by Lake|Flato with Shepley Bulfinch, opened last October. The 198,000-square-foot facility occupies a full city block adjacent to where Shoal Creek meets the Colorado River in the western part of downtown. Austin’s first residents settled here 180 years ago, and in the 20th-century municipal facilities like the Seaholm Power Plant were built nearby. Planning for the library began in 2009 as part of the district redevelopment surrounding the repurposed power plant. After some delays, the library, with a $125 million price tag, arrives as a major addition to downtown’s cultural landscape. In Austin, the new library doubles the book capacity of the previous central library, but books are not the focus of the architecture. For years, the library typology has been morphing into a more generic public space that supports a range of studious and social actions. Austin’s new Central Public Library, the city’s fourth, is an example of the library as urban amenity. Here, event takes precedence over edifice. As such, its traditional library aspects shrink while its public aspects sing. The library anchors a new district of Austin. Nearby, condominium and office towers race upward on either side of Shoal Creek; most of the neighborhood is recently completed or still under construction. The Green Water Treatment Plant Redevelopment itself will create 1.7 million square feet of leasable space. Next door, the former Seaholm Power Plant has been converted into offices for tech start-ups. One block north, the Independent, a Jenga-style residential tower similar in scheme to New York’s New Museum and now under construction, will rise 58 stories. An electrical substation, unable to be relocated, is screened by the “Power Picket,” a colored concrete post fence designed by NADAAA. Outside the library, a new bridge across Shoal Creek connects to the pedestrian-friendly areas of the 2nd Street District, itself developed just a decade ago, turning an underused set of city-owned blocks into a retail destination and the relocated home of Austin City Limits. The creek’s edge next to the library has been improved into a generously wide promenade. The library’s public energy starts here, as Austinites— ambling about the newest parts of their city or arriving from the airy parking garage below—are swept up into the expansive interior. This atrium is the most powerful space in the library. Atop the overhanging roof, a two-sided skylight with the profile of a cowboy hat directs sunlight deep into the interior, ensuring each floor is well lit. Every floor opens to the atrium—meeting rooms overlook it, wooden pathways span across it, and lighter stairs switchback upward on its edges. Its spectacle, part cavernous natural feature, corporate headquarters, and mall concourse, invites visitors to hike the trail rather than take the elevator. Upstairs, a variety of overlooks yield new urban vistas: To the north and east the rapidly changing skyline, to the south Lady Bird Lake, and to the west the beginnings of the Texas Hill Country. Lake|Flato are masters of the porch and have lifted this expertise into the sky, locating a series of outdoor spaces complete with hog wire enclosures and wood soffits on different levels. While the atrium is lively and loud, these spaces are pleasantly quiet. An eastern roof terrace concludes the trek with open-air views of downtown. The exterior, clad in tan limestone and gray metal panels, is the least successful part of the library. Corrugated profiles of rust-colored perforated metal stand off the southern facade and screen glazed areas elsewhere. Looking up, it is a busy assembly whose articulation is sourced from Austin’s contemporary vernacular, a language that Lake|Flato established and refined over the last thirty years. The library is one of the firm’s tallest projects, and perhaps that is part of the difficulty: Translating a style that works for low-lying buildings engaged with their landscape into a vertical urban condition is a significant design challenge. Inside, the atrium and central core break up the floor plates into a ring with interior stacks and seating on both perimeters. The verticality of the scheme promotes visual adjacency rather than physical togetherness. Throughout, the architecture creates comfortable vantage points, whose cumulative result is a casual publicness generated by all of the ways to see across and out of the building. The achievement and difficulty of this library is that its interior unfolds in a uniform topology of amenity space. The interior, shaped by its meeting rooms and furniture selections, feels more like the trays of a tech office or a co-working space than a library. In a familiar rupture of form and function, the architecture is decent in its design, while powerful in experience. The building is a constructed chakra of Austin’s energy right now, vortexed into being from the frenzy of development at work in the city. It feels like the karstic landscape and the accepted way of building upon it is peeled up and knotted into a bowline of pure Austin-ness. The library succeeds when one navigates it as a civic terrain—inside and out—and not explicitly as a distinct piece of architecture. It is a project that the public will embrace but will, despite its numerous charms, leave some architects wanting more. The central public library provides an image and experience of Austin today. But if this is the city now, where is it going? Outside the library’s buzz, the growing forest of towers, stitched together by creekside paths, offers one speculative way forward. Austin’s new Central Public Library will serve its publics for decades to come, as the city grows up around and out from it. If, as one Texan argued in The New Yorker last year, America’s future can be seen in the challenges of the Lone Star state, then what happens here takes on even greater meaning. What should this future look like? The eyes of Texas are beginning to see.
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Rikers Island, New York City's notorious jail complex, is set to close within the next decade. For some activists, the pace of change is too slow, but, if the city is taken at its word, ten years is a solid chunk of time to rethink justice in 21st century New York. A design team, convened by Van Alen in collaboration with NADAAA, has set out to do exactly that. Justice in Design, a new report from the Van Alen Institute, a design advocacy organization, gives broad guidelines on how New York's criminal justice system should look, feel, and function. Notably, it centers the urban condition but aims to enhance life for those behind bars, as well as those outside the justice system, by elevating both the city and the jail's livability with public programming, dense service networks, and lots of light and greenery. The project was deeply collaborative. To produce Justice in Design, Van Alen partnered with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the legal experts, politicians, developers, and prison reform advocates she convened last year to address the Rikers closure. That group, sometimes called the Lippman Commission but known formally as the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, issued its recommendations this past March: Closing Rikers Island, it said, is a "moral imperative," and it advocated for reducing the city's overall jail population and creating a network of neighborhood-based jails. To that end, Van Alen convened architects, environmental psychologists, prison reformers, and nonprofit leaders for the project team. Dan Gallagher and Nader Tehrani, principals at New York– and Boston-based NADAAA, partnered with urbanist Karen Kubey; Susan Opotow and Jayne Mooney, a psychologist and associate professor of sociology, respectively, who work at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, CUNY; as well as Susan Gottesfeld of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that works with justice-involved individuals and their families. (The team is credited in the commission's report with providing "additional support" to the study.) The group hosted workshops in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens with law enforcement, reformers, academics, and formerly incarcerated individuals to get an idea of what jail is like inside, and after. The workshops, Gallagher said, helped the designers better understand both day-to-day life in Rikers and incarceration's impact on housing choice, employment, and mental health long after release. From there, the team developed its design guidelines. Instead of producing a strictly carceral space, the designers envisioned a networked jail system spread throughout the city and meant to serve the wider community, not just prisoners. Called Justice Hubs, the mini-neighborhoods are intended to confront re-entry dilemmas—despite new rules, for example, many industries still discriminate against people with backgrounds—while addressing day-to-day challenges faced by those who work in the criminal justice system. In the Brooklyn forum, residents said they weren't concerned about safety if a jail were to open in their neighborhood. Instead, Gahllager said, people were worried the building would be ugly: a grey concrete Hulk surrounded by razor wire. That prompted the team to think not only about the design of the jail itself, but its relationship to the city and its people. "The building has to become more than a big wall with something else going on inside," said Gallagher, a partner at NADAAA. "It has to be an active tool of civic engagement." NADAAA's conceptual designs try to make life on the inside as normal ("more conventional," per Gallagher) as possible. The report emphasizes access to natural light and ventilation not only in outdoor areas, but in visitor rooms, activity spaces, and (especially) cells. Instead of monolithic cinder blocks and concrete finished, the architects advocated for softer, natural finishes to add visual variety and reduce background noise, a significant stressor in close quarters. The layout is supposed to make it easier to move within the jail, and the facilities would be placed near courts and social services. There would be ample but unobtrusive parking for corrections officers, too. The team didn't want to reproduce the spatial segregation that Rikers—a literal island in the East River, near Laguardia Airport—embodied. As a result, community facilities like public outdoor space, gardens, art studios, and libraries are part of the program and are open to detainee's friends and family, as well as residents who have no personal involvement with the jail. This is the first time NADAAA has done a project like this. Van Alen approached the firm both for their design sense and for their ability to analyze and rethink troubled systems. "It was one of those situations where we said, 'okay let's jump in with both feet,'" Gallagher explained. He gave full credit to the team's non-architects, whose research and work experience brought a local and highly international perspective to the project. They read up on Denmark, for example, which lets inmates wear street clothing and cook with sharp knives (but even their relatively progressive prison system is far from perfect). The design team's role going forward is unclear, Gallagher and Van Alen confirmed, but both parties want to stay involved. The general recommendations, summarized on the last few pages of the report, are just that. The concepts don't specify designs, as Justice Hubs will adjust to local zoning: A 200-bed facility in densely developed Downtown Brooklyn might look very different from a similar-sized jail in St. George, Staten Island. With a mandate to envision a system that at its core features many jails, there wasn't much room for questioning the fundamentals of the carceral state or challenging the culture of surveillance. But the guidelines are a cautious step in the right direction to end a traumatic system where detainees suffer degrading and abusive treatment, visitors lose hours on the bus to see family, and guards are hurt by inmates who themselves may struggle with poor mental health. Although Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the closing of Rikers, he hasn't been totally clear on whether he supports community-based jails. Given how quickly NIMBYs mobilized against the mayor's new homeless shelters, it's unclear how residents may react to neighborhood jails. Still, the design team is optimistic about the recommendations. "As a society we have a responsibility to facilitate best outcomes," said David van der Leer, Van Alen's executive director. And architects, he hopes, will keep a seat at the table.
A 19-story residential building designed by Boston- and New York–based NADAAA, with local architects Westlake Reed Leskosky, will soon rise in Cleveland. The new 187-unit Beacon tower will sit atop an existing 8-story parking structure in the city’s downtown. Like many NADAAA projects, the building has an expressive envelope system. Panels of varying color and reflectivity play with light during the day and night. The coloration is calibrated to accentuate the height of the building, while a LED lighting system on an upper-level terrace “produces a dramatic lighthouse effect.” The bold facade of the project went through at least one major revision in the last few months as the downtown’s design review committee debated the building's color choice. An earlier iteration had the metal panels rendered in red tones. The committee worried that if the color faded, the building would become too pink in appearance. As the building is placed atop an existing structure, great care was taken to make an efficient design to maximize programmed space in relation to building weight. Targeting millennials, most of the units are one and two bedrooms, with flexible configurations. The penthouse level includes a party room, roof patio, and a chef’s kitchen. If construction goes as scheduled, The Beacon is set to be complete by fall 2018.
A tiny mountain town nestled in the Rocky Mountains is bringing in the big guns for the adaptive reuse of a beloved crumbling warehouse in its burgeoning arts district. Already a destination for the outdoorsy, the former mining village of Telluride, Colorado, decided to add ‘thriving arts community’ to the list of reasons to come and visit. Local non-profit Telluride Arts was instrumental in the push for more cultural programming and is responsible for the adaptive reuse of the dilapidated, but adored, Telluride Transfer Warehouse. The 6,000-square-foot sandstone warehouse stands at the heart of the arts district, making it an ideal spot for a center for the arts and a good candidate for restoration. After gaining approval for restoration, Telluride Arts launched a national design competition earlier this year. "Key elements of the program include a Kunsthalle for exhibitions, flexible spaces that transform to host a multitude of events, and a small, museum-style bar/cafe that invites a constant flow of people and casual gatherings into a living-room atmosphere," said the arts organization on their website. Thirty firms put their names forward and, after careful selection, three finalists have been chosen: Gluckman-Tang and Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis of New York, and NADAAA of Boston. The finalists will now have two months and a $10,000 stipend to put together a conceptual plan ready to present to the community on May 30. During that time, the teams will visit Telluride get to know the town and the little warehouse that could. The building is listed as a National Historic Landmark and has stood for over 100 years. Originally built in 1906, it was in use until its roof collapsed in 1979. Since then, the building has stood vacant and decaying, a period that has become as much a part of its history as the life it had prior to 1979. NADAAA touched on this relationship of crumbling historic landmark and contemporary cultural hub in their statement to Telluride Arts. “Rare is the opportunity to both preserve an important historic landmark and create something wholly unprecedented,” said Katie Faulkner and Nader Tehrani of NADAAA. “The Transfer Warehouse stands as a monument to Telluride’s history of perseverance. The fundamental challenge of the project will be to maintain the power of the ruin while sponsoring the vision and opportunity through architectural speculation for the Arts District.” The final presentation will occur in Telluride on May 30 and Telluride Arts anticipates construction on the project to begin in 2019. To learn more about the Telluride Transfer Warehouse visit the Telluride Arts website here.
New York City's Cooper Union finally found a new leader. Nader Tehrani has been appointed dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. He joins the school this month, taking over where Anthony Vidler left off. Tehrani, formerly of Office dA, is now principal of NADAAA. Tehrani is also a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and served as head of MIT’s Department of Architecture from 2010 to 2014. For over 25 years, Tehrani has developed research around material culture as the basis for speculation—exploring material properties, negotiating materials and their geometric predispositions and challenging the means and methods of building processes. “Nader Tehrani is in tune with the traditions of the Irwin S. Chanin School in terms of our emphasis on exploration and the processes that are at the core of the creation and production of architectural form,” said School of Architecture Professor Diana Agrest, who chaired the dean search committee. “He brings fresh perspectives on architectural discourse that will open new avenues in our teaching and will help create new energy in the school.” At Office dA, Tehrani has been recognized with the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture (2007). More recently, Tehrani completed three schools of architecture, including the Hinman Research Building at Georgia Tech and the Faculty of Architecture, Building, & Planning at the University of Melbourne. He is currently working on the completion of the new John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, & Design facility at the University of Toronto. Tehrani received a B.F.A. and a B.Arch from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He continued his studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where he attended the post-graduate program in history and theory. Upon his return to the United States, Tehrani received the Masters of Architecture and Urban Design from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1991.
The University of Toronto recently revealed ambitious plans for One Spadina Crescent, a historic property with a 19th century Gothic Revival building positioned in the center of a roundabout. By next year, the site will be the University’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. NADAAA, in collaboration with E.R.A. Architects, will restore the historic building and add a new wing with lecture and studio space, a library and a digital fabrication workshop. The project will supply state-of-the-art accommodations for architecture, art, landscape, and urban design students and professors. One Spadina has lived many lives—it was built as a theological seminary and was later a military hospital for World War I veterans, a factory for penicillin and polio viruses, and an eyeball bank. Now, NADAAA will transform the site into a new home for the University's Daniels Faculty of Architecture. Through a $50-million campaign (of which $24 million remains to be raised), the makeover will involve a contemporary addition to the north side, as well as pavilions and a public hall to engage the community. Plans include removing a fence that encloses the property and restoring pedestrian access. The main east-west corridor will serve as an extension of Russel Street. The addition's exterior will be composed of glass, stone, and steel and will conserve views of the building’s grand turrets. Within the irregularly shaped structure, openings allow natural light to enter the floors and rooms. A considerable amount of interior space, about 100,000 square feet, will receive daylight. The contoured roof will allow for rainwater harvesting. The restoration and addition are planned for completion in 2015.