Like many great cultural institutions the world over, the Sydney Opera House is currently closed to the public as the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) brings life in major population centers to a standstill.
The closure of the iconic Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall, however, was a pre-planned and long-awaited maneuver to accommodate a much-needed rehabilitation of the acoustically challenged, accessibility-plagued venue. Renovation work first kicked off in February, marking the first time in its history that the Concert Hall has gone dark for an extended period. Per the New York Times, the gall and the surrounding Opera House complex are normally open to the public 363 days a year.
A January 31 performance by Solange was the last held there for at least the next two years.
Pending any delays, the 2,500-seat venue is expected to reopen in mid-2021, ahead of the Opera House’s 50th anniversary in 2023. (Other performances and gatherings held in other venues at the concrete sail-topped Opera House complex that were to remain open during the revamp have since been postponed as a proactive measure against the spread of COVID-19.)
Sporting a price tag of $200 million that’s being covered by the New South Wales government, the Concert Hall refurbishment is a major endeavor that, after years of planning, will correct numerous shortcomings of the famous—and famously flawed—venue. The upgrades will tackle not-so-insignificant issues with sound quality, performance logistics, and guest accessibility that have vexed Opera House officials, performers, and the general public alike for decades.
As the Times and others have noted, the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed structure is one of the world’s most distinctive and instantly recognizable works of modern architecture. But its construction was a notoriously troubled one, complete with ballooning costs, scheduling overruns, technical missteps, bureaucratic in-fighting, a workers’ strike, and the resignation of its architect, Jørn Utzon, long before it was completed. While the interiors are visually ravishing thanks in large part to Utzon’s successor, Australian architect Peter Hall, the Concert Hall has long been regarded as subpar when it comes to its aural qualities—kind of important for a world-renowned concert venue.
Writes The Guardian:
“The actor John Malkovich once said the acoustics in the Concert Hall ‘would do an aeroplane hangar a disservice.’ Members of the resident Sydney Symphony Orchestra have long complained that they cannot hear their fellow musicians on stage. And the rise of the rock concert has further challenged the venue, with amplified music and electronic sets being precisely the opposite of what the hall’s infrastructure was built to accommodate.”
As The Guardian explains, these issues largely arise from the fact that the Concert Hall was initially designed to be more of a multipurpose space complete with overhead theatrical rigging that could accommodate opera and plays. But following Utzon’s departure, these types of performances were reassigned to a more intimate venue at the Opera House, the Joan Sutherland Theatre, and the grand hall was redesigned to exclusively accommodate classical music performances. While symphonies continue to dominate the space, it’s also now heavily—and imperfectly—used for rock, pop, and dance acts as well.
In addition to issues of bad acoustics, “more basic matters,” as the Times puts it, have long begged for fixing. This includes replacing antiquated electrical wiring and modernizing a rather inconvenient HVAC system.
“The air conditioning system is hopeless,” Rory Jeffes, the leader of Opera Australia and former managing director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, told the Times.“It blows out of cannon ports up above, and then falls onto the stage, and very often turns the pages of the musicians as they play.”
Improving accessibility for the million-plus visitors that the Opera House receives every year is also a top priority. While it's a pressing matter today, how patrons with mobility issues traversed the sprawling, stair-heavy space wasn’t a main concern in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the building was being designed and constructed. Opening up the space to visitors of all ages and physical abilities has been a challenge, however, considering its designation as a historic landmark.
A major aspect of improving accessibility at the Concert Hall tasked to ARM Architecture, the Melbourne- and Sydney-based firm overseeing the project, has been installing elevators, something that didn’t exist before.
In addition to elevators and code-compliant accessibility tweaks, other upgrades include: a new acoustic ceiling, specially designed acoustic reflectors, new acoustic panels to be placed over the stage and elsewhere, an automatic drape system, automatic stage risers, a modernized theatrical grid system, revamped backstage areas, and more.
“The number and diversity of shows being staged in the Concert Hall, as well as their performance requirements, have increased enormously over the decades since the building first opened.
It is vital the Opera House invests in new technology and systems to ensure the venue continues to meet orchestral and contemporary performance needs and the expectations of staff, resident companies, performers, and audiences now and in the future.”
In executing the overhaul, ARM is working closely alongside a team of acousticians as well as engineering firms Arup and Steensen Varming to better “understand the building’s existing structural condition” before carrying out more complex aspects of the renovation. All upgrades and refurbishments are being carried out in accordance with the Opera House’s Conservation Management Plan and will respect Utzon’s original design principles.
“We need to not only maintain our fabulous heritage but we need to be as prepared as we possibly can be for the next 50 years,” Louise Herron, chief executive of the Sydney Opera House, told The Guardian. “What is it that audiences of now and the future are going to want and how can we best prepare the Concert Hall for that? That’s been the driving force behind our approach.”
Hot off the staggering success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite at the 92nd Academy Awards, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is extending a helping hand to those living in the city’s cramped and famously flood-prone semi-basement apartments.
As reported by English-language daily the Korea Herald, a total of 1,500 households living in semi-basement apartments, or Banjiha, will be eligible for up to ₩3.2 million (approximately $2,654) to invest in new flooring, improved HVAC systems, air purifiers, smoke detectors, and other items that are in need of replacement or altogether lacking in Seoul’s halfway-subterranean homes.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there were over 360,000 semi-basement apartments in South Korea as of 2015, with a majority located in the country’s ultra-dense capital region. Many of the units were originally built as bunkers in the 1970s—an era when military tension with North Korea was at a boiling point—and later converted into ultra-cheap rental units with little regard for comfort or safety.
#Parasite demonstrates how great cinema can affect social change. “The Seoul City government will financially support 1,500 households living in semi-basement apartments...to improve their living conditions.” https://t.co/cG5072ifCc
Although a more affordable option compared to high-rise apartment blocks that a majority of Seoul residents call home, Banjiha are dark, damp, poorly ventilated, and often too compact to support the number of people living in them. Seventy-eight percent of Seoul’s semi-basement dwellers are in the bottom 30 percent income bracket, per city statistics cited by the Korea Herald.
The Banjiha upgrade initiative, spearheaded by the city in partnership with the Korean Energy Foundation, will begin accepting applications from households in March with plans to expand the range of applications eligible to apply in subsequent years. The financial aid is being dispersed as a larger effort to help low-income Seoul residents improve and boost efficiency in their aging, with priority given to semi-basement apartment dwellers.
Featured prominently in Parasite as the primary residence of the scheming Kim family, Seoul’s semi-basement apartments have garnered a significant amount of attention since the film’s release.
As detailed by AN in a recent article, Bong used the built environment—specifically two very different modes of housing, the dreary semi-basement apartment and the ultramodern, quasi-suburban luxury home—to propel the film’s pointed social commentary.
“Banjiha is a space with a peculiar connotation... It’s undeniably underground, and yet you want to believe it’s above ground,” the Times quoted Bong as saying following Parasite’s premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. “There’s also the fear that if you sink any lower, you may go completely underground.”
While the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Banjiha-earmarked financial aid program won’t lift semi-basement dwellers fully above ground, it does function as a life preserver of sorts, helping to prevent thousands from sinking even further. Just call it the Parasite Effect.
Since its founding more than four decades ago, Seagull Hair Salon has been a haven for queer culture in Manhattan’s West Village. The first unisex barbershop in New York City is the place to lounge, gossip, and unwind.
In September 2015, its latest generation of co-owners, veteran hairstylist Shaun “Surething” Cottle and former Le Tigre band member Johanna Fateman, moved Seagull to a larger, brighter shop around the block, commissioning Los Angeles–based architect Ben Warwas to design a space that would preserve Seagull’s signature campy irreverence.
“Those colors are very riot grrrl,” Warwas said, referring to the palette of black, white, and bright pink taken directly from the ’90s feminist movement. Postmodern flourishes abound in what the salon’s owners have described as an “upscale glam feminist Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” mainly in the form of allusions to the original space’s signature architectural features.
The former Seagull’s arc-shaped nooks have been reincarnated as trompe-l’oeil archways painted directly onto the wall, which Cottle has since dubbed “the pink beyond.” Meanwhile, a real archway that appears to be bricked in frames the actual door, covered in very convincing wallpaper, to the employee lounge.
“The employees walk through walls,” Warwas says. “These architectural details blur the lines between 2-D and 3-D, fantasy and reality.”
Warwas also developed the custom furniture, including the revolving tower of retail shelves, the scalloped mirrors, and the two-sided central workstation, which he set on wheels to give the salon the flexibility to clear the floor to host events.
The finished product, an amalgamation of Cottle’s “Middle America glam” and Fateman’s postpunk feminist sensibilities, is decorated with vintage tchotchkes and large-scale prints, including work by feminist artists like Kathe Burkhart, A.L. Steiner, Alice O’Malley, and K8 Hardy. The rest of the furniture was “combination Craigslist, internet, and friends’ offerings” painted in the requisite black, white, and pink.
As a final touch, Warwas covered the floor and ceiling with a high-gloss, reflective finish to further his theme of flattening 3-D space into a 2-D image. After all, a salon can never have too many places in which to see your own reflection.
Building on a long relationship, the 2016 SEED Award for Public Interest Design has been awarded to the arts education nonprofit Marwen’s new renovation and expansion, designed by Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects.
Founded in 1987 in a one-room studio, Marwen now serves from 200 to 300 students a year in part thanks to expansions and renovations done over the last 20 years by Wheeler Kearns. The newest of these projects renovated 30,000 square feet, expanding the organization’s space within its current building.
New spaces in the building include a main student gallery, an alumni gallery, a library, administrative offices, nine state-of-the-art instructional studios, and a 950-square-foot glass loggia on the north side of the building.
The loggia, an element Marwen and Wheeler Kearns have been discussing for since 1999, was finally able to be realized with the purchase of the neighboring parking lot. The space acts as an additional public exhibition and gathering space.
Continuing with some of the elements and sensibility of earlier renovations for the organization, Wheeler Kearns worked with existing conditions in the former manufacturing building. Most walls were left as exposed brick and heavy timber douglas fir beams make up the structure and ceiling. The floors were replaced with poured, sound-deadening, tooled concrete. Gallery and studio spaces have limited color pallets to allow for exhibition flexibility, while informal support spaces are set in vibrant colors.
The new and improved spaces will be used to expand Marwen’s programs and support its increased focus on college and career counseling for under-served 6–12 grade students from around Chicago. Along with that counseling the organization provides free classes in photography, graphic design, film, animation, textiles, and ceramics.
Besides working with Marwen on its former spaces, Wheeler Kearns has also worked on other small cultural institutions in Chicago including the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Beverly Art Center.
In a statement Dan Wheeler, founding partner at Wheeler Kearns explained the office's interest in designing for the youth and the arts, “In many minds, the arts are seen as an avocation; for a parent to come into a designed place and see that there are serious teachers and artists working with and instructing the students, and that their child’s work is considered and presented in a professional way, that gives them the confidence that this activity might actually be something to support and sustain their child.”
The Ford Foundation announced today that Gensler will lead a $190 million renovation of its Manhattan headquarters in East Midtown. The renovation will bring the building up to code while preserving the 1967 modernist design by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo.
The renovation will double the square footage available for nonprofits (in part by reducing Ford’s own office footprint) with two floors dedicated to nonprofit organizations, create a new visitor center, art gallery, and event spaces, and open up the existing layout. The foundation is aiming for Gold LEED certification and will be investing in sustainable LED lighting, mechanical and ductwork, and HVAC systems. The building will also be equipped to harvest stormwater and natural daylight.
A near-perfect square, the building is distinguished by its 174-foot-high atrium full of fern pines, weeping figs, bougainvillea, and camellia—plantings that will all be replaced with a new design by landscape architect Raymond Jungles. However, the nearly 5,000 pieces of furniture by Warren Platner and Charles and Ray Eames will be reused “as much as possible.” The renovation is expected to be complete summer 2018.
Kevin Roche’s original 12-story concrete-and-steel, International Style building was widely praised when it was first built. In The New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote that the Ford Foundation headquarters is “that rarity, a building aware of its world.” She also quoted Roche on the design, who reportedly said “It will be possible in this building to look across the court and see your fellow man or sit on a bench and discuss the problems of Southeast Asia. There will be a total awareness of the foundation’s activities.”
In 1995, the building won the AIA Twenty-Five Year award and in 1997 New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the exterior, atrium glass walls, and garden of the foundation headquarters as an official landmark.
This morning, The New York Times reported that the current president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, takes his responsibility of the building very seriously. “We’re not only grant-makers but stewards of a building that Henry Ford II commissioned and was deeply involved with. This building is part of our legacy and was a gift to the city,” Walker said.
Brick and metal transform a tired office block into a residential building worthy of its site.
Located on a slice of land adjacent to the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, the 1984 Sheet Metal Workers Union National Pension Fund building failed to live up to the site's potential. "I've used this in a couple of lectures," said Shalom Baranes Associates principal Patrick Burkhart. "I show 'before' photos and ask the audience, 'What is this building?' The answers include: 'It looks like an urban jail.'" When the property came on the market, Maryland-based developer EYA seized the opportunity to transform the waterfront eyesore into a contemporary condominium complex. Clad in brick and metal paneling, with high performance glazing emphasizing views along the Potomac, the Oronoco balances a sleek urban aesthetic with sensitivity to Old Town's historic fabric.
Because rowhouses dominate Old Town's residential real estate market, "we thought there was a pent-up demand for one-level living for empty nesters," said EYA senior vice president Brian AJ Jackson. The developers took a "less is more" approach to the conversion, opting for 60 large units over the 110 allowed by the zoning code. They kept the old office building's stepped profile, creating penthouses on multiple levels, but carved out the center of the structure to make way for a courtyard. "The courtyard really gives the project a heart and soul," said Burkhart. "It creates something that's not inward looking, but outward."
brick cavity wall with metal panels, high performance glazing
Cushwa brick, Alcoa/Reynobond metal panels, Peerless glazing
The Sheet Metal Workers Union building was "originally designed with fairly innovative sustainable ideas, for an office building," said Burkhart—including the stepped terraces, on top of which were solar collectors. "But a lot of it didn't work well." One major deficit was the structure's reduced window openings. During renovation, Shalom Baranes Associates focused on maximizing daylighting and views without sacrificing thermal or acoustic performance, selecting a variety of high performance products from Peerless for the building's glazed areas. Given the Oronoco's location along the flight path to and from Reagan National Airport, "the acoustic glazing is amazing," observed Choptank Communications' Brent Burkhardt. "You hear very little from inside the building, yet you have a neat view of the planes."
The building's brick cavity wall offers additional benefits in terms of energy efficiency. "It's our theme to blend in," said Burkhart. "We decided to work with the brick aesthetic" that prevails among Old Town's older residences. The architects broke the building into townhouse-scale bays, wrapping every other bay in metal panels from Alcoa/Reynobond. "It alternates between brick and metal as you go up the steps: brick, then metal and glass, then another brick element. That helps pull you up the height of the building," explained Burkhart.
The LEED Silver Oronoco achieves the performance aspirations of its predecessor without neglecting the building's visual appeal—and without taking unnecessary risks. Obtaining LEED certification "is always a little more challenging for residential designs," said Burkhart. "Many of the points are developed simply through a careful selection of materials, instead of choosing more exotic measures."
Terra cotta rain screen transforms brutalist eyesore into energy-efficient community space.
Considered an aesthetic and functional failure almost since its construction in 1974, the old public library in Lawrence, Kansas, was overdue for a renovation four decades later. Gould Evans' challenge was to transform the low-slung brutalist behemoth, a poor environmental performer lacking both adequate daylighting and a sense of connection to the community, into an asset. "The desire was to try to come up with a building that basically reinvented the library for the community," said vice president Sean Zaudke. Rather than tacking an addition on to one end of the existing structure, the architects elected to wrap a 20,000-square-foot reading room and open stacks area around the old facade. In so doing, they altered the exterior for the better, swapping bare concrete for an earth-hued terra cottarain screen punctuated by plentiful glazing. They also significantly enhanced the library's environmental performance, with early estimates suggesting that the new Lawrence Public Library will see a 50 percent reduction in energy usage despite a 50 percent increase in square footage.
The decision to entirely enclose the old building within the addition was a critical component of the architects' sustainability strategy. "It allowed us to come up with a continuous facade utilizing a continuous insulation system," explained Zaudke. "It helped a lot with energy performance." Gould Evans chose a terra cotta rain screen from NBK to better tie the library to its surroundings. The building is located in an interstitial zone, immediately adjacent to buildings constructed in the 1950s but not far from Lawrence's thriving historic downtown. "We selected terra cotta because it could play by both sets of rules," said Zaudke. "It has an historic connotation, but it's also a much more modern-looking material."
Daylighting was another of the architects' key concerns. "Because there were so few windows in the old library, wherever you went there was a sort of phototropic behavior," said Zaudke. "People just gathered around the windows. The rest was not as utilized." Gould Evans significantly altered the user experience by creating an open reading room within the wraparound addition, all of which is exposed to daylight. Other library functions are contained within the core, which in turn is lit both by a continuous clerestory and a series of Solatubes. The clerestory also prevents glare within the reading room by illuminating the inside of the facade.
Gould Evans used prescriptive data to determine the overall balance of terra cotta to glass on the new facade—about 60/40—as well as on each exterior wall. To reduce thermal gain on the east and west faces, the architects placed terra cotta baguettes over each horizontal slit window. Together, the baguettes and the depth of the wall act as sunshades.
As for Lawrence Public Library's old concrete facade, "we didn't want to just pretend it wasn't there," said Zaudke. Instead, Gould Evans partially overlaid it with a tongue-in-groove system of unstained wood. "The concrete had a harsh feel to it," explained Zaudke. "By wrapping it with wood and revealing it in places, there's this nice dialog that occurs. Everywhere it opens up is where some core function reveals itself—it's an interesting dynamic." At the library entrance, the architects brought the wood outside, encased in glass to protect it from the elements, said Zaudke. "That vocabulary of cracking open the library, of making it accessible, is present at the entry."
Developers use cutting-edge technology to restore Ralph Walker crown.
When JDS Development Group and Property Markets Group purchased the 1927 Ralph Walker high-rise in Manhattan’s Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in order to transform it into the Stella Tower condominiums, they realized that something was not quite right about the roofline. "The building had a very odd, plain parapet of mismatched brick," recalled JDS founder Michael Stern. "We were curious about why it had this funny detail that didn't belong to the building." The developers tracked down old photographs of the property and were pleasantly surprised by what they saw: an intricate Art Deco thin dome crown. "We were very intrigued by putting the glory back on top of the building," said Stern. They proceeded to do just that, deploying a combination of archival research and modern-day technology to recreate a remarkable early-twentieth-century ornament.
The developers, who had previously worked together on 111 West 57th Street and Walker Tower, another Ralph Walker renovation, began with what Stern calls "archeology" or "surgical demolition" of the crown area. The excavation revealed that the entire base of the crown remained behind the bricks added by Verizon, the building's previous owner. They also tracked down original drawings of the building, which showed the shape of the crown and some of its dimensions. "We didn't have shop drawings—we didn't have a road map," said Stern. "My team had to basically reverse engineer the crown using the drawings as a guide." They also leaned on 3D scans of the base to fill in the missing dimensions, and constructed a 3D model of the crown in SolidWorks. The SolidWorks model helped the developers answer important questions, like how many new pieces should be cast, how they would be installed, and what support would be required.
Corinthian Cast Stone
Ralph Walker, CetraRuddy, JDS Construction
New York, NY
Date of Completion
colored precast concrete, steel
archival research, 3D scanning, BIM, casting, lifting, clipping, mortaring
JDS Construction, who led the reconstruction effort working with CetraRuddy architects, called on Corinthian Cast Stone to fabricate the new pieces. Corinthian cast a total of 48 pieces for the upper half of the crown in colored concrete. To support the new work, JDS designed a complex steel structure for the inside of the crown. They assembled the entire structure offsite before disassembling it and lifting it to the top of Stella Tower using a custom pulley and lever system.
Eight craftsmen installed the precast pieces one at a time over the course of approximately five weeks. Each precast piece was clipped to the steel structure, then mortared to its mates. The design and fabrication process, which began with the decision three years ago to reproduce the crown, culminated this September. "The crown is so spectacular," said Stern. "It's better than the invention of the wheel."
Besides his pride in the crown in and of itself, Stern sees the Stella Tower project as a chance to restore Ralph Walker's place in the architectural canon. In addition to recreating the crown, JDS and Property Markets Group recast every piece of cast stone and replaced every window and every mismatched brick on the building's exterior. "We've fixed some of the wrongs history has done to the building," he noted. "This was a great telecom building by one of the fathers of New York architecture, but over the years his buildings have been lost in the landscape. With Walker Tower and Stella Tower, we're trying to bring attention back to his legacy."
Metal mesh bridges old and new in Davis Brody Bond renovation.
For their renovation and expansion of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC, Davis Brody Bond faced an unusual aesthetic challenge. Besides updating the two historic buildings housing the embassy's offices and residence, they were tasked with building a new atrium for public welcoming, public events, and conference rooms—right in between the two older buildings. The architects turned to Cambridge Architectural, a Maryland manufacturer of wire mesh architectural systems. "Davis Brody Bond wanted to have this new building as a very contemporary element between the two limestone buildings," said Cambridge Architectural's Ann Smith. A wire mesh facade seemed a perfect solution to the problem of combining old and new, seamlessly bridging the two masonry structures, and providing crucial sun shading for the glass atrium.
The designers selected Cambridge Architectural's Shade mesh, a stainless steel weave of triangular elements with an open area of 54 percent. "Shade was chosen specifically to reduce the sun coming in, and the glare, because there are conference rooms in that front area," explained Smith. "But they still wanted to maintain the views." Shade is also a flexible, almost fabric-like mesh. "The architects really wanted to see it as one continuous piece," said Smith. "Our flexible materials lend well to that. We're able to tension them without tying back to the structure as often."
Davis Brody Bond
Date of Completion
flexible stainless steel mesh screen with custom steel attachments
The mesh facade turns three times as it wraps around the top and front of the atrium, twice around the parapet, and once again above the recessed entry. To modulate the tension on the screen, Cambridge Architectural developed a custom attachment system based on their Cambridge Scroll attachment series. "We changed the original concept a number of times," said engineering manager Jim Mitchell. "One of the challenges was that when you first walk in, the mesh runs overhead. We had to put more supports in there, more of our tension brackets to keep it looking horizontal, and to keep the tension as it turned." In this case, that meant locating additional attachment areas on the building and adding steel mounts for the Cambridge Scroll hardware.
Cambridge Architectural also worked with Davis Brody Bond on a custom window-washing apparatus. The mesh team mounted the screen further off the glass than was standard, to allow room for a hook-and-pulley system designed by the architects. Davis Brody Bond also modified the window design to make for easier cleaning. Inside the entry, Cambridge Architectural installed frames of rigid mesh to echo the exterior facade while allowing access to HVAC equipment.
By partnering with Cambridge Architectural on the South African Embassy project, Davis Brody Bond solved two problems at once. They marked their expansion as clearly contemporary without upstaging either the older buildings or the iconic Nelson Mandela statue out front, and they also made building a south-facing glass atrium possible. "It was a perfect combination of a transparent material that could also shade, and a stainless steel material that was very modern," said brand manager Gary Compton. "When you're inside that space, it makes for a nice welcoming, open area."
Slate-clad addition to the American Swedish Institute evokes contemporary Scandinavian design.
Minneapolis-based architecture, engineering, and planning firm HGA faced a tall order when the American Swedish Institute asked them to design an addition to the building known locally as "The Castle." The turreted Turnblad Mansion, constructed in Minneapolis' Phillips West neighborhood in 1908 and home of ASI since 1929, lacked the kinds of multi-purpose spaces required by ASI's cultural and educational programming—and was suffering wear and tear from a steady stream of visitors. "The project was about creating a front door that was more welcoming and inviting than the existing building, that can help protect the mansion and allow it to be used as a house museum," said project architect Andy Weyenberg. At the same time, "the mansion remained the focal point," he explained. "It will always be the identity of ASI. Everything we did, we wanted to respect the mansion and keep it as a centerpiece." HGA's intervention honors the primacy of the Turnblad Mansion while updating ASI's image with a contemporary facade inspired by Swedish building methods and materials.
Vermont Slate Company (slate), Architectural Glass Art (art glass), Empirehouse (curtain walls)
HGA Architects and Engineers
Dalco (slate), Empirehouse (curtain wall and glazing)
Xcel Energy (daylighting analysis)
Date of Completion
slate shingles, art glass panels, curtain walls, glazing, green roof
Vermont Slate shingles, custom art glass from Architectural Glass Art, Empirehouse custom curtain walls Viracon glazing
"The mansion doesn't relate well to the Swedish identity: it's a French Chateau," said Weyenberg. "ASI wanted to use the addition to reinforce their identity as a Swedish institution, but they were interested in doing that in a modern way, relating it more to modern Swedish design and architecture." Positioned across a courtyard, or gård (a traditional typology found in both rural and urban buildings), from the Turnblad Mansion, the new Nelson Cultural Center is clad primarily in slate shingles. "Slate is a common building material in Scandinavia, especially dark slate like that," explained Weyenberg, who says that it is primarily used as a roofing material, but that he has seen examples of slate cladding since working on ASI's expansion.
The slate also matches that on the Turnblad Mansion's roof. "We're using material that's sympathetic to the mansion, but using it in a different way. It's clearly a new piece of architecture," said Weyenberg. He points out that although there's nothing particularly high-tech about how the cladding was installed—it is hung like a roof system—it promises environmental benefits in terms of durability and longevity. "The roof on the mansion has been in place 100 years," observed Weyenberg.
The entrance to Nelson Cultural Center is lined with panes of blue textured glass, another nod to Swedish design. Sweden is known for its glassmaking, having produced art glass firms including Orrefors and Kosta Boda. ASI's collection also includes a number of significant glass pieces. "That was another way of tying the design back to Sweden, and creating a reference to the ASI's collection, while also creating a bold element at the entry," said Weyenberg. HGA worked with Louisville, Kentucky, glassmakers Architectural Glass Art (AGA) to combine layers of commercially available textured glass and resin to create the translucent panels. "There's not a strong reference in terms of its construction to Swedish glassmaking," said Weyenberg, "but there was a process in terms of working with AGA as a craftsman to come to a quality we all liked. We wanted something subtle in texture but with an organic quality that relates well to the slate."
HGA took advantage of a consulting program sponsored by local energy provider Xcel Energy to locate windows and curtain walls to frame views of the mansion and maximize daylighting while minimizing energy loss. Other features contributing to Nelson Cultural Center's LEED Gold status include a vegetated roof over the gallery and event spaces. "Green roofs are a really common form of building in Sweden," said Weyenberg. "They've been building sod roofs on farm buildings forever."
Nelson Cultural Center's contemporary design reflects ASI's commitment to celebrating the Swedish influence on the Twin Cities while connecting with Minneapolis' next generation of newcomers—including, in the Phillips West neighborhood, young Somali immigrants. "As part of this expansion, they were really trying to update their identity and keep themselves current," said Weyenberg. "Their core constituency is aging. They were looking for a way to keep themselves relevant, and to reach out to new audiences."
LEED Platinum renovation reconnects the Health Services Building to the campus core.
Early in their renovation of the Arizona State University Health Services Building, Lake|Flato Architects, working with orcutt | winslow, decided to scrap the university’s initial concept in favor of a plan that would reengage the campus’s historic pedestrian corridor, the Palm Walk. Instead of building an addition to the north side of the existing facility, which included a serviceable two-story building constructed in the 1950s and another structure Lake|Flato partner Andrew Herdeg described as "a rambling one-story rabbit warren of spaces," the architects elected to demolish the one-story wing and build a two-story addition in its place. "This initial idea that we need to look at the basic concept before we start the design, and think about it from the campus design perspective, changed everything," said Herdeg. It allowed the design team to reduce the program by about 12 percent and reduce the footprint by 20 percent, as well as to preserve 5,000 square feet of green space for programs and stormwater mitigation. But it also presented a challenge. The renovated building’s primary identity would be on the east facade of the building, where the desert sun had the potential to undo efficiencies gained elsewhere.
Lake|Flato and orcutt | winslow responded with a building envelope that provides a strong visual connection to the Palm Walk while reducing solar gain to the absolute minimum. The architects wrapped the south and west sides of the addition, where the clinics are located, in a tight brick over rigid fiberglass insulation. "The brick picks up on some surrounding historic buildings, and is also a traditional material for the campus," said Herdeg. The designers articulated the east side of the building with a series of bays and adjacent pocket gardens. The bays are oriented to the south and southeast, rather than due east, with the glazing on their south facets. "Instead of thinking about engaging the campus in a frontal way, we always thought of approaching this building on the diagonal," explained Herdeg. "Thinking about how the pedestrian perceives it helped us strategize about solar assets and thermal loads."
System brick and metal panels over rigid insulation, low-e insulated glazing, corrugated metal overhangs, recycled wood pulp and plastic lattices
Products brick from Phoenix Brick Yard, rigid fiberglass insulation, Kovach metal panels, low-e insulated glass, corrugated metal, Trex lattices
The unglazed portions of the bays are clad in a metal skin, behind which an inch and a half of rigid insulation serves to eliminate thermal bridging. The articulated facade is designed to self-shade as the sun rises. "We worked on a series of pretty rudimentary daylighting studies that allowed us to look at the spacing of the bays," said Herdeg. "We did this balancing act between creating little pocket gardens, and using the adjacent bays to self-shade the glazing on the bays next to them." The design team installed corrugated metal overhangs over the bay windows to provide additional protection from direct sunlight.
A series of recycled wood pulp and plastic screens from Trex, installed over the bay windows and over some of the glazing on the south and west sides of the building, constitute a final layer of defense against the Phoenix sun. "The Trex louver system allowed the solar thermal to be picked up on the lattice rather than the building skin; it was another barrier to the thermal load," said Herdeg. "The lattice also supports vines that are going to grow up, so these pocket gardens get surrounded by lush vine-covered walls." Likewise, on the new building’s two other facades, "the thought was that each of the little patient rooms would not be looking out at parking, but at a green screen," he explained.
Lake|Flato and orcutt | winslow’s LEED Platinum intervention, which included replacing all the single-pane windows in the 1950s building with low-E insulated glass, will surely save ASU substantial sums on its energy bills. More importantly—thanks to the designers’ decision to demolish the inefficient one-story wing—it weaves the Health Services Building back into the campus fabric. "Now the building really addresses the campus," said Herdeg. "Before it had this very disjointed identity. Now we’ve created a cohesive identity with a single entrance. It’s a much better solution."
“It’s a fun time in Vegas right now, with the economy up,” said Beth Campbell, principal and managing director of Gensler’s Las Vegas office. Downtown is being reborn, thanks in no small part to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s multi-million dollar investment. The Strip, too, is booming—see the High Roller observation wheel, which opened on March 31. At the same time, the spendthrift breeziness of the pre-recession years is gone. “Everyone is coming back to life, but with a refined focus and purpose,” said Campbell. “I would say the clients and developers are cautiously aggressive...they still want to grow, still want to reach for the sky...But they’re really focused on how they’re applying [their money] to make these projects happen.”
Campbell described the change as a “big shift to experiential design.” In most cases, property owners elect to pour most of their money into key client areas, keeping behind-the-scenes spaces simple. “It’s the peanut butter concept,” said Campbell. “You can spread it thin across the whole piece [of bread] or just put it all in one corner.”
As an example, Campbell cited Gensler’s renovation of an existing office campus for budget airline Allegiant Air’s new headquarters. Construction on the five-building, 120,000 square-foot complex began last month. “It’s been a very measured approach to this new facility for them, keeping in line with their corporate values and their low-cost approach,” said Campbell. “But they put their people first, and they’re doing the same thing in their office space.” To accommodate multiple work modes, Gensler created a variety of spaces, including open office space, individual work stations, and collaboration zones. Flexibility was the keynote. “Although we’re doing drywall partitions, we’re doing it in such a manner that if they want to move these boxes they can,” said Campbell.
Gensler also recently renovated The AXIS Theater inside Planet Hollywood, home to Britney Spears’s “A Piece of Me” show. The clients “had one mission in mind and that was to create a great experience for the people who are coming,” said Campbell. As with Allegiant Air, the theater’s owners “were very measured, they were very methodical about how they wanted to apply their money.” The theater’s lobby is outfitted in shades of grey and black, the sharp lines of the asymmetrical portal balanced by a massive LED sculpture spiraling from the ceiling. In keeping with the nightclub theme, the auditorium’s walls are also black, as is its domed ceiling. Rows of purple seats hug a half-ring of VIP tables and, against the stage, two standing areas.
Campbell sees last month’s RFP for a Downtown Master Plan as further evidence of the new zeitgeist, which couples renewed optimism with careful planning. “It’s a mechanism for the city to evaluate what’s in place, what do we really have,” she said. “It’s going to take a look at, are they spending their money in the right places?” Timed to coincide with the completion of a new form-based code for downtown, the master plan will define an overall strategy for the city’s revitalization. “It’s really interesting to watch,” said Campbell. “It’s measured. It’s not just a shotgun approach.”