The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach might be some of the world’s busiest shipping facilities, but just beyond the stacks of shipping containers and bustling cranes sit densely populated neighborhoods that have struggled for decades to maintain a vital hold on the nearby waterfront. That dynamic is about to change, as a slew of transformative waterfront-adjacent projects aim to reclaim and transform the shore for nearby communities. Following a new master plan issued in 2014, the waterfront areas along the Port of L.A.–adjacent neighborhood of Wilmington have been in a continual state of restoration and redevelopment. There, Boston-based Sasaki built out the first phase of the Wilmington Waterfront Park in 2012, a 10-acre installation packed with natural berms, playing fields, and trees. The plans—developed with Studio-MLA—would create a “buffer against port operations” and a “window to waterfront,” according to Zach Chrisco, partner in charge of the project at Sasaki. The latest phase of the waterfront redevelopment project aims to recast the existing waterfront areas with more widely accessible leisure and shopping spaces connected by public amenities like a giant lawn, stepped landings that meet the water, a small floating harbor, and a fishing pier. “Our goal with the project is to diversify the way the community can engage with the water,” Kate Tooke, landscape architect at Sasaki, explained, describing the metallic shade structures and an open-floor leisure pier with hammocks that dangle directly over the water. The waterfront will connect to the Wilmington community via the Avalon Promenade and Gateway, a new promenade and pedestrian bridge sequence designed by T.Y. Lin International that will feature underground restrooms on one end and a public plaza on the other. Both projects are slated to break ground this year with an anticipated 2019 opening. In the nearby neighborhood of San Pedro, developers Ratkovich Company and Jericho are leading the Ports O’ Call Village redevelopment project aimed at bringing a new 180,000-square-foot San Pedro Public Market project to life. The development is led by Rapt Studio, a local design firm. Describing the lead-up to the project, Sam Farhang, Rapt Studio president and project lead said, “We went in immediately and said, ‘This is not a project that could be designed and delivered by single team.’” The designers got to work on assembling a “dream team” for the project that includes James Corner Field Operations and Adamson Associates as executive architects. Rapt is designing a series of new warehouse-like prefabricated steel moment frame structures flexible enough to hold new retail programs while remaining malleable over the developer’s 55-year ground lease over the site. Plans call for adding a new “town square” containing the aforementioned retail and plaza spaces, a new marketplace to hold the relocated San Pedro Fish Market, and an event lawn that connects to the waterfront directly so that “every type of person—whether it’s longshoremen on their lunch break or a Millennial mom and dad with a single child in a stroller—can find an aspect of this site that resonates with them.” The project will be delivered in phases through 2020 or 2021 as to not displace some of the larger tenants that will remain. Across one of the shipping channels, Gensler is working toward a long-term vision that would rework the area’s employment and economic demographics, as it builds out the multi-phase AltaSea development; a new 35-acre complex that will combine marine research, public education programs, and sustainable energy development. The $150 million complex will aim to redevelop a series of existing waterfront warehouses, replacing industrial shipping uses with high-tech research equipment and hordes of visiting tourists, school children, and researchers. Describing the goals of the project, Li Wen, design director at Gensler said, “We see the Port of L.A. becoming a place of education through experience,” adding that the project seeks to “re-introduce the ocean as a place to be preserved, revered, and studied.” Work on that project is currently underway and the first phase is expected to be completed in 2023.
Posts tagged with "Sasaki Associates":
The Architect’s Newspaper’s Facades+ conference, part of a conference series on innovative building envelopes, has once again touched down in New York City. This year’s morning keynote speaker, Francine Houben of Mecanoo, delved deep into the firm’s projects around the world. The Dutch architect described seven very different projects, united by technically demanding facades that all referenced the unique history of their surroundings. Houben began with the Maritime and Beachcombers Museum on the isle of Texel, The Netherlands. The 4,000-square-foot museum punches above its weight with a facade of vertically-oriented, recycled wood planks that dapple the incoming sunlight and reference the maritime history of the island. “I’m here to tell you how I work,” said Houben. “I try to observe, I try to extend the flow of the people, how they walk through the city; how can I connect these people to the building, bring them up?” That attention to observation extends to a series of contextual facades. In discussing the Palace of Justice in Córdoba, Spain, Houben referenced the city’s extreme heat and the way that residents layered terraces to block the harsh sunlight as key factors that drove the densely-layered development around courtyard recesses. The tessellating perforations in the white glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) panels passively shade the interiors and cool occupants while also referencing historic sun shading in the region. A blending of old and new design also featured prominently into Mecanoo’s work on the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Boston. The firm’s first built projects in the U.S.–in collaboration with the locally-based Sasaki Associates–involved inserting a sinuous brick building on a triangular plot with curving historical facades in each corner. The integration of the freestanding stone facades was accomplished by convincing then-mayor Thomas Menino to purchase and expand the initial site to include two other buildings beyond the original’s single-facade scope. In between the historic remnants, Mecanoo paid homage to Boston’s history of intricate brickwork by designing snaking walls built from bricks laid vertically and in a variety of other patterns. Houben described the influence as “Boston meets the Netherlands”. Infilling with sensitivity and drawing from the surrounding environment are strong hallmarks of Mecanoo’s work. But beyond the aesthetic appeal of the firm’s facades, Mecanoo makes sure that they’re also practical and contribute to the comfort of those inside. “We always try to combine the formal with the informal,” said Houben. “The inside with the outside.”
Designs for a transformative make-over of the Wilmington waterfront at the Port of Los Angeles are steadily moving forward as new renderings for the project offer a glimpse of what will soon be two of L.A.’s newest public spaces. Renderings unveiled by the Port of Los Angeles showcase views of the Avalon Promenade and Gateway and the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade projects, two new open spaces designed by T.Y. Lin International and Boston-based Sasaki, respectively, on adjacent sites in conjunction with the Wilmington Waterfront Masterplan project. L.A.-based landscape architects Studio MLA is assisting with the design of the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade project. The two public spaces will cap off an L-shaped spine of new open space and future commercial development envisioned by the master plan for the formerly-industrial areas that ring the port. The nine-block plan area includes the 30-acre Wilmington Waterfront Park, also designed by Sasaki, which opened in 2011. For T.Y. Lin International’s Avalon Promenade and Gateway component, plans call for vacating sections of three streets and removing a pair of storage tanks to create a large landscaped open space that will connect the city’s urban fabric with the Wilmington Waterfront to the south. The 13-acre site will contain a public plaza at its northernmost point and will be traversed by a sculptural promenade that runs to the waterfront. The project would involve constructing a new bridge over an existing depressed rail yard, with renderings showing a new cable-stayed pedestrian bridge crossing the gap. The nine-acre Wilmington Waterfront project will be located at the end of this path abutting the harbor. Here, Sasaki and Studio MLA are working to craft an interconnected series of plazas, piers, and restaurants, including a four-acre event space and playground, according to Curbed. A below-grade section of the park will contain a cluster of accessible bathroom facilities. Renderings for these areas showcase a central lawn and plaza fronting the ocean, with active uses located at the site’s corners. The central plaza area gives way to rough-hewn boulders that step into the water, according to the renderings. The developments join a cluster of recently-announced waterfront redevelopment efforts, including the Altasea development by Gensler. Both projects are well into design and are expected to break ground later this year, in anticipation of a 2019 opening.
In Boston, a booming job market is drawing people back from far-flung suburbs and remaking the region, but it is also exacerbating a housing-affordability crisis and forcing difficult conversations about the future of the city. Greater Boston is riding a wave of development that is perhaps the largest the region has ever seen. By 2030, the city of Boston projects its population will top 700,000, a number it has not seen in 60 years. “The vast majority of our growth is happening in the inner core of the Boston region, so within the city of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Quincy, and in some of the other municipalities within the Route 128 corridor,” said Eric Bourassa, director of the transportation division at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “This is a trend we’ve been seeing over the past decade, and we’re just predicting more of this growth.” The MAPC is in the process of updating the 30-year plan it released in 2008, highlighting housing, sustainability, and transportation. Another regional planning group, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, is updating its periodic long-range regional transportation plan. But change is happening quicker than the region’s existing plans can reflect. Data from the MAPC shows the region added more than 225,000 jobs between 2009 and 2015, and nearly two-thirds of them were in those inner-core cities. In July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Boston’s non-farm employment rose 2.1 percent compared to the previous year, outpacing the national rate of 1.5 percent. The engines of that growth are Greater Boston’s dozens of colleges and universities, and the biotech industry that grew out of them in the 1970s. Biotech turned Cambridge’s Kendall Square from an undeveloped urban frontier into a regional hub home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world, but many migrated to the area around Route 128 during the 1980s and ’90s to build suburban campuses. Today some of the same genetic engineering startups that began that transformation, like Biogen, are reinvesting in Boston and Cambridge. That trend is likely to continue. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently announced his plans to put another $500 million into the life-sciences industry over the next five years. In addition to Kendall Square, the South Boston Waterfront—better known as the Seaport—has gathered a growing share of those new jobs in a growing portfolio of pricey office developments and luxury condos. Many suburbs are also becoming more dense. Needham, Natick, and Framingham are among the further-out cities developing around commuter rail stations in their downtowns. Two areas of Somerville are undergoing massive redevelopments tied to public transit, as well: Assembly Square, which recently landed the new offices of the state’s largest private employer, Partners Healthcare; and Union Square, which is preparing for major changes ahead of getting the first new MBTA train stop in decades. Matthew Littell is principal of the Boston design firm Utile, which is working on the Cambridge Master Plan, and was a lead consultant on Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. His firm analyzed demographic patterns in the region and found that younger employees in industries like tech tended to cluster around the inner-core cities and neighborhoods where they worked, compared to Boston’s bankers and lawyers, who still generally preferred houses in the suburbs. Littell pointed to Autodesk’s decision to supplement its office space in the suburban Route 128 corridor with a new space in the Seaport. “That’s a classic example, and the only reason these companies are moving is to attract and retain talent,” he said. “The young, smart folks don’t want to be out in Framingham or Waltham. They want to be in downtown Boston or Kendall Square or somewhere like that.” MAPC socioeconomic analyst Sarah Philbrick agreed that young people are flocking to the inner-core cities in search of walkable neighborhoods and city life, and businesses are following them. “Businesses want to attract these workers and therefore decide to locate in highly desirable locations,” Philbrick said. “I don’t believe many businesses would pay the high rents of the core if this were not the case.” Real estate is booming along with the regional job market, but housing is coming up short, and local business leaders worry that could hobble their ability to attract top talent. Finding enough skilled employees is already an issue in a state with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates—soaring housing costs could drive away would-be residents. “We just we don’t have enough housing to meet the demand,” said Bourassa, “and so we lose a lot of young professionals who can’t afford to live here.” The MAPC estimates only about two-thirds of the region’s housing needs are being met. Some worry that could lead to long-term stagnation or brain drain away from Greater Boston. “I have a real question about how sustainable this rental housing boom is actually going to be in the long term,” said David Hacin, principal of Hacin + Associates. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand here, but it’s hard to build in the Boston area. It’s a very expensive market from a construction cost point of view, and when you combine years-long review processes with limited site opportunities because it’s a mature market, you run into problems of affordability.” The City of Boston said it’s trying to address that problem. Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged 53,000 new housing units as part of a new housing plan—a sizable effort that may have contributed to median rent in the inner-core cities dropping for the first time since at least 2009. Still, Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy at Northeastern University and lead author of the Boston Foundation’s Housing Report Card, estimates the region needs around 160,000 new housing units by 2030. So far statistics show that efforts to ease the housing crunch are having mixed results. The pace of new housing construction in the same inner-core cities seeing the most population growth has slowed lately, according to the Foundation’s report card, published in November. In its report, the Boston Foundation found that the City of Boston has issued more than 41 percent of the new housing permits in the region this year, almost double its share five years ago. But fewer than one in five new units put on the market since 2011 were affordable, less than half the rate seen between 1996 and 2003. Meanwhile, the number of permits issued outside the city of Boston declined this year, while more than half of renters reported paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the report. The region’s recent growth spurt may be making that problem more severe, but it should not come as a surprise, said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Population growth is contributing to some of the congestion and growth pressure being experienced in Greater Boston,” said Goodman. “But our transportation and housing issues are primarily the result of inadequate infrastructure investment and counterproductive zoning regulations which limit new housing development.” With more people and corporations calling Boston home, housing advocates are calling on local governments to direct the benefits of a growing tax base into more affordable housing initiatives. “Even in Boston, there continues to be a challenge of creating a housing stock that benefits working households along with everyone else who strives to live in the city,” said Barry Bluestone, lead author of the Boston Foundation’s housing report, in a statement. He recommends the creation of “21st-century villages,” defined as multistory mixed-income buildings located near public transit. In an interview, Bluestone expanded on that idea. Many communities around Boston currently prohibit accessory dwelling units and, in some cases, ban multifamily housing outright, he said. “In the past, everyone has acknowledged there’s a housing problem, but they’ve mostly looked to their neighbors to solve it,” said Bluestone. Now that the whole region’s housing market is feeling the squeeze, however, more local governments are starting to take note. On December 5, municipal leaders from 14 cities and towns in the Boston area came together to identify a regional housing goal and recommend zoning changes to help them get there. “I’ve been looking at housing for two decades, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of coordination,” said Bluestone.
[Editor’s Note: This the third in a three-part series documenting the winners of the AIA 2018 Honor Awards, which are broken down into three categories: architecture, interior architecture, and urban design. This list covers the regional and urban design awards, but additional segments spotlight winners in architecture and interior architecture.] The American Institute of Architects announced its 2018 recipients of the Institute Honor Awards January 12. The 17 winners were pulled from approximately 500 submissions from across the globe and only three regional and urban design projects took home the prize. The designs range from the double-award winning Chicago Riverwalk, to frameworks for dealing with sea level rise. In one way or another, this year's notable topic was living with water. The five-person jury that selected this year’s AIA Regional and Urban Design Honor Award winners included:
- Roger Schluntz, FAIA (Chair), School of Architecture and Planning, University of Mexico
- Lisa Chronister, AIA, City of Oklahoma City Planning Department
- Suzanne DiGeronimo, FAIA, DiGeronimo Architects
- Tim Griffin, AIA, Minnesota Design Center
- Gerry Tierney, AIA, Perkins+Will.
This is the first article in a three part series documenting the 2018 AIA Institute Honor Awards. This lists the winners of the architecture category, while additional segments contain the winners in the interior architecture and regional & urban design categories. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced the 2018 winners of the AIA Institute Honor Awards. The list contains projects from all around the world, and of varying programs and uses, and honors firms both large and small. From a girls’ school in Afghanistan to a municipal salt shed, this year’s widely diverse group of winning projects will be recognized at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 in New York City, in late June. This year's eight member jury panel included:
- Lee Becker, FAIA (Chair), Hartman-Cox Architects
- Anne Marie Decker, FAIA, Duvall Decker Architects
- Susan Johnson, AIA, Strata; Anna Jones, Assoc. AIA, MOD Design
- Caitlin Kessler, AIAS Student Representative, University of Arizona
- Merilee Meacock, AIA, KSS Architects
- Robert Miller, FAIA, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
- Sharon Prince, Grace Farms Foundation
- Rob Rogers, FAIA, Rogers Partners.
This is a feature article from Issue 8 of The Architect's Newspaper. If you’ve seen the movie Columbus, you’ll remember, among all the nerdy dialogue about modernist bank branches and James Polshek’s buildings, that scene where the two protagonists passionately discuss the Dan Kiley landscape outside the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House. No? That’s because landscape architecture, though intrinsic to the experience of some of the best modern buildings, rarely gets the conversation it deserves. Despite being featured in all the film’s promo shots, the landscape by one of the last century’s best landscape architects got zero shout-outs. This snub, brought to light by the Cultural Landscape Foundation Executive Director Charles Birnbaum in a Huffington Post op-ed, reflects larger attitudes toward landscape architecture in the United States. It’s a long-held and frequently heard complaint inside the discipline that even successful landscapes by the very best designers are treated like scenery for architecture. While New Yorkers love Central Park, concrete plazas between modernist skyscrapers—even though they are essential to the experience of the buildings themselves—don’t elicit the same joy. Modern and late-modern landscapes in American cities are the least appreciated and least understood outdoor spaces, though they shape day-to-day experience in the contemporary American city more than leafy 19th-century destination parks. These modern spaces contrasted with—and challenged—the platonic ideal of the American urban park, established by Frederick Law Olmsted and largely unchanged since the 1860s. Urban renewal gave designers the opportunity to think up supersize projects (New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Boston’s Government Center, Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center, Philadelphia’s Penn Center) that afforded new ways of experiencing space and the city. Instead of offering the faux-countryside, 20th-century designers summoned concrete and right angles to create dynamic public spaces rooted in modernist functionalism. In the postwar years, as industry abandoned cities en masse and corporations moved white-collar workers to lush suburban campuses, cities and captains of industry commissioned the best landscape architects in practice to activate declining downtowns with plazas and parklets. In smaller urban projects like Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, Fountain Place in Dallas, and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, designers like Lawrence Halprin, Kiley, and M. Paul Friedberg offered contemporary city experiences that both responded to and represented these profound changes in the American urban form. This not only applies to plazas from the boomer or Gen X era, but to Millennial landscapes, too. Just as chokers and platform sandals are cool again, designers are expressing renewed interest in successful 1990s postmodern landscapes, like Wagner Park or Pershing Square. Despite their significance, these parks are now threatened by thoughtless development. Unlike their forbearers—most of which were baked into city plans or carved from large swaths of open space—modernist landscapes like Freeway Park in Seattle shaped vestigial areas, harnessed from leftover space (like vest-pocket Paley Park in Manhattan), or repurposed former industrial land (Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco). In their comparatively tiny areas, designers deployed textural materials like concrete, gridded trees into mini urban forests, and masked obtrusive city sounds with water features. Despite their historic significance, these sites are constantly imperiled by bad maintenance, and the public antipathy that follows—“What’s with all that concrete, and where are all the flowers?” While it can take decades for an artist’s work to be appreciated, as Halprin noted, landscapes and the land on which they sit are often at the mercy of changing real estate interests and don’t have time to mature in the public perception. Though some, maybe most famously Boston’s Government Center, are wildly unsuccessful and are being (sensitively) adapted right now, many upgradeable landscapes whose potential could be teased out with thoughtful changes are instead being plowed over with heavy-handed schemes that dishonor the original design intent. Maybe because they are underappreciated, many postwar urban parks and plazas are threatened by market forces and dumb human decisions: out-of-place nearby development, revamps that turn parks into front lawns for speculative real estate, rising downtown land values, and, paradoxically, resilience measures that anticipate future coastal flooding. Compared to buildings, landscapes have fewer protections afforded to them. Since June, there’s one less: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the demolition of a Sasaki fountain and plaza that anchored the base of Citicorp Center, a suave Hugh Stubbins–designed 1970s angle-topped tower on Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street. The architect would faint if he were around to see the flowerbeds proposed for the base of his building. Though developments like these can be jarring, the cities around these landscapes have changed substantially, too. After fleeing in the mid-20th century, people and prosperity have returned to cities. Though regional development is always uneven, there’s a persistent and widespread demand for walk-to-work neighborhoods with a healthy mix of day-into-night life. Downtown is hot. And tastes have changed, too. As megaprojects like Hudson Yards and smaller regional ones like SWA’s San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, demonstrate, there’s a desire for more programmed space, with Ping-Pong tables and colorful, interactive public art. These landscapes reflect a turn from urban production to urban consumption; though the social life of these public spaces still includes people-watching and book-reading (or phone-staring), spaces are increasingly programmed around shopping, tourism, and scenery that’s good content for Instagram. Planners today promote infill housing and mixed-use everything, so visitors to these downtown parks are, increasingly, residents too. Outside of a few true classics that have never lost their luster, how do modernist landscapes fare against their newer predecessors? For this feature, we chose some of the notable urban landscapes of that era currently under redevelopment to assess where they are now, and how they’re being adapted—or not—for the future. Their designers never intended for their landscapes to be built and forgotten. There’s little to love in badly patched concrete, treeless planters, or dry fountains. We’re looking anew at famous landscapes by the best of the best and at those that are less familiar. Some honor the landscape architect’s original design intent, while others…don’t. Preservation isn’t about ossifying landscapes in some vintage ideal, but framing updates around the original design intent. Across the country, designers are looking at landscapes with consideration of their significance while adapting them for contemporary knowledge of ecology, accessibility, and programming. In a May 2017 talk at the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Meyer, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, explained why landscapes of the 1950s through the 1980s are significant today: They are a record of postwar modernization and urbanization, and they should be reimagined—not cast in amber—for the 21st century. “Adapting modernist landscapes does not require demolition and redesign,” Meyer said. Just like the designers who revamped the 19th-century city park in the 1970s, these projects will need careful updates for today’s users, made with intelligent materials, to facilitate life in the present while looking back to history, not to pickle the past but to energize urban life.
While tech giant Alphabet recently announced it would develop 12 acres of Toronto waterfront into a smart-city-technology testing ground, a similar undertaking has already begun 12 miles south of Boston. Developer LStar Ventures has big plans to turn this 1,500-acre site, dubbed Union Point (formerly South Weymouth Naval Air Station), into a “smart” development that will specially cater to technology companies. On the surface, the project is an eco-friendly exurban development with a leafy, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use master plan. In addition to offering housing, retail, residences, restaurants, three million square feet of office space, and eight million square feet of commercial development, Union Point would connect to Boston—and its booming tech industry scene—via a nearby MBTA commuter rail. Boston-based Elkus Manfredi and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki are master planning Union Point and working with engineering firms such as Arup, Vanderweil Engineers, and VHB on a range of sustainable features, including natural, on-site wastewater treatment systems. However, where Union Point really sets itself apart is in its information technology infrastructure. The city will lay the foundations for its tenants to use its streets and buildings as testing grounds for smart city technology. In addition to omnipresent wi-fi, “Union Point will have a site-wide fiber-optic cabling system to support commercial tenants, building assets, and IoT [Internet of Things] systems,” said David Wilts, associate principal and digital master planning leader at Arup. In other words, companies will be able to install sensors to collect data on air quality and building performance, and even be able to set up public digital signage. In this way, Union Point could easily support smart city ventures similar to Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network or New York City’s LinkNYC towers. The first stage of development is a $25 million sports complex designed by Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki that will feature multiple fields, including a rugby pitch, playground, park, restaurant, and renovated gymnasium. Including this complex was crucial in the two-year process of getting local communities on board with the development; its fields will be available to the three nearby towns at reduced leasing rates. Technology, however, is a notoriously fickle thing to design into a project. For example, the video-call screens installed in Korea’s smart city mega-development Songdo are already obsolete. But Union Point hopes to avoid that by only laying the groundwork for its tenants. “LStar Ventures aspires to be the leader in the practical application of technology that we know, that we can imagine, and that is beyond today’s imagination,” said David Manfredi, founding principal at Elkus Manfredi. “That is why the armature that we create must be flexible, durable, and adaptable over time.” The Boston-area is no stranger to smart city developments, as the 45-acre Cambridge Crossing tech hub was also unveiled this year.
While many architects moon over biennials and architecture festivals, these shows are often a bit esoteric for the general public. The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is no exception. Amidst the complex discussions and abstract installations, the average visitor may enjoy the show, but also feel a bit disconnected. However, there is one show at CAB that anyone would find accessible. Located in EXPO 72 across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center, the exhibition, Chicago Urban River Edges Ideas Lab, presents the visions of nine firms for the Chicago River. Chicago Urban River Edges Ideas Lab was initiated by the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council to solicit proposals for the city’s quickly evolving riverfront. Firms participating in the show include David Adjaye, James Corner Field Operations, Perkins + Will, Ross Barney Architects, Sasaki, Site Design, SOM, Studio Gang Architects, and SWA. Each firm addressed three sites along the river with designs that ranged from outdoor theater spaces to water remediation and ecological classrooms. Other ideas included policy suggestions, such as SWA’s forest bonus, rather than a density bonus. Multiple offices proposed ways of engaging more closely with the river itself, including James Corner Field Operation’s softened edge and Perkins+Will’s riverside beach. The three sections of the river addressed by the show are the Civic Opera House, the Congress Parkway, and the Air Line Bridge. Each of these sites present different challenges which the city hopes to resolve. While large stretches of the riverfront have already been converted into the Chicago Riverwalk, there are over 156 miles that have yet to be developed or connected with public walkways and activity spaces. The initial downtown stretch of redeveloped space was designed by Ross Barney Architects and Sasaki, and was completed earlier this year. The exhibition, which was also designed by Ross Barney Architects, aims to engage public feedback and present ambitious yet feasible visions of the river’s future. Throughout, large renderings with texts allow visitors to compare proposals side by side. Those interested are directed to the project's extensive website to watch interviews with the architects, watch animated shorts about the proposals, and send commentary to the city and designers. “We thought this would be a great way to bring together a bunch of very creative folks, as well as help Chicagoans begin to imagine how this could work and what their place in it would be,” explained Josh Ellis, vice president of Metropolitan Planning Council at the exhibition opening. While the exhibition is not intended to be a competition, it is clear that each of the offices poured resources and brain power into the project. The Department of Planning and Development as well as the Mayor’s office have been explicit in their search for ideas for the future of the river. “This is just a snapshot of how serious each of these teams took this. These are meant to be ideas that can be realized,” said Clare Cahan, studio design director at Studio Gang at the opening. “There are things that will be attractive to communities, attractive to the city, and attractive to developers.”
Today bulldozers eviscerated the sunken plaza at Citicorp Center, eliminating its late modern fountain and plaza, one of the last surviving works by Hideo Sasaki's firm in New York. The destruction of the fountain is tied to renovation plans for the public spaces that surround Citicorp, the late 70s tower at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street distinguished by its angled top and four silvery legs. At its base, welcoming commuters to and from the subway, sat a stepped concrete plaza and fountain designed by Sasaki principals Masao (Mas) Kinoshita and Stuart Dawson. The Landmark's Preservation Commission (LPC) designation report calls the fountain out as a historic feature, which signals a degree of protection. In this case, though, changes to the designated plaza were approved without the public's input. Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of advocacy and education nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation, walked by the plaza today and sent a video of the demolition to The Architect's Newspaper, below: Though shocking to those used to seeing the fountain on their commute, the bulldozer was in the picture months ago. Last year owner-developer Boston Properties hired Gensler's New York office to produce a new (and flatter) plaza that met requirements for its POPS status, one of the city's hundreds of privately owned public spaces that developers erected to build taller than zoning allowed. Here and elsewhere, the Department of City Planning regulates POPS; it requires part of the Citicorp POPS to include a fountain, and a fixed number of chairs and trees, among other amenities. The agency leaves all aesthetic and historical concerns to Landmarks. In this case, there is nothing original or historic about the new plaza Landmarks okayed. The approvals process for the plaza re-do was done by the letter of the law but not its spirit: Through a series of behind-the-scenes approvals, the public was deprived of the opportunity to weigh in on permanent changes to a public space. "When I see what has happened to the landscape architecture at Citicorp," Birnbaum said, "all I can think is 'Who dropped the ball?' How could a project like that go through Landmarks? How could a significant work of landscape architecture be destroyed and rendered tabula rasa?'" Some in the preservation community were just as displeased, with failure a running theme. "This news profoundly depressing. It's a failure on the part of Boston Properties—a failure of imagination and taste—to demolish a one-of-a-kind late modern water sculpture. They had something of incalculable value," said preservation activist Theodore Grunewald. He believes the stewardship of the historic property, too, was lacking. "It's mostly, though, a failure of [LPC chair] Meenakshi Srinivasan and LPC staff for cynically abdicating their responsibility to protect and defend a designated landmark." (At the last public Citicorp hearing, many Landmarks commissioners seemed surprised that the fountain's fate was pre-determined.) "This is a failure of civic governance," said Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City. "Millions of New Yorkers enjoyed passing Sasaki's cool cascade, a fountain beside a busy subway station—now smashed by philistine investors." The Society is a historic preservation advocacy group that regularly testifies before the LPC. At Citicorp's last public hearing, in March 2017, Gough maintained that the plaza's steps and angles, complemented by the geometry of the fountain, are essential to the experience of the site at street level, especially in relation to the tower's angled top. Is there a lesson in this loss, a way forward through the wreckage? There might be. Gensler itself is leading the way at a nearby building, Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo's nearby Ford Foundation headquarters, completed in 1967. At that project, Birnbaum pointed to what he believes is a sensitive treatment of the plant-filled atrium as a foil to the Citicorp plaza, which will soften the plaza's deliberate angles with flowerbeds and a subdued fountain. Grunewald believes the fountain's loss boils down to transparency. "This was an opaque process. Further evidence of Landmarks's subservience to New York City's development community. Boston Properties got what they wanted, at the expense of the public. This is a tragic loss of one of New York's best public works of art." AN is planning a follow-up story on what happened at Citicorp, because the editors believe the approvals process that led to the fountain's destruction deserves explanation beyond the scope of this article. Stay tuned.
Searching online for homelessness data turns up a plethora of results. This is good. It shows us that people are interested in the issue and care enough to find out more, however, it can be overwhelming. To help, Gretchen Keillor at Boston-based firm Sasaki has made a homelessness analytic tool that compiles more than 30 parameters associated with homelessness in an easy to use, easy to read format. The visualization resource relies on data from January 2015 when volunteers nationwide counted 546,580 homeless people in the United States. It depicts homeless people as dots, coloring them using factors such as average temperature (Fahrenheit), arranging them geographically, or using other graphing methods. Titled "Understanding Homelessness," its biggest asset is that numerous factors can be used interchangeably, with more than three being applied at one time. For example, an arrangement of circle diagrams compares sheltered and un-sheltered accommodation while subdividing data by region. Further still, inside each circle colored segments display average temperature. Unsurprisingly, this is best explained visually (see below) and the information ultimately tells us that the majority of sheltered homeless facilities can be found in the Northeast where the average temperature is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Other interesting factors include GDP per capita, unemployment rate, the amount of rain, the area's percentage of Obama's win in 2012, donation contributions, spending on services (such as healthcare and education), average cost of rent, access to beds, and healthcare facilities. These can all be displayed in a readable format. Some statistics correlate and some don't, but the visualizer makes the data much easier to read. "We didn't want to bash people over the head with statistical figures," said Keillor. "We wanted to present the data for people to explore themselves and lend transparency to the issue as the general average citizen makes assumptions about homeless people when they see them on the street, assuming they have a mental illness or substance abuse problem or are unemployable." As noted by Keillor, the data presented doesn't draw any striking conclusions or uncover any groundbreaking findings. Instead, "it just puts the data out there so people can learn about the complexity of the issue." Keillor, herself an urban planner and user experience designer at Sasaki, started looking for and collecting data in 2016. The year before, she had been awarded $10,000 as part of internal Sasaki research grant, given to employees that want to pursue interesting ideas. The research was conducted with help from four other colleagues (Ken Goulding, Patrick Murray, Terri Dube, and Ryan Collier) and was able to dovetail with a homelessness study by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Keillor explained: "NRPA has been a really engaged member of this discussion and has brought a really refreshing positive perspective to the issue. For parks directors, this is not their core mission to deal with the issue of homelessness but it is something they encounter on a daily basis and so are proactively looking for solutions to it." The work done by Keillor also helps her own firm. "As planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects here at Sasaki, we so often design spaces that are public and that will inevitably be inhabited by this population." Homelessness, however, is complex. Everyone has their own story as to why they have ended up on the street. Keillor acknowledged this and said that there was no "super methodological approach" for how to weave this research into Sasaki's work, but added that the tool "has proven useful already to educate ourselves on the complexities of this issue and to share that knowledge within the firm." That said, Keiller commented that "at the most basic level these people can't afford places to live; from a systems perspective it is an issue of affordable housing." Keillor's research does more than just visualize data, though. At the top of Understanding Homelessness' webpage, is a tab called "strategies." Here viewers can find ways of combating homelessness either through design (two examples include: the Sunday Breakfast Dining in Philadelphia and the Y2Y Shelter in Cambridge, Massachusetts are provided), policy, or program. An example for the latter is an individual contribution from "Haircuts for the Homeless" in London.
Last month the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) sidestepped a crucial discussion of a developer's plans to overhaul a plaza at the Citicorp Center (now 601 Lexington Avenue), citing permits that were, in fact, never issued (Update 5/8/17: see note at bottom). The opaque and irregular approvals process for these renovations—detailed below—deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the landmarked Citicorp Center, one New York’s most essential late modern buildings. Those changes especially impact a plaza and fountain by Sasaki Associates, one of the firm’s only surviving works in New York. In March The Architect's Newspaper reported on the planned changes to the building, one of the city's newest landmarks. The 59-story tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977, commands a busy corner in East Midtown, Manhattan. The landmark designation includes three interrelated structures—a 59-story, 915-foot-tall office tower on the western portion of the site, a six-story mixed-use structure nestled into the main tower, and St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan—all connected by a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are privately owned but open to the public. At the Midtown East building, though, proposed changes to those spaces—known to city planners as POPS—have attracted attention. The LPC put the Citicorp Center on its calendar for landmark consideration in May 2016, and, after one hearing on September 13, the commission declared 601 Lexington Avenue—three buildings and the POPS—a New York City landmark in December 2016. Typically, calendaring puts all renovations on hold—but not this time. In July of that year, just two months after calendering, the owner, Boston Properties, filed plans with the DOB for a $46.8 million renovation that included changes to the POPS and the six-story office-retail building at the base of the main tower. Fast forward to a March 21, 2017 hearing to discuss a proposed renovation, designed by Gensler, that included work on the building's facade. At this hearing, LPC commissioners twice stated that they couldn't comment on the plaza renovations because they were "already permitted" (5:38:01 and 5:41:40), while LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the owner "already got the permits" for the plaza reconstruction. But where are those permits? The permits the LPC referenced could only been approved by one agency: the Department of Buildings (DOB). For this project, the DOB approves development plans, while the Department of City Planning's (DCP) City Planning Commission oversees and approves changes to privately owned public spaces. Neither agency can approve major changes to a landmark or potential landmark without LPC approval. Today, a DOB spokesperson confirmed to AN that the agency rejected Boston Properties’ plans (just this week, in fact) but stated that the owner may file new plans at a later date. With no permits on file, was the LPC referencing approvals from City Planning? At the March 2017 hearing, the commission stated that, because the DCP oversees privately owned public spaces, any changes to the POPS had to be—and were already—approved by that department. That’s true: At DCP, public review of the project commenced September 14, 2016—a day after the LPC’s September designation hearing—and garnered departmental approval on November 2, 2016, months after the May calendaring and a little over a month before designation. This bizarre dialogue between Landmarks and City Planning left no opportunity for the public to comment on major changes to a landmarked public space. The LPC was unable to confirm what permits the commission was referring to at the March 2017 hearing, despite repeated requests. The designation report (PDF) confirms that the DCP has oversight over the POPS, but it incorrectly says Boston Properties received DOB approval to modify the sunken plaza. (The designation report contains an additional error: The Citicorp Center's calendaring is listed as August 9, 2016 but an LPC press release pegs its calendaring to May 10.) The DOB confirmed that it had not issued a permit for the renovation of the POPS at the site. With regard to the plaza changes, "I'm not sure what the Landmarks Commission thinks it is doing," said Michael Hiller, Esq. Hiller is the founding principal of Hiller, PC, a New York City firm that litigates zoning, preservation, and land-use issues. At press time, the LPC issued the following statement:
The application before the Commission on March 21st was limited to the building’s façade. The applicant represented to the Commission that they had valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza that pre-dated designation and, as a result, that portion of the work was not before the Commission. During the process, the Commissioner’s reference was based on the representation by the applicant. If there were no valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza issued prior to designation, the applicant would be required to obtain an LPC permit prior to the issuance of a DOB permit.A site visit this week revealed that there is construction fencing surrounding the perimeter of the plaza, though the stair to the subway through the sunken plaza remains unimpeded. Signs show a Gensler rendering of the revamped plaza and office building, above, but the only permits posted are for work on the 29th floor: Boston Properties could not be reached for comment on the current status of the renovations or the approvals process. The changes that DCP approved in Boston Properties’ land use application would add benches and would not reduce the total area of the POPS's sunken plaza. (Technically, to the DCP, the plaza is an "open air concourse," an exposed area that sits more than 12 feet below-grade and provides access to the subway. Here, at its lowest, the tiered public space sits 13 feet below grade.) Its 6,000 square feet of tables, chairs, and concrete gave the Citicorp Center a FAR bonus of almost 59,000 square feet. In exchange, the public received six trees, 19 tables, 76 chairs, and a designer fountain, plus retail at the western edge of the concourse. The DCP-approved changes would add two tables, eight chairs, and 153 feet of benches to the count, and a new fountain would replace the Sasaki fountain in "approximately the same location." Among other changes, the plans call for a stairway from the concourse to the sidewalk would be widened, and repositioned to improved pedestrian circulation from the subway to the street. The land use review application says the changes would "improve public access, provide better circulation and connectivity, and create a more visible and vibrant Public Spaces [sic]." This fountain-for-fountain, space-for-space tradeoff is acceptable per City Planning but for preservationists, the thought of losing Sasaki fountain is devastating. “The Citicorp Center is about public space—that’s what makes it architecturally interesting and designation-worthy,” said preservation activist Theodore Gruenwald. “We are seeing all of these changes done very much behind the scenes, without public oversight.” Designed by Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, the Citicorp Center's plaza and fountain is just one of the city’s 333 POPS, the essential New York City micro-spaces that make public places out of office building plazas, atria, and concourses. Introduced as a development incentive in the 1960s, POPS let developers build taller than zoning allowed in exchange for open space. Recently, though, the public-ness of these public spaces has come under threat. The election propelled Trump Tower's inaccessible POPS into the limelight, and the loss of the Water Street arcades last year has further highlighted the vulnerability of POPS, especially those that are more marginal. Though not a POPS, the owners of SOM's landmarked One Chase Manhattan Plaza tried—and failed—to build three glass pavilions on the building's plaza, a move that would have segmented the public space and blocked views of a massive Dubuffet sculpture. Rule-breaking POPS have caught the attention of the law, too. This month the office of the New York City comptroller released the results of a POPS audit (PDF), which found that more than half of the city's privately owned public spaces did not provide mandated access or amenities (though the POPS at Citicorp Center was in-compliance—at least by this measure). UPDATE 5/8/17: The DOB initially represented to AN that there were no permits issued for the work on the sunken plaza and Sasaki fountain. On May 5, 2017, the agency informed AN that an ALT–2 permit to remake the plaza was filed on November 18, 2016 and issued on December 2, 2016. The LPC signed off on the permits that same day, four days before Citicorp's landmarking on December 6 and well after the conclusion of the public comment period. AN plans to update readers on this developing story.