Posts tagged with "SWA/Balsley":
Today at Facades+ New York, The Architect's Newspaper's conference series on innovative building envelopes, AEC professionals gathered for a day of talks on the challenges and opportunities presented by the design and construction of high-performance facades.
To kick off the afternoon session, Blake Middleton, partner at Handel Architects and Lois Arena, senior mechanical engineer at SWA convened to talk about “The House” at Cornell Tech. The 26-story, 350-unit building, on Roosevelt Island on the East River, is the largest Passive House–certified structure in the world. AN editor-in-chief William Menking was on hand to moderate the post-talk Q+A.
Passive House certification, Arena explained, is the most rigorous building standard in the world. Why? The certification is based on performance—and the performance levels that Passive House demands are five to ten times higher than current building codes require. So, to meet the exacting standards, Arena and Blake revealed just how they rose to that challenge with their project at Cornell Tech.
There are six key factors, Arena said, to achieving the certification: siting, compact shape, the proper enclosure, a low energy HVAC system, energy efficient appliances and lighting, and, crucially, user-friendliness.
The Cornell Tech building is sited due south to maximize solar gains. Middleton added that minimizing the facade’s exposed surface area was key to the certification: the designers used a “wrap” metaphor for what the facade might be, a form that's connected to the geology of the island. With a facade that’s 23 percent glass, “the design goal was to break down that scale and solidity with banding,” he said.
Functionally, the team used a prefabricated panelized wall frame for the facade, both for quality control and to achieve desired R-values of 19-40, depending on the wall’s thickness at various points.
To really double down on efficient energy use, The House has a feedback system to encourage occupant participation whereby residents can see how much energy they are using. The system, as a result, promotes friendly competition between floors to meet or beat projected energy use. Meanwhile, a centralized mechanical ventilation system helps maintain optimal airflow, but each room—per Passive House standards—comes equipped with fully operational windows to encourage natural ventilation.
Building on the success of the Cornell Tech project, the team’s next projects include a 700-unit Passive House–certified affordable housing development in East Harlem. To find out more about The House, check out another Q+A AN did with Blake earlier this week as well as more previous coverage here.
Airline Drive in Houston is (unsurprisingly) located a 20-minute drive from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and just short of that from Houston’s city center. Since 2005, the area has been known as the Airline Improvement District (AID), part of a scheme from Harris County to revitalize the four-square-mile area and improve “its desirability for residents, consumers and businesses.”
While the AID has been running for more than a decade, issues such as a lack of centralized water service, poor road and pedestrian infrastructure, and bayou flooding still hamper the area’s development. In fact, 50 percent of the district’s land lies within a floodplain—a problem that impacts water and sewage services as well as housing.
“There is no money dedicated to flood relief coming for another 50 years,” said Kinder Baumgardner, managing principal at Dallas-based landscape architecture, planning, and urban design studio SWA. “As a result, all the major urban development that one would want to do is not going to happen until the flooding is dealt with.”
SWA is in the process of implementing a master plan that will maximize the pre-existing communal infrastructure at the AID with the long-term aim of using revenue generated by the resulting businesses to combat flooding in the future. A key part of this plan involves the five major flea markets that can be found on Airline Drive between Gulf Bank Road and Canino Road. Baumgardner said that on weekends, approximately 50,000 people travel to these markets—dubbed Market Mile—“doubling, if not tripling the vicinity’s population.” Though quiet during the week, he described it as a weekend “festival,” albeit blighted by “unresolved” pedestrian circulation.
To SWA, these flea markets are a potential source of infrastructure capital—if the tax base can be expanded that is. (The district currently generates revenue through a one percent retail sales tax). Baumgardner explained that the studio took two approaches to boost the area.
Rebranding Market Mile would advertise the flea markets to a wider audience. The Harris County-Airline Improvement District Livable Centers Study carried out by SWA in 2009 found that just over half of the visitors frequent the market weekly, 46 percent of visitors stay two to four hours each time, and 41 percent visit other businesses in the area while at the market. And of this demographic, which is 90 percent Hispanic, only two percent either cycle or walk in.
In 2009, Harris County pledged $2.9 million to be spent on pedestrian improvements, a scheme that involved two new, signalized crosswalks on Airline and sidewalks on much-used streets. Harris County, however, does not view sidewalks favorably. The county has a policy of only installing sidewalks on new roads if a city or another source finances it. “It’s an expense that doesn’t have to do with transportation,” Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Harris County commissioner Sylvia Garcia told the Houston Chronicle. “The county does not do sidewalks; it’s not what gets cars from point A to point B.” Subsequently, planned sidewalks from SWA will be financed by Airline Improvement District.
SWA’s logic is that, if more people can come to the popular flea markets, more revenue will be generated due to more businesses being set up as a result of greater demand. SWA’s plan works both ways. If the market can’t come to the people, then the market can come to them through what they call “mobile community infrastructure.”
A fleet of retail and food trucks would be able to extend the services of Market Mile to those who don’t have access to it. Taking advantage of regulations (or lack thereof) found outside the city of Houston, such trucks could set up chairs and canopies, becoming a permanent location if they find success in a particular area, Baumgardner explained.
In the future, these trucks could provide more than just goods. SWA’s survey found that just over 30 percent of the AID population had an education no higher than ninth grade. Baumgardner went on to say how the trucks could provide educational facilities too, thus attracting more than just shoppers to the mobile market.
Additionally, 57 percent of people said they would take part in health awareness programs if given the opportunity to do so. Meanwhile, 43 percent said they would participate in job training and finance and business development programs.
“There’s a food truck culture that’s sweeping the country, especially in Houston,” said Baumgardner who added he met someone who already has a bookmobile in the area– perhaps a sign that the project is slowly taking off. Baumgardner concluded: “We want this district to have all the things that a livable center should be planning toward, but we also wanted to look at how a project could get going, even at a limited scale.”
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“Landscape Architecture as Necessity” conference at USC aims to “counter the onslaught of politically-correct eco-speak”
From the 1880s to the late 1960s, El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza was the place to see alligators at alarmingly close proximity. Crowds would sit around the fountain in the middle of the park to watch the sad spectacle of captive reptiles circling their enclosure. When the city asked landscape architecture firm SWA to redo the plaza seven years ago, the firm’s Los Angeles office had the tall task of designing a park that would preserve the turn-of-the-century Arcadian layout beloved by residents and draw crowds, just as the alligators once did.
SWA found harmony between programming and design, despite the trend toward “shoehorning” as much programming as possible into outdoor spaces. “The community wanted a concept that respected the formal axes [of the Arcadian layout], so the axes are still there, but now you come to a destination,” explained Gerdo Aquino, CEO of SWA. SWA collaborated with San Antonio, Texas–based Lake|Flato, which designed a cafe and shade canopy that activate the heart of the roughly two-acre park.
The canopy shelters “Los Lagartos,” Luis Jiménez’s fiberglass alligator statue, an homage to San Jacinto’s one-time residents. SWA encircled the statue with a balustrade and decorative mosaics that radiate out toward a botanical garden, custom chess and ping-pong tables, an outdoor reading room with a lending library, a produce market, and an area for washoes (a game similar to horseshoes but played with washers).
Aquino noted a recent shift in emphasis in park design from beauty and ecology toward beauty, ecology, and programming. According to him, the reason can be distilled to: “One word: Millennials. They ask, ‘Is the landscape a place where I can play? Is it a place where I can meet my friends? Can I FaceTime here?’ It’s all about me. You can’t design a park like you did five years ago.”
Second- and third-tier cities are luring all demographics, not just Millennials, back to the city center with open space projects, Aquino explained. San Jacinto’s landscape plan preserved existing older trees, while pairing native species of oak, agave, and grasses with non-native, but adaptive, plants for pops of color. “If mayors want to make their downtowns more livable,” Aquino said, “they need open space that’s ecological, financially feasible, programmed to the hilt, and also beautiful. You don’t have to live in New York, L.A., San Francisco, or Boston to have access to great design. Great design can be created right where you live.”