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Inside the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam

The two-story concrete Fenixloods II, a former coffee warehouse for Rotterdam’s port, boasts a sign asking “What’s Next?” at the upper level entrance to announce the 2016 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) that runs April 23 to July 10. Inside, a Tyvek curtain is printed with introductory text and visitors can be immersed in a virtual reality film, an example of new technologies that are creating "mixed"—as opposed to fully virtual—reality (MR). A flat screen projects movies—created by the designers of IABR with Rnul Interactive—that show 10-year-olds who pause in their activities to say, “welcome.” Just a few steps into it, this seems to be a different kind of show. The exhibitions focus on what we can develop in the future: not just the “New Economy” but the “Next Economy,” both in terms of policies that direct design and design that directs policy in urban areas. Featuring a selection of over sixty projects on the themes of the healthy city, inclusive city, productive city, and sustainable city, the exhibition is curated by Maarten Hajer with exhibition design by Michiel van Iersel, the Belgium architecture firm 51N4E, and Dutch graphic designers 75B. It encompasses not only the call for projects (23 selected) but also country-focused guest-curated sections from China and South Africa. Those are joined by an additional group of ateliers from Holland, Belgium, and Albania that produced over the past year design solutions for sustainable and productive cities. Many projects combine DIY tactical urbanism strategies such as the Hackable Cityplot, in which designers and residents are revitalizing a former industrial area in Amsterdam with self-built housing and shared infrastructures. Others focus on issues of local value-added economies in contrast to the extractive and more abusive ones. The opening weekend included lectures and discussions with a welcome from Rotterdam’s Labour Party mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb. He spoke of the need for a “peaceful city” and articulated new ways of community-based planning in Rotterdam where the citizens are making their own neighborhood plan—something not unlike New York’s 197a plans. Curator Hajer animatedly moderated sessions on the productive city with Rotterdam and South African-based teams showing projects such as IShack, which is a solar power-based community electricity system in Stellenbosch Cape Town, and new manufacturing initiatives for Rotterdam The Hague region. The vast exhibition in the 2,600-square-meter-space is designed to mimic the public realm: there are no barriers between sections, enabling open views from one end of the warehouse to the other. This openness is punctuated by plywood constructions forming rooms for talks and hands-on work sessions. Large composite-board tables are the display surfaces for most projects' models and materials. Some tables, such as the one for the Living Necropolis, invite you to lie down to watch a video of the informal houses developed between cemeteries in Manila. Other displays include couches for watching films or settings for interaction. While many projects are regional (due to funding sources and other factors) numerous international projects are displayed. (This includes two from the U.S.) This variety of work demonstrates the potential for essential collaboration among designers, governments, and residents. While the pondering What’s Next? is intriguing, these projects now underway can serve as future models. These range from the mega-scale (regional sustainable energy infrastructures in the Netherlands, ways to house refugees in Europe) to the smallest-scaled item (Parallel Lab's canvas stool that turns into a backpack for use by merchants in the in-between spaces of Hong Kong). Therein lies the value of a show like this: ideas abound, but as a painted wall graphic of William Gibson’s prophesy attests: “The Future is Already Here.”
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A modern classic transformed for 21st century Los Angeles

Originally designed by William Pereira in 1961, the 8-story, 120,000 sq. ft. building sat vacant for nearly 20 years prior to renovations.

After sitting vacant for nearly 20 years, the eight-story Metropolitan Water District office tower in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood has been converted by David Lawrence Gray Architects from an office building to a luxury residential tower. The original building was designed in two phases by famed modernist William Pereira – a low-rise podium, and high-rise tower – through a process that spanned 12 years, from 1961-1973. Pereira’s design was structurally expressive concrete frame building, with cantilevered exposed concrete slabs establishing a wrap around balcony on each level. The primary bays of the building along the longitudinal axis are expressed at the ends with infrastructurally-scaled white concrete columns, while perforated concrete panels formed an iconic modernist brise soleil along the podium. Named after an ancient Greek conception of heaven, The Elysian blends architectural modernism with contemporary luxury living to produce 120,000 sq. ft. building with 96 Live/Work Units. Pereira’s original building was, at times, carefully and respectfully restored by the project team. This is evident in the clean-up of Pereira’s concrete columns, which contained – under decades-worth of grime – a high quality quartz aggregate cast (much to the surprise of the team). Another preservation marvel is the restoration of the existing mullions on the building. Metal panels from the lower third of the opening were removed along with original glass panes. The steel mullions were grinded down and repainted. The openings were replaced with new double-paned coated glass and micro shades to produce a new building envelope. The architects worked with CRL-U.S. Aluminum to integrate an operable window unit and patio doors within Pereira’s mullion layout. Also notable is the detailing of the new steel railing which translates an original post spacing cast into the slab with a new horizontal assembly providing technical precision of steel without visually overpowering the building envelope.
  • Facade Manufacturer CRL-U.S. Aluminum
  • Architects David Lawrence Gray Architects ( Principal: David Lawrence Gray, FAIA )
  • Facade Installer Linear City Development (CM)
  • Facade Consultants KMN Structural Engineers, Davidovitch & Associates (MEP), Ilan Dei Studio (Patio Design)
  • Location Los Angeles, CA
  • Date of Completion 2015
  • System Concrete frame with curtainwall glazing
  • Products Series 3250 Curtain Wall, Series 550 Wide Stile Doors, AWS Aluminum Windscreen System (all from CRL-U.S. Aluminum)
While this renovation project makes historical acknowledgements to Pereira’s modernism, the new work to the building tends to give way to necessary market demands of luxury residential living: amenities like floor-to-ceiling windows and a two-story penthouse addition subtly transform the modernist building into something more “transitional.” The penthouse addition is carefully designed, but produces the most deleterious effect on Pereira’s proportioning system. His primary columns, once soaring optimistically beyond the body of the building towards the heavens have now been capped by a stealthy new addition which the project team has skillfully blended into the aesthetics of the original structure. Here, the curtainwall system, thermally improved by a continuous thermal spacer that is interlocked within pressure plates, is a sophisticated update to Pereira’s steel mullions. The system picks up where Pereira’s mullions left off, set in alignment with the mullion spacing throughout the building, and color matched with the rest of the building envelope. However, the 20-foot penthouse heights require an unfortunate and unavoidable heavier thickness. There is something interesting about juxtaposing a thermally sophisticated modern curtainwall system against steel profiles of the 1970’s. The two-story penthouse addition works to creatively conceal a rooftop mechanical space housing condenser units and a photovoltaic array for solar hot water heating. Also, the existing building was design with a generous floor-to-floor dimension of approximately 13 feet, allowing for an adaptive reuse of the building with minor modifications to the slabs required. New residential units were efficiently stacked by the project team, allowing for an economy in utility distribution, and limiting slab penetrations between floors to simply a new shaft and stairwell. Historians might argue for removal of the penthouse entirely, while environmentalists might argue for a full replacement of the original mullion system. Regardless, occupants of the building – especially those in the upper floors – will surely take delight in the 360 degree views of Los Angeles’ distant hills and sprawling low-rise cityscape that Pereira, and now David Lawrence Gray Architects, have provided.
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Steven Holl to execute master plan study for Williams College Museum of Art

This year, Williams College trumped rival Amherst in the spurious U.S. News & World Report college rankings, stealing the "#1 College" title from their neighbor to the east. Defending the crown is tough work, but an infusion of high-profile architecture can't hurt: New York–based Steven Holl Architects announced today that they will design a master plan study for Williams's Museum of Art and Art Department.Established in 1926, the Williams College Museum of Art has 14,000 pieces in its collection that range from antiquity to the present. It is a teaching museum, designed to give students firsthand access to major works of art. Steven Holl's study for the museum and the Art Department is organized around five principles: Creating spaces for exhibiting and teaching art, connecting interior spaces with the campus, making the architecture contextual and complementary, harmonizing the visual arts with other arts on campus, and expanding the presence of the museum and the department on campus. Several on-campus sites are being considered for new buildings to expand the department's footprint. "Historically one of the most important launching institutions for museum leaders around the world, Williams College extends its dedication to excellence in art education with this new campus development phase,” said Steven Holl, in a statement. Museum and education design is a well-worn path for the practice: Steven Holl has created facilities for Columbia University, MIT, and the Glasgow School of Art, among others. Currently, work in underway at Princeton University, the Kennedy Center, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The master plan anchors Williams as a destination in the well-established Berkshires arts scene. The college is a mile from the Clark Art Institute, with its Tadao Ando–designed expansion. It's also a fifteen minute drive from North Adams, home of MASS MoCA and two planned museums, The Global Contemporary Art Museum and The Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, the latter two both designed by Gluckman Tang.
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FLUX Factory offers a primer on seamless modeling data transfer

The proliferation of digital modeling platforms can sometimes seem like too much of a good thing, particularly when transferring data from one environment to another requires complicated back-end manipulations. For those of us without a background in coding, FLUX Factory's Charles Portelli and Karl Garske are offering hands-on instruction in "Seamless Exchange of Geometry & Data: Analysis & Modeling via Flux" in a lab workshop at this month's Facades+ NYC conference. The workshop "deals with interoperability between multiple modeling applications," explained Portelli. Flux facilitates data exchange among applications including Grasshopper and Excel using native plug-ins, putting users "in an environment they're familiar with, so they can just start transferring data and geometry," he said. In addition to helping participants manipulate geometry and data across platforms, Portelli and Garske will also introduce cloud processing features. Cloud compatibility means that users "don't have to use desktops to run time-consuming tasks" including view analysis (sky exposure, solar radiation, shadow study) said Portelli. Workshop attendees will model a building from scratch using Grasshopper, Excel, Flux, and Revit. Portelli, who has attended previous Facades+ conferences but is serving as a workshop instructor for the first time, is hoping "to have people be enthusiastic" about the seamless data transfer enabled by Flux. More generally, he also looks forward to hearing "people's feedback and comments with regard to the AEC industry, including what it's lacking." "Seamless Exchange of Geometry & Data" is just one of several lab workshops on offer at Facades+NYC. Others include:
  • "Advanced Facade Analysis, Rationalization, and Production," with Daniel Segraves of Thornton Tomasetti CORE Studio
  Workshops are limited in size—sign up today to reserve your spot.
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Y Combinator is funding a California net-zero design-build firm

  It seems that nearly every week we hear about a new startup securing millions in funding. Last spring (2nd quarter 2015) venture capitalists contributed $17.5 billion in investments, close to the highest level since 2000 (and we know what happened back then). But for now, the money is pouring in. Many West coast cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle are experiencing both the positive and unintended consequences of that growth. Now Y Combinator, the investment firm/incubator based in Mountain View, California with investments in high-profile companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Instacart, and Reddit, has plans to go into the construction business. The company is backing a design-build firm, Acre Designs, that specializes in net-zero energy home kits. Acre Designs is seeking to break into the market and ride new net zero laws in California. In revisions to Title 24 last summer, the state mandated that all new residences (including single family, under three-story multifamily, and low income) meet net zero energy requirements by 2020. Commercial buildings must do the same by 2030. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission define net zero as energy-neutral buildings whose energy production is equal to energy consumption over the course of a year. There's a small-but-important detail in Title 24: the homes can be net-zero energy ready—not necessarily achieving net-zero energy levels—by 2020. The cost for Acre Design's houses is not cheap. Prices hover around $277-$333 per square foot but this includes construction and features such as solar panels and appliances. The firm is also giving discounts to people who rent their home for more than 50 days on Airbnb. The company is planning its first home/vacation rental hybrid for a client in Cannon Beach, Oregon. There are three size options: small (2 bedrooms, 1,200 square feet, $400K), medium (3 bedrooms, 1,500 square feet, $450k), and large (4 bedrooms, 1,800 square feet, $500k). There are also two design variants: a house with a more traditional pitched roof and a second, midcentury modern-inspired version that sports a butterfly roof. Once the foundation is ready, construction can take up to three months. It will be interesting to see how the California net-zero mandate, and the companies that fill the void, plays out. For now, we can wait and hope that reducing energy consumption is also considered in the ways people get to, and from, these homes.
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Alejandro Aravena releases project files for free

Man of the moment and Pritzker Prize-winner Alejandro Aravena has released the CAD drawings of four projects that, in his view, have been successful social housing solutions. Aravena announced the availability of the drawings during his speech at the Pritzker Conversation at the UN on April 5th. The public can now download the .dwg files from Studio Elemental Architecture's website free of charge. In doing so, Aravena hopes that they can be utilized by governments and developers struggling to meet social housing demand. Aravena argues that "by 2030 out of the 5 billion people that will be living in cities, 2 billion are going to be under the line of poverty." By allowing his schemes to be open to everyone, the ideas behind them can be developed further. It's his core belief that construction must use "people’s own resources and building capacity to that of governments and market. In that way people will be part of the solution and not part of the problem." Seen here are the firm's Villa Verde Housing in Chile. Related to these designs are the five design conditions that (in Aravena's eyes) best respond to the challenges of housing:
  1. Good location: dense enough projects able to pay for expensive well-located sites.
  2. Harmonious growth in time: build strategically the first half (partition structural and firewalls, bathroom, kitchen, stairs, roof) so that expansion happens thanks to the design and not despite it. Frame individual performances and actions, so that we get a customization instead of deterioration of the neighborhood.
  3. Urban layout: introduce in between private space (lot) and public space (street), the collective space, not bigger than 25 families, so that social agreements can be maintained.
  4. Provide structure for the final scenario of growth (middle class) and not just for the initial one.
  5. Middle-class DNA: plan for a final scenario of at least 775 square-feet or 4 bedrooms with space for closet or double bed, bathrooms should not be at the front door (which is the typical case to save pipes) but where bedrooms are; they may include a bathtub and not just a shower receptacle and space for washing machine; there should be possibility of parking place for a car. None of this is even close to be the case in social housing nowadays.
Aravena also acknowledges that the designs and plans will change in accordance of local regulations and structural codes. He encourages those who use his designs to follow "local realities and use pertinent building materials" rather than stick rigidly to his plans.  
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IKEA tests virtual reality kitchen with new app

Swedish furniture firm IKEA is undertaking a trial of a new virtual reality app. Titled IKEA VR Experience, it allows users to explore and interact with a kitchen outfitted with IKEA products. The trial aims to encourage feedback as the company develops the software further.
The app is now available to download for free on the popular gaming platform Steam. However, a HTC Vive VR headset with two working hand controllers is required to play. 
“Virtual reality is developing quickly and in five to ten years it will be an integrated part of people’s lives," said Jesper Brodin, managing director at IKEA of Sweden. "We see that virtual reality will play a major role in the future of our customers. For instance, someday, it could be used to enable customers to try out a variety of home furnishing solutions before buying them,” he added.
A range of fittings is available for the kitchen that you explore; users can change cabinets and drawers at the click of a button. Perhaps the most interesting feature is that users can choose to view the kitchen from different perspectives. By changing your height, you can move around as a 3.3 foot-tall child or a 6.4 foot-tall adult, thus highlighting any hazards for children/someone tall.
Users can also open up drawers and cabinets or pick up a pan and place it on the stove. You can also "recycle the vegetable skins in the waste sorting station." In addition to this, there is a mysterious “teleport” function (no other information is provided).
“We also see IKEA VR Experience as an opportunity to co-create with people all around the world," said Martin Enthed, IT Manager for IKEA Communications. "We hope that users will contribute to our virtual reality development, by submitting ideas on how to use virtual reality and how to improve the virtual kitchen."
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See 2,400 Historic Photos of the Space Needle Under Construction

Last week, we highlighted historic mid-century modern architecture photographs digitized by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. And now farther north on the west coast is another new archive find. The Seattle Public Library Special Collections—located on the top floor (nope, not relegated to a dusty basement as is often the case) of the OMA / Rem Koolhaas and LMN-designed Central Library in downtown Seattle—just digitized over 2,400 historic Space Needle construction photographs (and a daily construction log, too). Local Seattleite professional photographer George Gulacsik captured the construction details of the famous 605 foot tall Seattle landmark that took less than a year to build: there are photos of the cement pouring preparation, the painting, the fin raising, the visitors, onlookers, and more. Gulacsik took the photos between April 1961 and October 1962. There is even a photo of former President John F. Kennedy's motorcade taken from above, as Kennedy made his way through Seattle to give a speech at the University of Washington in November 1961. Many Gulacsik images were used as marketing in a 1962 promotional publication, "Space Needle USA." Gulacsik's wife donated his photos in 2010 after he passed away. The collection is named after him. The Space Needle is said to be inspired by the Stuttgart TV Tower in Germany. The design is typically credited to architecture firm John Graham and Company, Victor Steinbrueck, and John Ridley, who worked with businessman Edward E. Carlson and his napkin sketch concept. "Graham was excited by the challenge, and assembled a large team of associates including Art Edwards, Manson Bennett, Erle Duff, Al Miller, Nate Wilkinson, Victor Steinbrueck, and John Ridley," explains History Linkthe online nonprofit Washington State history encyclopedia. "In working to translate Carlson’s doodle into blueprints, they explored a variety of ideas ranging from a single saucer-capped spire to a structure resembling a tethered balloon. Steinbrueck hit on a wasp-waisted tripod for the Space Needle’s legs and Ridley perfected the double-decked “top house” crown." Now we can view the collection from our armchairs, couches, and desks.
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Who needs glass when you can get transparent wood?

The idiom "can't see the wood for the trees" is rarely—if ever—applied in a literal sense. Researchers at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology however, may have found a genuine excuse to do so. An article published in the American Chemical Society journal Biomacromolecules reveals that the research team has developed transparent wood.

According to Lars Berglund, a professor at Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH, this transparency is achieved by chemically removing the wood's lignin, a structural polymer found in the cell walls of plants that gives wood its brown coloring. It also stops up to 95% of light from passing through. "When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white. But because wood isn't naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring," explained Berglund.

In a press release, KTH said this "nanoscale tailoring" involves impregnating the wood, or "white porous veneer substrate" as it's technically called, with a transparent polymer. As result, light can pass through the material more easily and the 'wood' becomes transparent.

The American Chemistry Society reports that the subsequent material is twice as strong as plexiglass. "It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density, and low thermal conductivity," adds Berglund. However, there has been no publication on the materials properties pertaining to how it will react when exposed to water, fire, or extreme temperatures. Despite this, the case for see-through timber (pardon the pun) is clear. Berglund advocates for the material being used for windows and semitransparent facades, with the aim to "let light in but maintain privacy."

"Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it's a low-cost, readily available, and renewable resource," Berglund continued. "This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells." Prior to the development, Berglund pointed out that transparent structures were yet to be considered for use as solar cells in buildings. Now he and KTH have set their sights on improving the transparency of the wood and producing the material in larger quantities.

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A modular prototype that transforms any space into an apartment

Boiled down to the basics, a dwelling requires facilities for cooking, washing, and sleeping. Rotterdam-based architecture firm Kraaijvanger appears to be sticking closely to that margin with this prototype. Their creation, De Hub, is a modular unit that can be added to empty apartments to provide these basic functions. Easy to assemble and dismantle, the minimalist De Hub contains a kitchen, a bathroom, and a toilet, plus a heating unit, a sound system, and an internet connection. The first Hub, installed in Rotterdam, has so far been a success. Constructed using blockboard and solid-core board, and secured with Lamello hardware, the Hub sources utilities like water and electricity through piping and wiring in the floor below. De Hub originated as the winning submission to a local Rotterdam housing association's “how will we live in the future?” competition.   In one possible scheme for these units, the firm may encourage clients to rent modules instead of purchasing them outright. This essentially lets users borrow the necessities of dwelling without buying an actual home. The modules can subsequently be restored and made ready for reuse elsewhere. Supplementary hubs, such as the "Bedhub," can fill additional space. Kraaijvanger is also considering designing other Hubs, including a solar energy module and a hub for growing vegetables. This prototype in Rotterdam remains to be the only unit in use; no others have been sold and no pricing scheme is in place. Kraaijvanger aims to improve their modular product before putting it on the market in the Netherlands.
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Snøhetta’s first full-scale U.S. exhibition will open in Portland

Starting April 17, the nonprofit Center for Architecture in Portland will host the first full-scale exhibit on Snøhetta (see AN’s interview with founding partner, Craig Dykers) in the United States. The Norwegian and American firm is known for their international institutional projects: public and academic libraries, museums, opera houses, and more. In the U.S. they are working on projects like the Times Square reconstruction to the upcoming James Beard Public Market in Portland, a concept for the Willamette Falls River Walk in Oregon, the SFMOMA expansion opening this May, and an extension to the French Laundry Kitchen in Yountville, CA. The exhibit, Snøhetta: People, Process, Projects, features sketches, renderings, and models that provide a peek into the firm's process. The firm's architects and designers produced and curated the exhibit, too: “Join us at the lunch table or inside the workshop, where 3D prototyping and traditional craftsmanship drive conversations and exploration of new forms,” they said in a release. It’s a traveling exhibit of sorts—the exhibit made its first appearance at the Copenhagen Danish Architecture Centre last summer. The exhibit starts the first day of Design Week Portland, a spring design-oriented festival in The City of Roses that ends April 23. There are events on restorative design, data storytelling, restaurant design, and more, as well as design studio open houses throughout the city. (Seattle, by the way, has an equivalent event in September, hosted by Design in Public. The theme this year is Design Change.) The exhibit runs through June 30.
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Vote for your favorite adaption of the New York State Pavilion

Philip Johnson's New York State Pavilion, located in Queens, was once part of the 1964 Worlds Fair. Now it is the only remaining structure from the event. Years of neglect has seen the pavilion fall into a state of disrepair. However, all does not appear to be lost thanks to The National Trust for Historic Preservation, People for the Pavilion, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Together, they have organized an ideas competition in an attempt to bring the pavilion back to life. The competition so far has received a number of submissions up for public vote. The current frontrunners are a hydroponic farm (essentially a farm that uses nutrient water instead of soil) and a flexible exhibition space. The former an ambitiously wants to demonstrate a process that could "feed cities into the next century" while the latter envisions an outdoor performance area and park. In recent memory, the pavilion's only claim to fame was its appearance in Iron Man 2 where it played host to the Stark Expo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bchp8boR0Dc The pavilion's appearance on screen however, has done little to bolster its circumstances, although a fresh coat of paint was added in fall last year. The New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition now hopes to "spark a conversation about the value of historic preservation," citing Johnson's work as an "irreplaceable structure" that is one of Queens' "most significant assets." Submissions so far mostly depict colorful scenes that refer back to the pavilion's original red and yellow coloring. These include the "Queens Pavilion Cheeseburger Museum," "Trampoline Castle," "The Funland of art" (that promises to be "the most fun your kids will ever have"), and the "Pavilion for the People." Others proposals include an observatory, ice-rink, and planetarium. There are few constraints on putting forward an idea. Participants must be over the age of 13 and submit an original idea complete with an image. A Sketchup model of the pavilion has been made available to download to aid contributors. The competition is also free to enter. For now, the public has until July 1 to submit their ideas, with Deborah Berke, founding partner of Deborah Berke Partners and soon to be Dean of the Yale Architecture School and critic Paul Goldberger among others judging the submissions. The jury will select first, second and third place, of which will receive $3,000, $1,000 and $500. The voting system however, will be used to select a "fan favorite" with the winner taking home $500.