Local real estate and investment company Zephyr has named Joseph Wong of Joseph Wong Design Associates (JWDA) lead architect of their 60,000-square-foot mixed-use development planned for downtown San Diego. The Block, as it is currently known (the developer has yet to select a final name), will be the first high-rise, mixed-use project in the city since the recession. With an estimated cost exceeding $250 million, the development promises to be a major player in the demographic and architectural transformation of San Diego's urban core. Wong's design features two towers, 21 stories and 41 stories, respectively, rising from a residential and retail platform. According to the architect, the towers' siting and massing were influenced primarily by local conditions—including setback requirements and the creation of a sun access envelope for a planned public park to the northeast—as well as a desire to maximize views and daylighting. For the facade, said Wong "we thought about not just the context, site circumstance, its history, and surrounding buildings, but also about the longevity of the project and what it could be." The combination of glass of different transparencies and metal panels in a variety of colors helps distinguish the development from surrounding office buildings, while the clean lines and minimal material palette prevent the towers from feeling bulky. Residential balconies project from the glazing in an alternating pattern that highlights the corners and other points of significance, creating, said Wong, "a rhythm of form and function." While some of The Block's features, including a 25,000-square-foot "amenities deck" designed by Lifescapes International, are reserved for private tenant use, the project's street presence evinces public-mindedness on the part of both developer and architect. "Downtown San Diego is red hot and continuing to get better every day," said Zephyr co-CEO Brad Termini. "We hope to play an important role in providing a link between the Gaslamp Quarter, the financial core, and the emerging East Village." For Wong, the need to mediate between existing high-rise developments and the burgeoning residential fabric was a major factor in the design. "It requires both a visually striking architectural presence in the downtown skyline, and a decidedly pedestrian-friendly approach to its neighbors," he said. At the ground plane, the formal push and pull of the podium, which features two levels of retail on every side, encourages social engagement. Meanwhile, a 15-foot setback along Broadway combines with the 14-foot pedestrian sidewalk to create a south-facing public plaza and eases access to public transit facilities to both north and south. "By creating opportunities such as a public plaza, retail and commercial space, and recreation areas throughout the ground floor, The Block promotes [walkability] for both the community as a whole and the individual user. Its prominent location further encourages accessibility to neighboring sites and vice versa," said Wong. Wong, who describes The Block as a "milestone" development for JWDA, thinks of it as "a project that defines urbanism in every sense." "The design opportunities of this project are many, and ultimately have to do with the future architecture of our cities," he concluded. "We're creating an urban design that contributes to social interaction and addresses the relationship between public and private space."
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Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”
Like many major tech companies in Silicon Valley, Apple provides free transportation for its employees living in the Bay Area. About 28 percent of Apple employees do not drive to work, instead taking employer-owned biodiesel shuttles, biking, or walking. In an effort to bring that percentage up to 34 percent (a figure that will help get their new Norman Foster–designed campus in Cupertino approved), the company is expanding its fleet of buses and building a dedicated transportation center. With an annual budget of $35 million—that's approximately $21,000 per employee—the Transportation Demand Management program, as it is formally called, provides an average of 1,600 employees a free ride to work each day. Shuttles owned and operated by companies such as Google and Apple have sparked recent protests, prompting the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to approve a new plan: company shuttle buses will have to pay $1 for every stop made, every day. The proposal is set to go into effect this July and raise $1.5 million over the first year and a half. More info at the Los Angeles Times.
Last Thursday in his keynote address to the Transit Oriented Los Angeles conference, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the "Great Streets Initiative." In an executive directive—his first since taking office on June 30—Garcetti outlined a program that "will focus on developing streets that activate the public realm, provide economic revitalization, and support great neighborhoods." Garcetti defined "great streets" as accessible and walkable, with landscaping, shade, larger sidewalks, improved storm water drainage and green features. Turning to aesthetics, Garcetti said simply: "design matters." Los Angeles' streets should make room for sculptures and murals, and not just functional components, he argued. The "Great Streets Working Group" will direct the initiative. Led by Garcetti's Deputy Mayor of City Services, the gathering will include representatives of Departments of Planning, Cultural Affairs, Transportation, and Economic & Workforce Development, plus the Department of Public Works's Bureaus of Engineering, Street Services, Street Lighting, and Sanitation. Their first task will be to develop a plan in which 40 streets are identified for upgrades.
Gone will be the miniature civic history lessons that punctuated ribbon-cutting speeches made by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. With yesterday's announcement that the commissioner is moving on to the non-profit Trust for Public Land (TPL), the plaudits are pouring in. But as the Bloomberg Administration begins is slow-motion wind down, New Yorkers should be wary of comparisons to the "good" Robert Moses, builder of parks and playgrounds, despite the scale of public works undertaken under Bloomberg. But in terms of Parks, there is little doubt that Benepe's tenure was historic in scope. Now, one of the mayor's signature initiatives—that a park be within a ten minute walk from every home—is about to go national. But will what flies in NYC fly in Louisville? "If I’ve learned one or two things in this job it's that no one model will work for every situation," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. Last month, TPL launched ParkScore, a platform that rates park systems in America's 40 largest cities, with the "ten-minute test" as one of the major criteria in ranking the cities. While widely lauded for drawing attention to the need for accessible park space in cities, there has also been some grumbling about the survey's methods, or even its effectiveness in helping draw attention to the plight of urban parkland. D.C. blogger Richard Layman worried that DC's respectable 5th place position might take the pressure off leadership to make improvements. But Benepe said that the ParkScore is a good way of "spreading the news." The commissioner added that the city's data differed from that of the Trust's when it came to accessibility. The Trust found that 94 percent of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park, while the city's more conservative estimate places it at about 84 percent within the ten minute range. "It's a ten percent improvement and that has largely had to do with the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative," said Benepe. The initiative to turn moribund schoolyards into after school playgrounds was funded in part by the Trust ($200 million in land purchases and design). It's an initiative that might work elsewhere, "within limits," he said. Funding will, as always, prove to be the central challenge. "Most cities don’t have the density that New York has and most don’t have great wealth," he said, adding that while he believed that the Obama administration would do more if they could, the days of FDR-level federal support for parks dissipated in the seventies. Nevertheless, the public/private model widely touted in New York may well become the national way of doing things. "New York didn't corner the market in creative wealth," he said .