Posts tagged with "Washington":

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture proves that architecture is still relevant

In September, the most important American building of the 21st century opened in Washington, D.C.  The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) truly delivers something that few pieces of architecture can: It is a cascade of metaphors for collectivity, but is also in harmony with its content and program. Together they are a vehicle for the triumph of African-American history on the national stage. (While the completion of New York’s One World Trade Center might fulfill some myth of national pageantry, as a building it does not offer very much of architectural note.) To truly appreciate how great this building is, let us start with the story of how it came to be. Exactly 100 years ago, the National Memorial Association was founded, starting a serious debate about the possibility of some kind of monument or museum to African-American history in the United States. The project received funding in 1929 from President Calvin Coolidge but fell through in 1933. Efforts continued, and from 1988 to 2003, Georgia congressman John Lewis introduced a bill every single year that would have finalized the plans for such a museum. President George W. Bush gave the final go-ahead in 2005, and in 2009, the winning team was announced. That team consisted of a trio of black architects. J. Max Bond—of Davis Brody Bond and the namesake of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at City College of New York's Spitzer School of Architecture—joined Phil Freelon and David Adjaye in collaboration with the Smith Group. The collective calls itself FAB/S, and they beat out a high-profile group of competitors, among them Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners, and Moshe Safdie, all heavy hitters in the cultural building sector. The making of the museum, which is the newest building on the National Mall—the country’s public commons—was an expectedly daunting process of building consensus. Who decides on a building that represents an entire group of people? According to Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC, there were many opinions. “The building must be monumental and marble; it must be boldly black; it must look African; it must not look African. In every case, they said, it must not obstruct the public's view of surrounding monuments,” he said in his introduction to Mabel O. Wilson’s book, Begin with the Past, which tells the story of the museum in detail. The result is an object-building that at first seems like an out-of-place, estranged box that confronts and withdraws simultaneously its surroundings. However, it is exactly the opposite of that as an urban experience. Site What makes this building so great is that this backstory—while intensely interesting—really only sets the stage for the building to enact one of the greatest American history stories on one of the most important sites in the country. The large, brown building stands four stories above grade, with the Washington monument in the near distance. While most of the other buildings and memorials on the mall are white, what does it mean to be a brown building that recognizes the contributions of a non-white group? And what does it mean that it is also the closest building to the Washington Monument, a white marble obelisk to a single man who was the slave-owning first president of our country? Now that this building has taken its place on the mall, and thus American history, it cements the story of African American struggle as a part of the American story, which in itself is a great step of progress for both African Americans and the nation in general. One of the ironies of its site is that George Washington actually gave some of his land to former slaves, most notably at Gum Springs, Virginia, where some of his former slaves formed a community. So perhaps he wouldn’t have minded this situation almost 250 years later. Of course, some figures from history would be appalled. But this museum isn't about a confrontation of people, it is about collectivity, sharing, and inclusion. Threshold On the south side of the building, facing the mall, this attitude of inclusion and coming together manifests in the building’s formal site strategy. A covered outdoor space is a scaled-up version of the vernacular American covered porch, which represents a black space that has historically been used by the African diaspora as a place for sharing, socializing, telling stories, and giving lessons. Here, it acts as a mediating threshold between the normative history of America as told through the national mall, and the new story that is being anchored with the NMAAHC. It is meant to be a welcoming place for visitors of all backgrounds to share in this incredible story. This means that the entrance on the ground floor is completely open to the Mall, giving visitors spectacular views and creating a welcoming transparent and continuous space that represents openness and inclusion—foundations of a collective future that the museum might allow us to envision. The overhang is also a shading device, a formal nod to vernacular passive strategies. Form The overall form of the museum’s exterior is what the designers call a "corona"—inspired by a sculpture by Nigerian artist Olowe of Ise that shows a crown with similarly angled masses. The shape also references a group of people with their arms raised in celebration, as if to telegraph the one hundred year triumph that is exalted so proudly in the galleries within. It announces the arrival of African American history in the official Smithsonian. The angle of its tilted facade matches the top of the Washington monument. It is meant to fit in with its surroundings, not confront them. The iconic profile should serve as a marker for those looking for the museum, and it certainly sets the new structure apart from its neighbors in the vicinity, both in color and ornament. Symbol The ornament is an important and complex part of the narrative of the building. Adjaye produced a single patterned cast-aluminum panel that is tessellated to create the iconic, translucent facade. The pattern was abstracted from cast-iron work produced by black workers in Charleston and New Orleans. Adjaye mapped out the welded connections, literally the points where the work was done. There is some artistic license here, and the pattern comes off as somewhat arbitrary, but the story remains. This particularly American form of modernity is a perfect glimpse into the unique history of the American South, but also the contributions that African Americans have made to the country—many of which have gone underreported due to institutional racism. The bronze facade reflects the patterns and creativity that enslaved people brought to the ironwork of Charleston and New Orleans, and thus to American history itself. Experience Which brings us to the galleries. Of course, a building cannot serve only as a metaphor, it must also serve a purpose. In this case, this purpose is to function as a museum that has all of the same goals as the building itself. The 100,000 square feet of exhibition space is home to items selected from roughly 40,000 artifacts assembled over a decade. It is fitting that this building's facade and programs, such as education center, theater facility, and public spaces, represent a collective celebration of African American history and a new space dedicated to it. The galleries extend the metaphors into physical, phenomenological architectural experience. To experience the choreographed architecture of the galleries designed by Davis Brody Bond, visitors start by descending 65 feet below ground in an elevator. Deep underground, the exhibition starts with an overview of the earliest days of the slave trade, in a global seafaring economy. Diagrams of how to pack the most humans in a slave ship are just a few of the haunting artifacts displayed here, where a low ceiling and dark walls recreate the feeling of being in the hull of a boat, with nowhere to go. Working through the timeline of American history, the galleries provide a sensory spatial experience that works in harmony with the content. Much like the museum is a chorus of many people distilled into one building, the curators sought to tell larger stories through single artifacts or single people who could collectively encompass larger narratives. The year 1776 is shown—rather shockingly—with Thomas Jefferson standing on a plinth as if to suggest that he is at a slave auction. A pile of bricks is next to him, each one representing one of his slaves. The museum’s narrative is surprisingly self-reflexive. It is not confrontational with any group of people, but it certainly sheds light on some of the darker parts of a normally whitewashed past. In this moment of freedom, the path opens up to an open, massive four-story space. The story of Jefferson’s slaves problematizes the notion that 1776 was the birth of a free nation. Because freedom from Britain did not mean freedom in any literal sense for all African Americans, it is back into the constricted hallways of history, as visitors work through the antebellum era, with slave memorabilia and Civil War artifacts that include a slave cabin as well as a tent from one of the “contraband camps” of freed slaves who were put up by the government during the Civil War. These proto-refugee camps were dotted all over the south, as many freed slaves worked for the Union Army. Once again, upon the completion of the Civil War, we re-enter the large open space but are immediately back in the dark, constricted space of the pre-civil rights era. This is probably the most poignant part of the museum, where architectural artifacts are brought in at full scale, including a guard tower from Louisiana State Penitentiary that was previously a plantation—an unapologetic reference to contemporary mass incarceration. There is also a segregated rail car, as well as the best part of the whole museum: The actual Greensboro lunch counter where students staged protests against segregation. The museum has rebuilt it, but integrated interactive screens to educate people who can sit at the counter and learn. The final stretch, after the murals and “Whites Only” signs, is the popular culture of the 80s and 90s, followed by the ultimate (symbolic) triumph: the inauguration of President Obama. Walking up the ramp toward this moment is the perfect metaphor for struggle and overcoming. Of course, there is still much work to do, and a screen right next to the image of the 2009 inauguration shows clips of people addressing issues of white privilege and unequally distributed, state-sponsored violence. It will be interesting to see how the museum evolves along with its content, as the two are in constant dialogue. In another perfect metaphor made real in a spatial experience, the above-ground galleries are filled with a celebration of black culture, from sports and entertainment to the contributions of African Americans in society, from science to the military. The circulation spaces in this museum are not very good. They have the feeling of an airport, and the main lobby is sloppily organized and too big. But that is not really the point. The galleries work really well as a narrative, and the symbolic content of the facade and overall form of the building work so well in the context of the National Mall that we can easily forgive some of the shortcomings. Most importantly, the National Museum of African American history transcends its value as a museum and casts a narrative of inclusion, as one of the most important yet marginalized and unrecognized groups of people takes a bold new position in the image of society, partly through architecture that has been carefully calibrated to do just that.
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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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Stay Cool: ICEBERGS ahead at the National Building Museum

The National Building Museum, in Washington D.C., will open a radical new exhibition, ICEBERGS, on July 2 of this year. Designed by New York–based landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, the exhibition will feature stunning underwater glacial ice fields that stretch across the Museum's Great Hall. The one-of-a-kind installation will focus on three recurring themes of construction, geometry, and landscape representation. Part of the museum's Summer Block Party series, Corner's ICEBERGS includes glacial-style landscaping throughout the Great Hall, all coming in a various sizes comprising reusable construction materials like scaffolding and polycarbonate paneling—often found in greenhouses. Hanging 20 feet from the ceiling, a "water line" divides the space which subsequently facilitates panoramic views from both the supposed ocean surface plane and down below by the icebergs. The "bergs" however, aren't exactly small. Designed to appear imposing and at times ominous, the tallest artificial iceberg area will rise to 56 feet, soaring above the waterline up to the third-story balcony. A viewing area has also been incorporated into the inside the largest iceberg, allowing visitors to step inside, walk along an undersea bridge, chill out in icy seabed grottos, choose from a selection of "shaved-ice snacks," and engage in educational programs on landscape architecture and the environment. Corner said in a press release,“ICEBERGS invokes the surreal underwater-world of glacial ice fields. Such a world is both beautiful and ominous given our current epoch of climate change, ice-melt, and rising seas. The installation creates an ambient field of texture, movement, and interaction, as in an unfolding landscape of multiples, distinct from a static, single object." All in all, ICEBERGS will take up 12,540 square feet within the museum. The exhibit runs through September 5, 2016.   “ICEBERGS symbolizes an extreme counterpoint to the sweltering heat of the Washington, D.C. summer,” said Chase W. Rynd, executive director of the National Building Museum. “We hope that James Corner Field Operations’ striking design will provoke both serious public conversation about the complex relationship between design and landscape, while also eliciting a sense of wonder and play among visitors of all ages.”
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Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum is getting a new home designed by Mithun

Operating out of a 1907 red brick schoolhouse on a leafy residential street in the northwest Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, the Nordic Heritage Museum has plans to move into a major new Mithun-designed home about a mile south, close to the waterfront and the Ballard Locks. The design team for the new museum is headed by architecture firm Mithun. The architecture, landscape, and interior design team also includes Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, and museum exhibition designers, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, from New York. The project has been in development since 2003. The museum's current lease with the Seattle School District will end in the spring of 2017. While the museum, founded in 1980, hopes to extend the lease, the Seattle School District is reclaiming the space as a new school to better serve growing young families in Ballard. The museum bought property at 2655 NW Market Street in several phases. Currently on the site is the old Fenpro building, a warehouse that once produced glass for skyscrapers and currently serves as studio space for a variety of artists and businesses working in metal, glass, and other trades. These businesses are in the process of vacating, before the Fenpro building is demolished. This past December, local public radio station, KUOW, covered the controversy over the move. Design is still underway for the over three-story, roughly 58,000-square-foot museum. There is a planned ground-floor café, and an expected major feature is Fjord Hall, a large central atrium that would connect permanent and special exhibits with upper story bridges evoking the notion of crossing a river. The Nordic Heritage Museum declined to discuss architecture or interior updates or give Mithun permission to comment on the design, citing the timing was not right as the project is still under development. The $44.6 million capital campaign is almost complete, with $5 million left to go, said Jan Woldseth Colbrese, Deputy Director of External Affairs at the museum. The Nordic museum expects to break ground this spring, with construction starting this summer, and an opening at the end of 2017 or early 2018.
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Product> Sustainable and Green Products from Greenbuild 2015

The 14th annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo took place November 18–20 in Washington, D.C. This year’s expo featured the latest and greatest products and materials in sustainable design. Check out these cutting-edge green building products from the show. SageGlass Electrochromic Glass SageGlass Control interior sunlight and glare without affecting scenic views with SageGlass Electrochromic Glass. Equipped with electronic tinting and clearing capabilities, this dynamic glass is suitable for windows, skylights, and curtain walls. The glass also helps reduce energy consumption and building cooling loads. Deep Dive Kirei Kirei teamed up with Maine Heritage Timber to create Deep Dive, a collection of reclaimed timber that can be used for wallcoverings, ceilings, and millwork. Deep Dive is available in two specifications: Heritage Plank and Shadow Wood. The ½-inch-thick Heritage Plank comes in three widths, lengths that range from 1 to 4 inches, and both prefinished and unfinished options. Featuring a mix of thicknesses, Shadow Wood is available in three widths and lengths. TGI-Spacer M Technoform This durable and lightweight window spacer works hard to reduce unwanted drafts and condensation on the interior surface of window glass. TGI–Spacer M comes in a wide variety of size configurations and six neutral colorways—Black, Light Grey, Dark Grey, White, Champagne, and Bronze. Custom sizes and colors are also available. Topspin Draper Inc. Topspin is a retractable interior and exterior shading system comprised of a series of fabric panels and spring rollers. This system can be installed on horizontal, vertical, and sloped glazing, and it’s capable of withstanding wind speeds up to 38 mph. Topspin is available in widths up to 10 feet and lengths up to 40 feet. SkyScape Pregrown Modular System Firestone This 15-inch-by-20-inch vegetative roof system features a foundation comprised of 100 percent recycled high-density polypropylene and a durable honeycomb structure that allows plants to share moisture and nutrients. Each module weighs 50 lbs., features an interlock below grade on all four sides to withstand high winds, and manages stormwater through unitized moisture retention reservoirs. Autodesk Insight 360 Autodesk With the Autodesk Insight 360 software program, architects can easily access building energy and environmental performance data, such as whole building energy, heating, cooling, daylighting, and solar radiation simulations. The interactive software allows architects to create 3-D models with Revit and FormIt 360 Pro, giving them an inside look at real-time performance outcomes.
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Joshua Zabel talks digital collaboration in facade design

Kreysler & Associates' Joshua Zabel knows more than a thing or two about collaborating with architects to produce complex facades. "On the design side, increasingly complex projects call for earlier and earlier involvement from us for material and fabrication input," said Zabel. "With increasing frequency we're being called on by architects to contribute during SD and DD phases." Zabel will share the fabricator's perspective on teamwork in high performance envelope design and construction later this week at Facades+AM Seattle. His co-presenters on "Digital Collaborations: Applications, Realities and Opportunities in the Delivery of Complex Facades" include Jeffrey Vaglio (Enclos), David Sandinsky (NBBJ) and Marne Zahner (Magnusson Klemencic Associates). Digital design tools play a critical role in enabling an ongoing dialogue between designers and fabricators, said Zabel. "There's obviously a lot to be said for the ability to pass a 3D model back and forth or share drawings on a screen in real time with someone thousands of miles away," he explained. "It seems easy to forget it wasn't anywhere near as fluid, say, 15 years ago." More specifically, said Zabel, "It's interesting to me when we're able to communicate with architects at the level of programming the toolpath strategy for making molds with our CNC machine. Everything about that notion is enhanced by the collaborative use of technology." Zabel compares contemporary developments in design and fabrication technology to the introduction of another collaborative tool: the telephone. "CAD and digital fabrication processes are such useful tools for construction and collaboration, I imagine one day, like the telephone, we won't marvel at how useful it is, we'll just take it for granted," he said. At the same time, there remains room for improvement. Construction documentation standards, for instance, often necessitate creating traditional 2D models that are "simply impractical" in particularly complex cases such as SFMOMA rainscreen or Bing Concert Hall, said Zabel. The ease of communication "can also lead to overload and an environment where it can be difficult to find a foothold or pinpoint the important thing to focus on where everybody has access to all of the information all the time." Join Zabel and other movers and shakers in the facades world December 4 at Facades+AM Seattle. Register today on the symposium website.
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Energy strategist Sangeetha Divakar on the role of digital techniques in facade design

Digital techniques including parametrization play an increasingly important role in the work of many architects, engineers, and builders, especially those involved in the design and fabrication of high performance facades. "Parametrization is a critical path for facade design," observed Perkins+Will energy strategist Sangeetha Divakar. "A choice set of digital tools are being used to achieve this, especially when design options are optimized in response to several end goal parameters." Divakar will share lessons learned from her work in Seattle and elsewhere next week at Facades+AM Seattle. Her co-presenters on "Combined Modeling Efforts for the Optimized Facade: Models, Methods, Materials" include Morrison Hershfield principal Stéphane Hoffman and Richard Green, of Front, Inc. As someone particularly attuned to environmental performance, said Divakar, "What excites me the most in facade systems optimization now is that the line demarcating design parametrization and energy analysis parametrization is fast disappearing." But while the worlds of aesthetics and energy analysis are more integrated than ever, gaps remain elsewhere. In particular, Divakar pinpointed a need for "a direct integration of facade parametrization with engineering parametrization." Hear more about cutting-edge digital design tools including parametrization from Divakar, Hoffman, and Green on December 4 at Facades+AM Seattle. The symposium, a half-day version of the popular Facades+ conference series, features three sessions on hot topics in facade design and construction, with a special focus on designing and building for the Pacific Northwest. Learn more and register today at the Facades+AM website.
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What’s hot in Seattle at Facades+AM, December 4

For Seattle's AEC professionals, the city's thriving high-tech industry is both a blessing and a challenge. "The architecture scene in Seattle is red hot and exciting," said Mic Patterson, vice president of Strategic Development for Enclos. "The migration of tech and related companies into the area is driving a new wave of architectural expression in which the building skin is playing a role." Next month, Patterson co-chairs Facades+AM Seattle, a half-day version of the acclaimed Facades+ conference series, with Perkins+Will senior project designer Carsten Stinn. But while the influx of capital and design-minded entrepreneurs presents an unparalleled opportunity for architectural experimentation, Seattle-area architects, engineers, fabricators, and builders, may have some catching up to do when it comes to the technical side of the building envelope. "There is a long history of great architecture in Seattle, yet the advanced facade systems are relatively new to the area, and there are many in the local design and construction scene unfamiliar with the technology," observed Patterson. "In fact, the pace of development of facade technology has accelerated to the point that keeping up takes a deliberate effort, even by the experts, or they won't be experts for long." "Our Facades+AM event will throw some of this up for a quick but deep dialogue that will provide equal parts information and inspiration," promised Patterson. The morning's agenda is divided into three case study-based presentations punctuated by networking breaks. Jeffrey Vaglio (Enclos) and Joshua Zabel (Kreysler & Associates) will follow Patterson and Stinn's opening remarks with "Digital Collaborations: Applications, Realities, and Opportunities in the Delivery of Complex Facades." The second presentation, by energy strategist consultant Sangeetha Divakar and Morrison Hershfield's Stéphane Hoffman, is "Combined Modeling Efforts for the Optimized Facade: Models, Methods, Materials." The final offering, from Devin Kleiner (Perkins+Will) and Peter Alspach (Arup), is "Aspirations vs. Reality: Analysis of Built Projects." Additional speakers are being added to the program. To learn more or join the Seattle dialogue, visit the Facades+AM Seattle website today.
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OMA selected to master plan Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium–Armory Campus

Washington, D.C.'s rundown Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium–Armory Campus, home to soccer team D.C. United, is finally edging closer to redevelopment. The New York office of Rem Koolhaas' Rotterdam-based firm OMA has been commissioned to master plan the 190-acre site. The stadium, located in the Southeast quadrant of the District, boasts a significant soccer pedigree, having hosted five World Cup matches in 1994. Constructed in 1961, the RFK Memorial Stadium was famed for being one of the first multi-sport sports venues, pitched as both a baseball and soccer arena. After almost 60 years of service, the stadium is now long overdue for a facelift. The project is being overseen by Events DC and the Sports Authority for the District of Columbia. OMA will also work with management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey to develop long- and short-term concepts for the future usage of the site. The project will be managed by OMA's New York office, with the intention of creating a "holistic conceptual plan" that "resonates with the surrounding community" forming axis points and public meeting points, acting as a social hub for residents. Jason Long, partner at OMA, said in a statement that the plan will seek to to play an "important role in reconnecting the city to the Anacostia waterfront.” No renderings have been released to date. OMA will seek to integrate the stadium into the 190-acre site, a vast expanse currently covered by surface-level parking lots, underutilized green spaces, and wide roadways. The windswept campus today appears eerily abandoned. “The goal of the project is to develop conceptual master plans for the entire Campus that complement the site, benefit the community, and create access points and public areas of convergence for residents and visitors” Laura Baird, associate at OMA, said in a statement. Plans and concepts for the project will be released in January 2016. The campus master plan is OMA's second commission in Washington, D.C. The firm also won a design competition, with landscape architecture firm OLIN, to build the 11th Street Bridge Park that spans the Anacostia River.The so-called "Anacostia Crossings" proposal configures the bridge into an X-shaped , multi-story linear park. According to AN's October 2014 report on the bridge, nearly $16 million had already been raised for the project, with a goal of $40 million more.
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Report: Red tape and deferred maintenance balloon U.S. infrastructure costs to $3.7 trillion

A new report attempts to quantify the cost of our national reluctance to fix aging bridges, railroads and power lines. Delays in approving infrastructure projects cost the United States some $3.7 trillion, according to the nonpartisan think tank Common Good—more than twice what it would take to fix the infrastructure in the first place, according to a report titled Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals. That staggering price tag includes the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution that continues while local, state, and federal agencies forestall fixes to infrastructure that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is due for $1.7 trillion in repairs and maintenance through 2020. The New York–based think tank based their numbers on a six-year delay, which they reasoned was accurate according to available data about how long projects typically take to get shovel-ready:
Although large projects often take a decade or longer to permit, we assume that the avoidable delay on major projects is six years. There is ample anecdotal evidence of actual years of delay in the US for different types of infrastructure projects, but little cumulative data. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that the average time for approval of major highway projects was over six years. Five to ten years is a common timeframe for interstate transmission lines, and for wind farms and solar fields on federal lands on either coast.
Infrastructure maintenance and repair is, of course, a thoroughly unsexy topic. But, as the Wall Street Journal writes in an editorial about Common Good's report, it's important—and perhaps politically viable even in a presidential election cycle:
Common Good suggests building a process that shuttles projects through in a prompt two years. Environmental reviews should be handled by one designated official and kept to 300 pages; litigation should be restricted to the first 90 days after the permit is issued; the White House should be granted authority to appoint an agency as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for interstate projects. Congress could address the permitting morass this fall as part of the transportation bill, and the presidential candidates could include the issue and a horror story or two in their agendas for faster economic growth. It’s hard to imagine a more sensible and politically achievable idea—and one better suited to restoring public confidence that government can carry out its basic duties.
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The 2015 winners of the Rudy Bruner Awards serve up a healthy dose of urban excellence

The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence has announced its 2015 gold and silver medalists. For the past 27 years, the biennial competition has honored “transformative places distinguished by physical design and contributions to the economic, environmental and social vitality of America’s cities.” This year’s gold medal—and $50,000—goes to Baltimore’s “Miller Court,” an abandoned industrial facility that was transformed into a mixed-use building with housing, and a focus on fostering teachers and education-focused non-profits. The transformation was spearheaded by the Seawall Development Company, Enterprise Community Investment, and Marks, Thomas Architects. The project was completed in 2009. “Aware of the challenges facing the Baltimore school system and professionals entering the field through programs like Teach for America, Seawall sought to build a safe, welcoming community for teachers and a home for allied nonprofits that would strengthen the neighborhood and city,” the Bruner Foundation said in a press release. “Attracting national attention as a model, the project has generated additional investment in Remington and has been replicated in Philadelphia.” Below are the four silver medalists, each of which received $10,000. Falls Park on the Reedy Greenville, South Carolina
From the Bruner Foundation: "The renaissance of a 26-acre river corridor running through the heart of Greenville, restoring public access to the falls and greenspace and catalyzing adjacent downtown development. (Submitted by the City of Greenville)"
Grand Rapids Downtown Market Grand Rapids, Michigan
From the Bruner Foundation: "A new downtown public space promoting local food producers and community events, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. (Submitted by Grand Rapids Downtown Market)"
Quixote Village Olympia, Washington
From the Bruner Foundation: "A two-acre community of 30 tiny houses and a common building that provides permanent, supportive housing for chronically homeless adults. (Submitted by Panza)"
Uptown District Cleveland, Ohio
From the Bruner Foundation: "The redevelopment of a corridor linking art, educational and health care institutions with surrounding neighborhoods, creating outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections. (Submitted by Case Western Reserve University)"
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This Seattle architect built a basement man cave housing 250,000 neatly arranged LEGO bricks

One Seattle architect’s much ballyhooed basement isn’t built from LEGO bricks, but it houses 250,000 of them in 150 meticulously sorted bins. Jeff Pelletier, who runs a small architecture practice Board & Vellum, has amassed a collection worth an estimated $25,000, with containers categorized by color, food, Lego leaves, heads, torsos, Lego latticework, satellite dishes, legs, gold bricks, red bricks, and lime. When Pelletier bought the unfurnished house in 2006, he found a lone red Lego brick in the attic and construed it as a sign that it was the place to put down roots–and his LEGO man cave. Like many aficionados of the self-adhering plastic bricks, Pelletier has been collecting since toddlerhood. At age 16, he relegated his collection to the storage room, unearthing it again in 2005 when he resumed collecting and acquired the collection he has today. When he remodeled his whimsical-looking lime-and-raspberry home in 2011, he decided to transform his basement into a media room, bar, and giant Lego repository, where Pelletier has built a Lego library, ships, bars, houses he’s lived in and even a miniature version of his brightly colored home. “Since I was 2 years old, I always wanted to be an architect. I think a lot of that was because of LEGO,” Pelletier told Komo News.