Point of View

August 2011

STATING THE OBVIOUS

08/30/11

STATING THE OBVIOUS

Yesterday’s New Orleans Times Picayune carried a front page story—fittingly, I guess, on the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—about the Army Corps of Engineers’ new rating systems for the country’s levees.  The report gave a “near failing grade to New Orleans area levees,” despite the $10-billion effort to rebuild them after Katrina. The levees are designed to withstand surges from a “100-year hurricane,” or a storm with a one-percent chance of happening in any given year. For storms the Corps described as “500-year events,” all bets are apparently off. “Larger events, however, would cause flooding,” the piece stated, rather bloodlessly. “Reviewers estimated those events could kill as much of 3 percent of the area’s population, and inundate as many...

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One City, Two Visions

08/30/11

One City, Two Visions

On the one hand, New Urbanists say that cities should have minimal impact on their natural surroundings, while on the other hand world-class designs are defined by unconventional schemes that strive to minimize the use of non-renewables.  It seems, then, the twenty-first century building is a machine designed to rationalize its inputs while maintaining high function. But the agreement between the two groups ends there. Should all architectural projects resort to minimalism out of ecological necessity? Or should those who create them strive for ever-inventive ways to trounce gravity? And if the interests of global commerce command the latter course, do these questions even matter? Two current exhibits in New York showcase competing answers. The free, experimental public space...

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Greening the US Government

08/30/11

Greening the US Government

During this year’s NeoCon, the largest contract furniture trade show held in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Pilot Credit 43, which applies to all Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction LEED rating systems. The pilot credit supports LEED’s objective of encouraging building owners and facility managers to implement measurable green building goals as these relate to maintenance and furnishings, specifically. LEED Pilot Credit 43 promotes the use of non-structural products, with known life cycles in LEED buildings, in order to set the foundation for continuous improvement. Also, for the first time, the USGBC recognized several third-party certifiers,...

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MASterworks Awards

08/29/11

MASterworks Awards

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) announced winners of its annual MASterworks awards last week, honoring projects that in its words “make a significant contribution to New York’s built environment.” In the past five years, the awards (in the Best Building category) have gone to a slew of well-known firms: Morphosis, Gehry + Partners, Renzo Piano Workshop. This year was no different, with projects by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Foster + Partners topping the list. The jury—Rafael Pelli, Deborah Berke, Marc Kushner of HWKN, and Charles Bendit of Taconic Investment Partners—also gave a Best Green Design Initiative award to the Design Trust for Public Trust for its High Performance Landscape Guidelines, done in collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks and...

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Tribute in Light

08/25/11

Tribute in Light

Photos: Robert Vizzini It was one of the most profound pieces of public art I’d ever seen.  The tribute first appeared on the night of March 11, 2002, six months after the World Trade Center attacks: twin beams of light, pointed to the heavens, emanating from close to the site.  It literally stopped me in my tracks. I remember standing on the sidewalk—five or six miles away—looking up at the lights slicing through the clouds, disappearing into infinity, thinking: this is the ultimate memorial. Tribute in Light—designed by John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi, Richard Nash Gould, Julian Laverdiere and Paul Myoda, with Paul Marantz as lighting consultant—became an annual event, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, appearing at dusk every September 11 and fading with the dawn...

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Letter from Ecuador

08/25/11

Letter from Ecuador

Photo: Kevin R. Horn Next month marks a full year of work on the Tingo water system. In previous posts I described the process of site surveying and planning, and then how in late January we finally began construction.  Earlier this summer we finished the intake, sedimentation tank, and pump house, three structures which will, respectively, collect groundwater, clean it of sediment, and send it upwards to the community through 3,300 feet of stainless steel and high-grade-PVC piping. At the top of the mountain the water will gather in a storage tank and then flow down the other side of the slope through another set of pipes that connect to individual households. The piecemeal construction schedule – we built each segment of the system as time and logistics allowed – means that we...

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Going Paperless

08/24/11

Going Paperless

In news that will surely gladden the hearts (and backs!) of schoolchildren everywhere, the Yale School of Medicine announced today that it will give each of its students an iPad2 for classroom and clinical use. All paper-based course materials will be eliminated. “We started thinking about this about a year and half ago, shortly after the iPad was released,” says Michael Schwartz, assistant dean for curriculum at the school. “We were spending a hundred thousand dollars a year on paper, and the students didn’t always read it.” (Medical students, it turns out, aren’t all that different from twelve-year-olds.) The advantages here seem obvious: cost, environmental footprint, and ease of use. At any time, students can hit the “sync button,” as Schwartz calls it, and get...

Posted at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments

Building for Change

08/23/11

Building for Change

Homes in the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. Contrary to some politicians’ beliefs, climate change has become an urgent matter. This urgency calls on everyone involved in the designed environment to critically re-evaluate her or his relationship with the Earth. Here I want to address one of our major threats and resources: water. Today in coastal cities worldwide planners and policy makers discuss flood mitigation strategies that can be flexible, multi-layered systems able to adapt to sea level change. Research reveals that passive systems, which can be both static and dynamic, are needed to accommodate the ever-changing relationship between land and water. Adaptable – Flexible - Multi-Layered – Passive - Resilient – describe this unique emerging building typology,...

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Game Change

08/22/11

Game Change

Last week a local architect forwarded an interesting press release from Greater New Orleans, Inc., an economic development alliance for the region. It announced, with great hyperventilating fanfare, that Gameloft, “one of the world’s largest publishers of digital and social gaming,” would establish a new video game development studio in New Orleans. This was one of those Richard Florida-type stories that seemed too good to be true. And maybe an indication that the Crescent City had indeed become a draw for the coveted “creative class.” So I called Gameloft’s Dave Hague in New York—home of the company’s only American studio—and asked a simple question: Why New Orleans?  “To be honest, the city was initially not on our list,” says Hague, a senior producer who...

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Q&A: Framing Nature

08/19/11

Q&A: Framing Nature

Eva Hagberg’s latest book is a collection of gorgeous rooms with views of “nature” as the architectural elite frame it for elite clients. But Nature Framed: At Home in the Landscape (Monacelli Press, 2011) is anything but a book about windows. “This is architecture at its most primal: as a shift in consciousness from open landscape to delineated space,” the critic writes in her introduction. The collection of two dozen North American houses is infused with Hagberg’s enthusiasm and her clear and thoughtful perspective. There is such a powerful voyeuristic pleasure in house architecture. Many of the houses are luscious and delicious, powerful blends of site and fabric; they are all elegantly, sometimes hauntingly photographed (almost all lacking people in said photos, of...

Posted at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments

The Other New Orleans

08/18/11

The Other New Orleans

Photo: Francesca Pedersen. The conventional wisdom about New Orleans these days is for the most part positive: an engaged mayor (with the obligatory “60 Minutes” profile under his belt), rebounding neighborhoods, improving schools, young people flocking in.  All of this is true, as far as it goes, but it’s an incomplete accounting. What has gone largely unreported in the mainstream press is the condition of the neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.  Much of the Lower Ninth Ward—despite the heroic efforts of Brad Pitt and Make It Right—remains desolate. This past weekend I went on a bus tour of the Lower Ninth, sponsored by the local chapter of the AIA and hosted by John Williams, who in addition to his work as executive architect for Make It Right has taken on the...

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A Werneck Awakening

08/17/11

A Werneck Awakening

As the white winter sun poured into Gaspar Saldanha’s cloud-level window in Manhattan, the grandson of Paulo Werneck, artist and artisan of mosaic to Brazil’s most iconic architecture, the younger designer told the story of his famous relative. As he talked, I was soon diving like a Minoan mosaic swimmer into a warm azure and royal blue Paradise. Paulo Werneck, the man credited with inventing Brazil’s Modernist mosaic aesthetic and re-introducing the art to his country, brought lightness and spatiality to architecture, as did Oscar Niemeyer who often collaborated with him. The two notably introduced playful and bright expressions into crowded, industrial urban environments, inventing new definitions for public buildings unseen before.  Werneck’s aesthetic was informed by...

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Move Over, Burj Khalifa

08/16/11

Move Over, Burj Khalifa

Earlier this month word come out of Chicago—specifically, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture—that His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, planned to build the world’s tallest building. The Kingdom Tower, as it’s called for now, will top out at an almost incomprehensible 3280 feet. That’s roughly two-thirds of a mile.  (Frank Lloyd Wright’s not looking so wacky after all.) How exactly are we supposed to greet this news? Does the world need a 3280-foot tower? Did it need the 2717-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai, designed by Smith and Gill while at SOM? Of course not: super tall buildings aren’t shaped by profit—upturned boxes and their attached casinos are created for that—they’re shaped by...

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Product Starchitecture

08/15/11

Product Starchitecture

Le Corbusier designed a chaise longue, Mies van der Rohe had his Barcelona chair, and a bench by Frank Gehry was auctioned at an estimated $150,000 last year at Sotheby’s. Starchitects don’t just design buildings, and Zaha Hadid is no exception. An exhibition of her product designs, Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion, will open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) on September 17th. Lacoste Shoes in leather and rubber, designed in 2008 by Zaha Hadid. Hadid is no stranger to solo exhibitions—two very large ones were mounted at New York’s Guggenheim museum and London’s Design Museum in 2006 and 2007 respectively. And some of the objects on display at the PMA have been part of those exhibitions—Hadid’s Mesa Table, an organic branched table designed for Vitra in 2007 was...

Posted at 05:24 PM | Permalink | Comments

Places that Work: A Guest Tower

08/15/11

Places that Work: A Guest Tower

‘Tis visiting season. People are traveling to see friends and family members while the weather is generally pleasant. Humans are territorial animals, however, which is one of the reasons that those visits are seldom tension-free. We feel most comfortable when we have a clearly defined physical territory, and houseguests who leave their own territories at home, can disrupt those of their hosts. In South-Eastern Ohio, Greg Campbell and Jean Marie Cackowski-Campbell have designed and built a freestanding tower on their property for guests. It’s a place that works because it acknowledges that sometimes continual togetherness can be too much. The tower is set across the deck from the main house and has a total of 521 square feet of living space, spread across 3 octagonal floors...

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Charm Offensive

08/11/11

Charm Offensive

If we need any further proof that the Danish architect and wunderkind Bjarke Ingels is destined for superstardom (and we don’t), here’s another piece of evidence: a new documentary on Parkour, the so-called “urban sport” where competitors race from one spot in the city to another as quickly as possible. (Fifty years ago this was called “playing on the fire escape.”) The film—directed by the Danish director Kasper Astrup Schröder and entitled My Playground—began as a modest twenty-minute effort. But the irrepressible and relentlessly media savvy Ingels watched a rough cut, saw hipsters at his Mountain complex in Copenhagen leaping from one terrace to another, and suddenly a short film on Parkour became a somewhat longer film on Parkour—and architecture. (More...

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Remembering Doug Garofalo

08/10/11

Remembering Doug Garofalo

We were greatly saddened to hear about the recent death of Doug Garofalo, the Chicago-based architect and educator. At Metropolis we felt a particular connection to him: Doug was part of the digital wave that swept through architecture in the 1990s. His collaboration, with Michael Maltzen and Gregg Lynn, on the Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyside, Queens helped introduce an entirely new way of working. It was the product of three architects working in three different cities (something taken for granted today). But the project that best conveys Doug’s spirit was the house we featured on the cover of our November 2004 issue (below). Using the digital processes he’d become increasingly known for, Doug wrapped a swooping, biomorphic addition around a somewhat traditional form,...

Posted at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments

The Legacy of Ray Anderson

08/09/11

The Legacy of Ray Anderson

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Ray Anderson—who died yesterday after a long battle with cancer—had on the built environment. An engineer and entrepreneur, he founded Interface Carpet in 1973 and spearheaded its growth into a multi-billon dollar enterprise. His now famous eco-epiphany in the mid-1990s set the company on a new course, one that helped transform not only Interface but the entire industry. Although his competitors like to grumble about all the ink we gave Ray—he was good copy, he knew the value of a powerful narrative—his example clearly inspired them to become greener, leaner, and ultimately more profitable. That sort of competition, Ray would argue, was healthy competition. Ray told the story many times: how a late-night encounter with Paul...

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Herding Cats

08/06/11

Herding Cats

Walking up the stairs of Coop Himmelblau’s Central Los Angeles High School No. 9. Photo: Dave Lauridsen I will admit, I was naïve. I should have known better. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter, after all, and negotiate that stark reality on a daily basis. But I had a vision: a cockeyed, unrealistic vision that high school students would (willingly) take on projects that resembled, in almost every conceivable way, homework. (Don’t fault me for trying.) We collected about 200 surveys for our story on Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, and more than twenty students checked the box indicating they wanted to write a short essay or blog (very short—no extra work involved! I assured them) on the school’s architecture. My thankless job? Prodding, nagging, and hectoring them...

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One Last Look at Savage Beauty

08/05/11

One Last Look at Savage Beauty

When I first heard last November that there was going to be a full-scale exhibition, Savage Beauty, a tribute to Alexander McQueen, I wasn’t sure the Metropolitan Museum of Art was going to be the best venue to facilitate the retrospective show. Then again, at the time, I had yet to delve into McQueen’s work. I had heard of his exquisite tailoring often presented in obscure runway performances, I recognized the iconic skull printed on his ubiquitous ready-to-wear silk scarves and I adored the tail of the uppercase Q in his brand identity. That was the extent of my McQueen knowledge. But the exhibit was eye-opening, and after two visits, I'd still consider a third. The first time I went, I was well prepared, armed with a magazine and iPod as I joined the queue for a densely packed...

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Steven Ehrlich Receives Maybeck Prize

08/05/11

Steven Ehrlich Receives Maybeck Prize

Dubai Federal National Council building. Courtesy Ehrlich Architects Steven Ehrlich was recently named this year’s recipient of the Maybeck Award for achievement in architecture. The award is given by the American Institute of Architects California Council for an outstanding body of work spanning ten years or more. It is sometimes mistakenly called a lifetime achievement award, but at 65, Ehrich is still a ways off from this—still a burgeoning youth in architectural years. Refining the refined. 1939 Schindler house, updated 2011. Photo, Grant Mudford When I think of his body of work what comes to mind are the different moves—the small moves and the big moves. Two projects that exemplify these are the renovation of a house designed by modernist icon, Rudolf M. Schindler in 1939...

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A Sensitive Shelter

08/04/11

A Sensitive Shelter

A new project by the Canadian design firm molo, called softshelter, considers the frightening reality of homelessness after a natural disaster, a topic which is unfortunately never too far from recent events. Only a few months ago, tornados leveled homes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the Mississippi River swelled to its highest water levels since 1937, flooding neighborhoods in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. How do public organizations respond to these unanticipated needs for mass shelter? How do families continue the routines of daily life without their homes? Molo’s softshelter is a system of uniform, lightweight kraft paper walls that can be unpacked, expanded and magnetically joined end-to-end to create temporary living spaces...

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Places that Work: HOK's New York Office

08/03/11

Places that Work: HOK's New York Office

Individuals send messages about themselves that they feel are important and set a mood through the way they personalize their homes – they make certain sorts of experiences more likely than others. Organizations also convey information and produce psychological effects through the design of public environments. HOK’s New York office is a place that works because it effectively uses its design, and particularly its art collection, to encourage desired conversations. Photo: Eric Laignel The art pieces and photographs used throughout the HOK office represent applied branding, while the views of exemplary architecture framed by the classic modernist windows in the space are integral to the office’s design. All three elements matter and have a significant influence on visitor...

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Building a new Splash House

08/03/11

Building a new Splash House

Since its establishment in 1996, Design Workshop at Parsons The New School of Design has been providing pro bono architectural and construction services to nonprofit organizations, allowing their graduate architecture students to design and meet community needs, through projects ranging from rooftop gardens to recreational grounds for children. This summer, the program has teamed up with New York City’s Parks & Recreation to transform a 19th Century landmark. Tucked away in Washington Heights is one of the oldest surviving structures, the High Bridge, a landmark noted for its historical significance. Since its construction in 1848, the High Bridge has been used as an aqueduct, bringing fresh water to the city as the main source of water inflow. The bridge was eventually closed...

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Stratford-upon-Avon, New York

08/02/11

Stratford-upon-Avon, New York

The Royal Shakespeare Company's temporary stage in New York. Photo: Stephanie Berger When you have something that works it’s only natural you would want to replicate it. Especially if that something is the long-awaited, newly revamped stage home of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford upon Avon, England, recently nominated for a Stirling Prize for best building of the year and responsible for taking the RSC firmly into the twenty-first century with state-of-the-art acoustics and technology. So as 2011 dawned and the RSC turned 50 it set about building a temporary version of its main auditorium and thrust stage for export. Five months and 230 tonnes later the provisional theatre was shipped over to New York and painstakingly re-assembled for use in a six-week summer season...

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Field Work

08/02/11

Field Work

Students in the upper courtyard of Coop Himmelblau's Central Los Angeles High School No. 9. Photo: Dave Lauridsen Everyone always talks about conducting post-occupancy studies, but for a variety of reasons (some legitimate: cost; some less so: exposure) architects rarely do it. At Metropolis, we’d talked about it for a while, but we either couldn’t find the right project or, more importantly, a client willing to subject their building to criticism from the people who use it. (Who needs that?) Earlier this year we got lucky. At a lunch (arranged by Amanda Walter) with Gary Gidcumb, a Los Angeles-based partner at HMC Architects, I mentioned how I’d always wanted to do a post-occupancy story on the Coop Himmelblau-designed school in LA, Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, and...

Posted at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments

Iwan Baan on Living Modernity

08/01/11

Iwan Baan on Living Modernity

For Iwan Baan, Modernism is not merely the old adage that “form follows function,” nor is it an idealistic, uniquely Western European architectural vision that can be easily transported globally. Instead in his book, Brasilia – Chandigarh: Living with Modernity, Bann shows how fluidity dictates all things, from buildings to definitions. Baan’s goal was to document the changes that have occurred to both architecture and master urban plans over the past 50 years in both cities. We decided to interview him on his expedition in Brasilia. He began by “researching Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture, the elements of Lucio Costa’s urban plan, yet also the history of the construction of the city.” As he sees it, “At the advent of Modernity, utopic [sic] aspirations were at play,...

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