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Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Columbia in Manhattanville

Columbia in Manhattanville edited by Caitlin Blanchfield
Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016
Paperback, 142 pages

In October 2016 I went on a press tour of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, one of two buildings designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop that were nearing completion as part of the first phase of Columbia University's new Manhattanville campus. The timing was a bit odd, given that it and the other building, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, won't open until spring 2017. (A third Piano-designed building, the University Forum and Academic Conference Center, will open in 2018, to be followed a few years later by a pair of buildings designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.) No doubt, the tour took place before all of the expensive scientific equipment would move into the building, but it also sped up any positive reception of the project, which has been in the works as far back as 2002 (when SOM was hired to work on Columbia's expansion) and has seen its fair share of opposition and criticism. Bringing the press inside the Piano building before the students, scientists, and other users enabled us to see firsthand how well the building realizes the school's goals of using transparency and the street grid to create a neighborhood that is one with the city. Or so Columbia would like people to consider.

Jerome L. Greene Science Center

Around the time of the tour, Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, an imprint of Columbia GSAPP, published this book on the Manhattanville project. It consists of interviews with some of the key players (Renzo Piano, SOM's Marilyn Taylor et. al., Elizabeth Diller and Charles Renfro, etc.) a trio of essays, color photographs by Tom Harris, and nine "historical episodes." I started the book by reading the historical episodes, which span from 1916 to 2007 and tackle New York City's zoning, the adjacent Manhattanville Houses, mid-20th-century proposals for the area, Columbia's quashed attempt at building a gymnasium in Morningside Park, and the rezoning that allowed Columbia to move forward with its 17-acre campus.

Following that I read the interviews and then the essays. Broadly these contributions were respectfully informative and critical, and I'd say it's good to have both. With such a large, complex, longterm project, it's beneficial to hear from the key players behind the master plan and the buildings. At the same time, sociological and other criticisms are a key part of the project's history, so I'm glad to see they are not being glossed over. Steven Gregory's essay, "The Radiant University," is particularly helpful in this regard, since it questions Columbia's assertions (especially in regard to eminent domain), gives voice to displaced residents and businesspeople, and highlights some potential conflicts of interest.

Another highlight is Reinhold Martin's essay, "Made in Manhattanville," which delves below the street grid to the below-grade facilities that undergird the campus and allow services to remain out of sight. This subterranean plinth is a key element in the plan and one that seems to point to the need for the university to obtain every block bound by Broadway, 12th Avenue, 125th Street, and 133th Street. Without doing so, each building would not be united underground by a seven-story labyrinth of parking, loading, mechanical, and other services.

This huge below-grade "building" serving all of the above-grade buildings is also necessary for Piano's ideal of community and transparency, achieved by maintaining streets through the campus and visually opening up the ground floors to invite people inside. With the Greene Science Center, the public will be allowed to access parts of the ground floor, a situation that should extend to future buildings. This is a commendable aspect of Piano's and SOM's contributions, but to focus on it (as the tour did in part) is to miss many of the contested aspects of the project. This book therefore fills a void by presenting what the campus is as well as what transpired to make it happen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today's archidose #946

Here are a few photos of Blob VB3 (2009) at the Verbeke Foundation in Kemzeke, Belgium, by dmvA Architecten. (Photograph: Klaas Vermaas)

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

AE34: Reclaimed Windows and Doors

Every now and then I come across small buildings that are an assemblage of reclaimed windows and doors fitted together like a game of Tetris. Many are like this glass house in, fittingly, Christiania, Denmark:

[Photo: seier+seier]

Or this Cabin in West Virginia by Nick Olson and Lilah Horwitz:

As much as I like the appearance of these sort of makeshift constructions, I figure any sustainability points gained in reusing old windows and doors are offset by the heat gain and loss of what I imagine to be single panes of glass. Hence these elements are better suited for interiors, as in Studio Boot in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, by Studio Boot + Hilberink Bosch Architecten:

Or temporary installations, as in Bow-House in Heerlen, Netherlands, by Malka Architecture:

But easily the most ambitious project I've come across with the architectural element of reclaimed windows and doors is the Collage House in Mumbai, India, by S+PS Architects:

[Photo: Sebastian Zachariah]

Much like Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu appropriate tiles from demolished buildings for their campus structures in China, the folks at S+PS have incorporated old windows and doors from demolished buildings in Mumbai. According to Domus, where I spotted this project, the incorporation of historical elements doesn't end at the walls at the front of the house: "Hundred-year-old columns from a dismantled house bring back memories ... One finds use of recycled materials like old textile blocks, flooring made out of old Burma teak rafters and purlins, colonial furniture, fabric waste (chindi)."

[Photo: Sebastian Zachariah]

With such a strong visual statement on the street, the use of old windows and doors is as much a political expression as it is about building green.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Today's archidose #945

Here is a photo of Richard Meier's The Hague City Hall & Central Library adorned with a Piet Mondrian-esque mural as part of a celebration of 100 years of De Stijl. (Photograph: Happy Hotelier)

_DSC8371a City Hall The Hague

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: The Future Architect's Tool Kit

The Future Architect's Tool Kit by Barbara Beck
Schiffer, 2016
Hardcover, 48 pages

This "tool kit" geared to children ages 8 to 12 is a companion to architect Barbara Back's earlier The Future Architect's Handbook. Although I don't have that book, it appears that Beck builds upon the basics outlined in that book and includes materials for doing hands-on exercises. Specifically those materials are (as seen above) a pencil, a pad of gridded paper, a scale, and an eraser. The Handbook presented drawings of a house by fictional architect Aaron, and in turn the Tool Kit enables kids to design their own house.

Chapter one of the 48-page Tool Kit book is a review of the drawing conventions (plans, sections, elevations) described in the previous book; depending on how well a child grasps the idea, he or she might not even need the Handbook. From there Beck guides the "future architects" through the design of a house, from the site to bubble diagrams to programming to drawing plans and sections, to even building a model (spread above). Everything is basic, but that is fine. The book is not aiming for the next Robie House; instead it tries to give kids an understanding of representation and spatial thinking, and it does a good job in doing so.

That said, I must admit that there are challenges to the conventional ways of designing and representing buildings that Beck presents, particularly in regards to preteens. My eight-year-old daughter was none too excited to tackle designing a house following Beck's book, but I was blown away by the creations she made in Minecraft, which she was more than happy to play around with. That game, in which players shape environments by stacking various types of blocks, benefits from many things, especially it being first-person. That means users see the spaces they create as they create them. There is no translation from idea to 2D drawing to 3D model and beyond. (No wonder Bjarke Ingels contends that "architecture should be more like Minecraft.") With today's digital natives more comfortable with 3D graphics than pencils and paper, maybe it's time for Beck (or somebody else) to develop a digital tool kit for this generation of future architects.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Little Free Libraries

Chronicle Books, with Little Free Library and AIASF, has announced the winners of its Little Free Library Design competition. They received 300 submissions from 40 countries and selected three winners:

Judges' Choice*
Owlie by Bartosz Bochynski of FUTUMATA, London

Chronicle Books' Choice
Rachel Murdaugh of Clark Nexsen, Asheville, North Carolina

Stewards' Choice
Tree of Knowledge by CIRCLE (Ryo Otsuka, Lin Zihao), Tokyo

*Judges included Todd H. Bol and the staff of Little Free Library, Kevin Lippert of Princeton Architectural Press, Dan Cohen of Gramming for Good, Brett Randall Jones of David Baker Architects, Christina Jenkins of Project H Design, Renée Elaine Sazcı of AIASF, and the team at Snøhetta's San Francisco office.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Today's archidose #944: Valentine's Day Edition

Here are a some of my photos of The Office for Creative Research's We Were Strangers Once Too installation on display in Times Square until March 5th.

We Were Strangers Once Too
We Were Strangers Once Too
We Were Strangers Once Too
We Were Strangers Once Too
We Were Strangers Once Too
We Were Strangers Once Too

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Garden City Mega City

Garden City Mega City: Rethinking Cities for the Age of Global Warming by WOHA & Patrick Bingham-Hall
Pesaro Publishing, 2016
Paperback, 384 pages

[Front and back covers of Garden City | Mega City | Image: Pesaro Publishing]

Two thousand sixteen was a good year for Singapore's WOHA: the firm had just completed Skyville@Dawson, one of their largest projects; their projects were put on display at an excellent exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum in New York City; they participated in the Venice Architecture Biennale; and they released their latest monograph, Garden City Mega City. It was at the Biennale that I first encountered the book by WOHA and longtime collaborator Patrick Bingham-Hall, the photographer, writer and head of Pesaro Publishing. A book launch took place at Palazzo Bembo, inside a darkened room whose walls were graced with drones-eye videos of their projects. Some covers of the books laid out on a table showed the lush vegetation covering their PARKROYAL on Pickering, while others showed a skyline of generic apartment blocks under an ominous orange sky. This prompted one visitor to ask if he could take both books, only to learn from WOHA's Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell that it was in fact one book in two halves: the 75-page Mega City, which focuses on problems; and the 309-page Garden City, which proposes solutions.

[Garden City | Mega City exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum | Photo by John Hill]

To get the most from the book, it makes sense for one to start with Mega City, in order to digest the problems that WOHA's practice tries to address. At this point in the 21st century the problems – pollution, global inequality, greenwashing, overpopulation, energy-hogging buildings, climate change, etc. – are widely known. It makes sense that these issues are not discussed in depth through lots of text; rather their is a 50/50 split between text and imagery that gets the points across. A couple important points come to the fore in this half: that most of the so-called mega cities are found in tropical, not temperate climates; and that for every vicious cycle in place (expressed in the example of Bangalore) there is a "virtuous cycle" that can reverse it (Dhaka is used as an example here). Even amongst the gloom, there is some hope.

[PARKROYAL on Pickering | Photo by John Hill]

The inverse side, Garden City, is as much manifesto as it is monograph. While certainly focused on WOHA's research, speculative proposals, and real-world commissions, their output is presented thematically, polemically, and piecemeal, rather than one project after another. Four chapters comprise the most of Garden City: Layering Cities, Planting Cities, Breathing Cities, and Rating Cities. As an illustration, within the first chapter are found five themes, the first being "multiple ground levels." After some bullet points on their benefits, instances of their use in WOHA projects are presented, including Skyville@Dawson, which is made up of 11-story "sky villages" linked by above-ground walkways.

Two chapters follow the four mentioned above: Prototypology and Self-Sufficient City. The first presents the projects that were touched upon in the earlier chapters, but it does so alongside WOHA's own five-part metric that ranks how well developments contribute to social and environmental sustainability. One could argue that LEED, Living Building Challenge, and other green building guidelines already to that, but they don't do it to the same degree nor in such terms as "civic generosity." WOHA's metrics are apparently more ambitious than other standards, yet they are still practical.

[Spread from Garden City Mega City | Image courtesy of PLANE - SITE]

These metrics point the way to the Self-Sufficient City, a master plan that incorporates the lessons outlined in the rest of the book, but done on a nearly unimaginable scale: 210,000 people on 1,800 acres of secondary rainforest in Jakarta. Although presented in renderings as 60-meter-tall buildings seamlessly blending with the forested landscape, I can only imagine an undertaking of this size destroying the forest as the project gets built – if it were built at all. Perhaps that is why I find myself more in favor of WOHA's projects in the middle of Singapore and other tropical cities. Such buildings as PARKROYAL on Pickering are a canvas for plants, in effect reintroducing vegetation into cities. With that in mind, there is plenty in Garden City Mega City to keep me – and I'm sure others – happy and full of hope.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Today's archidose #943

Here are a some photos of a bike store (designer unknown) by SANAA next to their Naoshima Port Terminal in Japan. (Photographed by Ken Lee.)

直島港ターミナル, Naoshima Port, Japan
直島港ターミナル, Naoshima Port, Japan
直島港ターミナル, Naoshima Port, Japan
直島港ターミナル, Naoshima Port, Japan

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

How to Build in a Landmark District

New York YIMBY just posted some renderings of an infill project in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill Historic District.

The four-story townhouse is designed by Ramona Albert a Brooklyn-based architect whose bio includes experience at Front Inc, a facade consultancy with many big-name projects in its portfolio.

Perhaps her experience at Front influenced the exterior of the townhouse, which is elegant, unique, yet entirely appropriate to its setting. Per YIMBY, the "massive front arch [is] meant to evoke the many carriage houses in the neighborhood, including those just up the street."

The design makes me think immediately of a Philip Johnson house, though the articulation of the faux-travertine front facade is rooted in contemporary fabrication techniques, most likely gleaned from Albert's experience at Front. The rear facade, below, is understandable tamer, though it does make the modern design underlying the whole townhouse more apparent.

Although"Brooklyn Community Board 2 voted to disapprove the house, saying it diverges too far from existing structures," per YIMBY, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the design. I can see why.