My recent posts at World-Architects

      

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

[Insert Soldier Field comment here]

Sunday's Chicago Tribune carried a piece by its architecture critic Blair Kamin that optimistically spoke about the city's young talents, architects that are helping to pull Chicago out of its recent funk of bland developments and neo-traditional design. I bring up the article not for its subject, but because Kamin again mentions Soldier Field, something he seems to do in every one of his pieces no matter what the topic, as my friend Frank has noted in the past.

In the last paragraph of "Ones to watch" he writes, "It's also possible to forgive those in their ranks who admire such flops as Soldier Field...everyone has youthful indiscretions."

Kamin lost his battle against the Mayor and the new design by Wood + Zapata, but now he seems to be using ones opinion of Soldier Field as a measure against how they're judged. Sure, these young architects are forgiven for their indiscretions, but does that mean older architects aren't? If Stanley Tigerman comes out in favor of the recently completed design, has he made Kamin's shitlist, condemned to never appearing in his articles or receiving negative treatment?

Kamin is the only print architecture critic in town, working for the paper with the largest circulation, and therefore has a lot of influence over a lot of readers. Maybe it's time for the Sun Times to replace Lee Bey or maybe it's just time for Kamin to drop his Soldier Field fight and move on.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Next "Starchitect"?

In a link I found at kegz.net, the Times of India reports that Brad Pitt will be taking a break from acting for an informal apprenticeship at Frank Gehry's office in Los Angeles. Recently Pitt has been involved with Gehry's efforts to revitalize downtown Los Angeles and wants to spend a year learning CAD with Gehry.

Pitt's love of architecture is well known. He's quoted in a USA Today article, "[architecture] moves me like music. Done best, I can feel it moving. It has rhythms, harmonies -- it's symphonic." David Fincher, friend and director of Pitt's films Fight Club and Se7en, even boasts, "The stuff he's doing is truly great...I think in the end he may be remembered more for what he'll bring to [architecture] than what he'll bring to movies."

Personally, I think it's great and I hope the news brings more attention to architecture, increasing its appeal with the public. Sure, Pitt's way of learning architecture is unique - not just anybody can apprentice at Gehry's office without an architecture degree - but not just anybody can help make Gehry's plans for downtown become a reality.

Mainly, the actors love of architecture seems sincere; he just happens to be a celebrity who pulls down $20 million per picture, but he's also somebody who's found an interest in something outside his current career and decided pursue it headlong.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Book Review: Unexpected Chicagoland

Unexpected Chicagoland by Camilo José Vergara and Timothy J. Samuelson
The New Press, 2001
Hardcover, 208 pages



Photographer Vergara's collaboration with Chicago historian Samuelson was published in 2001, in conjunction with an exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. His focus is the overlooked pieces of cities and their changes over time, due to neglect, gentrification, politics, commercialism, etc. Sections include obvious choices like George Pullman's company town (its administration building gracing the cover) and Frank Lloyd Wright houses fallen into disrepair, but also many ordinary objects taken for granted that gain a certain meaning over time, like public service billboards, neon signs, 1950's motels, and the ever-present corner turret in all it's shapes, sizes and materials. Featuring over 200 color photographs, the images don't strike me as beautiful, but instead they document a place and time without glossing over the decay of time nor the less-pleasing changes that have occurred in cities. Mainly, the book makes me want to rent a car and drive around the city, exploring all these places I have yet to come across in my regular routine, before it's too late.


Square of the Patriarch

Square of the Patriarch in São Paulo, Brazil by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, 1992

The Square of the Patriarch is an important place in São Paulo, Brazil. Its location makes it part of a connection between the old town and its new extension. So it seems appropriate that a project for the Square by Paulo Mendes da Rocha would be forward thinking while respecting the historical context of the city.


So far, from da Rocha's designs, the mosaic pattern on the floor of the Square and a canopy covering an underground entrance to an adjacent museum have been completed. The former is a reconstruction of an existing Portugese mosaic now covering pedestrian areas for meeting and gathering. The latter is a parabolic covering, constructed like an airplane wing, that is suspended from a large steel beam that spans 40m across a road to further act as a gateway as well as a canopy.


Although the structure required is huge, the canopy receives the most attention, partly to its subtle asymmetry. As a visual terminus to a road perpendicular to the structure (to the left in the above image), the canopy curves to its low point near the ground. This subtle maneuver allows the top of the canopy to have the most presence from the road, especially as the sun illuminates the white surface.


The other side of the canopy is raised higher than the other, indicating the entry to the museum below but also allowing for views to an old church at an angle to the plaza (partially obscured in the image above). As one exits to the plaza the church front is in full view, an important consideration for the architect and the city planners. This gesture, and the altogether low profile of the design, respect the historical fabric while simultaneously looking forward through its simple, gateway structure and elegant canopy.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

Masonry Rethought

Earlier today, the CBS News Sunday Morning show reported on the "Masonry Variations" exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman, the impetus and curator of the exhibit, and CBS's Bob Orr took the viewer through the four pieces in display:

Stone, fellow Chicago architect Jeanne Gang and stone mason Matthew Stokes Redabaugh's hung marble "shower curtain",

Brick, Houston architect Carlos Jimenez and mason J. Keith Behrens' brick and steel gyroscope,

Terrazzo, California architect Julie Eizenberg and terrazzo craftsman Mike Menegazzi's stone and cement wave,

Concrete Block, New York architect Winka Dubbeldam and expert mason Robert Mion Jr.'s organic sculptures.

View of the 'shower curtain' at the National Building Museum
Stone

Each piece uses its material of choice to rethink their common applications. For example, Gang and Redabaugh take a material typically laid flat in compression or hung as cladding and cut it thinly and place it in tension to explore alternative ways of using and responding to marble. The translucency of it is striking, something not usually perceived in marble counter tops or building fronts.

The exhibition's inclusion on the Morning show is evidence of architecture's growing popularity with the public, but it inadvertently raises questions about architecture's presentation. As most people experience buildings through print and images on the internet, seeing the moving parts of Jimenez and Behrens' piece on television, for example, mediates between architecture's typical 2d exposure and the ideal of experiencing an exhibit, building or place first-hand.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Hadid, Some Final Thoughts

Sunday's New York Times features another article (registration req'd) on Zaha Hadid by the paper's architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. Without mentioning the controversy around the Pritzker Prize, Muschamp professes his love for the British architect's buildings, projects and drawings. While the article contains boisterous sentences like, "...designer of some of the greatest architecture never built" and, "she is the greatest virtuoso of form now living," his attempt to elucidate the appeal of her work and persona is partly successful. Muschamp's statement, "Hadid is a great poet of circulation as a modern way of life," may also be boisterous, but to me it comes close to summing up her work.

I have mentioned elsewhere that her designs have a consistency in form, specifically long and skinny spaces. From early, unbuilt projects like the Peak in Hong Kong to an office building in Hamburg, she's squeezed functions and circulation into narrow spaces, often as creative responses to tight sites. Buildings like the Vitra Fire Station and State Flower Pavilion (both in Weil am Rhein, Germany) extend this linearity to the point where the former is no longer used as intended. But the latter outlived its temporary function to become a permanent landmark in the town, also signaling a change in her architecture as curves entered her design vocabulary.

These long, skinny spaces embody movement (circulation) simply through their linearity and direction, getting back to Muschamp's quote. Looking at the slide show that accompanies the Times article, projects under construction in Leipzig, Germany and Rome and Naples, Italy continue these curving paths. It almost seems natural that she would design a ski jump in Austria, its form above an extension of the ramp it serves. If any poetry exists, it is found in the way she creates these spaces for people to move through, elevating them beyond their function as connectors by making the buildings an expression of this movement. Admittedly this can cause problems functionally, as in the fire station, and I see this as something she needs to resolve to become truly worthy of the prize she's been given.

aerial view of flower pavilion portrait of Hadid
State Flower Pavilion by Hadid - Portrait from New York Times.

With only six completed projects to date - the CAC in Cincinnati, the two projects in Weil am Rhein mentioned earlier, the ski jump, the Mind Zone in the Millennium Dome and a car park and tram terminal in Strasbourg - it is obvious her selection for the Pritzker is due mainly to the success of the first, which opened last year. Regardless, it strikes me as an interesting, yet tame (for her), urban infill project. Her main idea, the "urban carpet" that enters the building, is not a new idea (Mies brought the plaza inside many times), but the novel manner of continuing the ground plane up the wall could have been more overt in execution, at least from the exterior. Perhaps a different shading of concrete than the boxes would have helped. Inside the idea appears stronger as the floor curves into wall, the stairs following alongside. Here, again, Hadid uses circulation - this time vertical - to set up the building design, though its exterior consists of boxes that express the gallery spaces rather than the vertical movement. Maybe the stasis of the boxes makes the building a timid piece in her opera, though its initial success as a museum and urban element outweigh any formal nitpicking.

So when words like courageous and provocative are thrown around to describe her architecture, one must look beyond the CAC to her other completed projects and those nearing completion for those words to apply. But ultimately her stylish architecture comes down to matters of taste, and people seem to either love, hate or be puzzled or confused by her designs, or moreso the attention they are given. I fall somewhere in the middle, noticing the uniqueness and talent in her drawings but realizing that her architecture will never live up to the energy and complexity they contain. Having seen the Vitra fire station and experienced the Mind Zone, the concrete realizations come close to capturing the potential in her drawings, and that may be enough.

I won't even pretend to be able to put an end to arguments over the worth of Hadid and her Pritzker Prize, though - to be a devil's advocate - maybe the attention needs to be redirected towards the award itself, or to the importance the award is given. Sure, I'm glad we have the Pritzker Prize and I'm glad when somebody I like wins (Ando, Piano, Koolhaas, Herzog & De Meuron), but maybe its criteria, selection process or status should be talked about as much as its outcome.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Urinals Galore!

Click here for an update on the Virgin Atlantic urinal post.

London Bridge is Going Up...

About ten years ago I attended a lecture by Paul Shepheard, author of the long-form essay "What is Architecture", at Kansas State University. For some reason, one of the tidbits from his talk that I remember to this day is his mention of St. Paul's Cathedral and a tv/radio tower being the tallest structures in London, each roughly the same height and both equal to (or slightly higher than) the distant hills surrounding the city. He contended that this wasn't a coincidence but a way the city connected itself to the surrounding landscape, the Cathedral symbolically and the broadcast tower technologically, so the signal could reach beyond the hills.

All this came to mind as I read an article in yesterday's BBC News online about the transformation of London's skyline by skyscrapers that are finally puncturing the building cap set by the Cathedral's pinnacle. Of course, Canary Wharf, near Greenwich, is an exception to this rule, as witnessed by the two completed buildings (#2 and #5) in the chart below.

London's skyscraper skyline
Taken from BBC News online.

But the dense, Medieval fabric of the City has St. Paul's Cathedral as its focus (recently reinforced by the opening of the Tate Modern and the footbridge across the Thames on axis with the church) and any developments that knowingly or unknowingly affect this are seen as a threat by English Heritage and other preservationists. With rising land prices, though, at some point it is going to be required to build higher than the cap for the developer to break even. And I think this is what we're witnessing now, in part.

Also, Londoners are taking a shine to tall buildings, particularly Renzo Piano's design for the London Bridge Tower, affectionately known as the Shard of Glass because of its distinctive, tapering profile. To rise in the Southwark area, the project is seen as a spur for further redevelopment of the South Bank and not having a direct impact on the Cathedral. As well, Norman Foster's Swiss Re Headquarters design, nearing completion, in the City is attracting attention for its unorthodox form and sustainable assets.

With buildings as exciting as these, it's not surprising that residents are warming up to the prospect of building tall, according to the BBC article. In addition to land values, the city and developers are taking into account the centralized locations and extensive tube network, changing the skyline of the city little by little.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Voice Yr Choice

Archiseek is featuring an online poll where you can let everybody know if you think Zaha Hadid is worthy of winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize. At the time of my vote, these are the results:

Yes..................22 votes (46.81%)
No...................19 votes (40.43%)
Undecided.......6 votes (12.77%)
Total...............47 votes (100%)

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Hadid Backlash

A lot is being said about Monday's award of the Pritzker Prize to London's Zaha Hadid. Here's a sampling.

Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times:
"Zaha Hadid is a woman and Iraqi-born, and her identity is news in its own right. It would not surprise me if the jury that has awarded Ms. Hadid this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize took these factors into account."

James S. Russell at ArtsJournal.com:
"Prestige awards like the Pritzker are best given to those with talent that is obviously prodigious (which Zaha’s is) even if arguably undeveloped (she hasn’t built very many buildings)."

Chrisopher Hawthorne at Slate:
"It's possible that the [CAC] will prove to be an aberration for Hadid. For a true measure of her place in architectural history, we'll have to wait until her major projects are built, particularly a new museum in Rome and a BMW factory in Leipzig, Germany, both of which are now under construction."

Giles Worsley at the Telegraph:
"In many ways, architecture has caught up with Zaha Hadid. Today architecture is increasingly dominated by the sort of bold forms and rejection of conventional geometry that Hadid has long championed."

Clay Risin at The New Republic:
"...Zaha Hadid is also an awful choice for the Pritzker...a host of more deserving architects stand in the wings for the award--architects who have built far more but are far less beloved by the avant-garde. Her selection, no doubt influenced by her distinction as the most prominent woman in a field dominated by men, represents a fatal debasement of an award purportedly about rewarding excellence, not political correctness or trendiness. Worst of all, it threatens to further widen the rift between ideas and practice that is slowly undermining architecture's ability to contribute to society."

Risin appears to be the most outwardly critical of Hadid's award, though this is definitely not the first time in its history that the Pritzker's selection has been questionable. I'm still boggled by awards given to Gottfried Boehm (1986) and Christian de Portzamparc (1994), not to mention the omission of wife and partner Denise Scott-Brown from Robert Venturi's 1991 award. But those selections didn't hurt the Pritzker Prize and Hadid's selection won't hurt either, even if "P.C." considerations dominated the international jury.

According to the Priztker Architecture Prize web page, "The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."

In reference to Pritzker's statement, Hadid is a fitting, yet questionable choice for the Prize. She definitely has talent, visions and commitment, her work is consistent in style (for better or worse) and level of quality, and the significance of her work can be measured in the impact she's had on the architectural profession and academia (moreso the latter) since she left OMA in 1977. But this takes into consideration her unique drawings and paintings, and her equally unique personality and presence. And while the Prize attempts to focus on buildings, it is probably difficult to do only that when dealing with an architect like Hadid.

Returning to Risin's words, it would be difficult to argue that excellence is not present in the work of Hadid, and only the jury itself knows its intentions. To me it sounds like Risin hates her architecture and is letting it be known. Mostly, I disagree with his assertion that this will "widen the rift between ideas and practice". Like many other architects of her generation and theoretical stance, Hadid is getting more commissions for built work which in my mind bridges the gap. It's one thing to say a lot without constructing buildings, but once those ideas become concrete, they change what people thought was possible and what architecture is and can be. Frank Gehry is a perfect example. His architecture (like it or not) has broadened what architects can achieve and what society expects from architects. Similarly, Hadid has achieved similar ends, helping her to become a fitting recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Snakeskin and Modernism

Being a fan of artist James Turrell's works, both big and small, after reading "The Sky Box" in today's New York Times I tried to find more information on his latest "skyspace", designed for Century City businessman James Goldstein. But finding the client's own web page, I became intrigued by his personality and his tastes in architecture, landscaping and fashion.

Goldstein's residence is a dramatic structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple John Lautner in the 1960s for Paul and Helen Sheats, who could only afford to live in the house a few years. When Goldstein bought the house many years later, its condition worsened by other owners, he decided to solicit the architect to remodel and extend the house to suit in 1981. Although pictures of the house and its dramatic vistas are well-known, it is probably more famous for its portrayal as the abode of Jackie Treehorn in the Coen Brothers movie, The Big Lebowski.

3 views of Goldstein's residence
Goldstein Residence.

In 1989, with the remodeling in progress, Goldstein turned to landscape designer Eric Nagelmann to create a lush, tropical garden reminiscent of Bali or Tahiti. By planting large palms to create deep shade, and laying an irrigation system, they were able to create a tropical microclimate in the dry, Beverly Hills climate. The outcome is extraordinary, blending surprisingly well with Lautner's design.

Turrell's "skyspace" is just another piece in Goldstein's canyon collection of modern architecture. Filled with more than 5,000 concealed LED and incandescent lights, the interior is a remote sanctuary down the slope from his house where the owner can retreat to enjoy the light, listen to music, or enjoy the view.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Octospider

Octospider in Bangkok, Thailand by Exposure Architects

Featured in Domus 868, the "Octospider" is the brainchild of Schle Wood, owner of Satin Textiles and the architecture firm, Exposure Architects, who designed the unique building. Added to the textile company's existing campus in Bangkok, Thailand, the "Octospider" acts as a dining hall and gathering place for its employees.


The novel, yet simple, plan is made up of three linear bars that radiate from a single point and are each supported by a line of round concrete columns. Two curved ramps rise to meet the bars, the former's slim, angled structure playfully contrasting the regularity of the latter's structure.


The journey over water separates the employees - ever so briefly - from their work, while also creating a distant oasis with views of the surroundings for them to enjoy while eating and conversing. Furthermore, the long ascent lends the ramps a significance beyond mere functionality and accessibility.


The exterior walkways and cooling effects of the water are appropriate for the Bangkok climate, while adjustable louvers help to control the sunlight penetrating into the dining areas. As the article mentions, this thoughtful amenity for the company's employees would not be possible without Schle Wood's belief that, "if earnings entail suffering by the person making them, they will only be a source of further unhappiness."

Sunday, March 21, 2004

An Architectural Playground

Once again the great people at ARCHINECT provide a valuable link, this time to the Mexico Skyscraper City Forum, with images on the masterplan of the JVC Center in Guadalajara, Mexico.

A brief background: The JVC (Jorge Vergara Cabrera) Center for Culture, Conventions and Business in Guadalajara is "an unprecedented architectural project that revolutionizes how multi-functional urban complexes are conceived and developed. With an investment of over $500,000,000 and the creation of 8,000 jobs, the Center consists of eleven buildings designed by world-renowned architects for conventions, commercial fairs, sporting events and concerts," sponsored by Grupo Omnilife. According to the Forum, construction has already begun.

Site Plan of JVC Center
Site Plan

1. Coop Himmelb(l)au - Shopping and Entertainment Center
2. Toyo Ito - Museum of Contemporary Art
3. Philip Johnson & Alan Ritchie - Children's World
4. Daniel Libeskind - University of Success
5. Jean Marie Masaud - Stadium
6. Morphosis - Palenque
7. Enrique Norten - Convention Center
8. Jean Nouvel - Omnilife Corporative Offices
9. Carmen Pinõs - Fair Ground

Aerial View of JVC Center
Aerial View

Also participating but not visible in these images:
Teodoro González de León - Omnilife Staff Club House
Zaha Hadid - Hotel
Tod Williams & Billie Tsien - Amphitheater

It will be a long time coming before enough buildings are complete and the success (or failure) of the undertaking becomes evident. As a collection of buildings it is difficult to find any urban or aeshetic relationships present, though this may not be important due to the novelty of the masterplan and the degree of contemporary architecture present. The tabula rasa circumstance gives the architects free reign, so instead of cohesive designs like Chandigarh or Brasilia, the outcome is instead an eclectic mix of buildings related by tourism and commerce.

For more information, check out this page in Spanish (click intro for list of architects and more links). The official Omnilife site also features an animation that requires RealPlayer.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Of Snow and Ice

On the first day of Spring - aka the Vernal Equinox - I thought it would be appropriate to feature The Snow Show, a showcase of collaborative designs in Finland's Lapland that use snow and ice as primary building materials. Curated by New York's Lance Fung, The Snow Show is open until March 31 in the towns of Kemi and Rovaniemi.

For those unwilling or unable to trek to the Arctic Circle in time, The Snow Show's web page features extensive documentation on the fifteen built works, as well as participants in the Venice Biennale's exhibition before the final fifteen were chosen.

The ephemerality of the projects is its most unique characteristic. As each team is made up of an architect (or firm) and an artist, the former must deal with a material that speeds up the lifespan of the structure and therefore questions their typical design process. Working with artists further affects the designs, though the extent differs.

'Tadao Ando and Tatsuo Miyajima's Snow Show contribution
Ando and Miyajima, image by Jeffrey Debany

In Tadao Ando and Tatsuo Miyajima's "U"-shaped corridor the definition of each team member's contribution is clear: Ando used walls to create the space and Miyajima added LED "counter gadgets" counting from one to nine to create a "time tunnel of life." At the same time the ice and the displays work together, the latter arching through the space to reinforce the curve of the plan and section.

'Zaha Hadid and Cai Guo-Qiang's Snow Show contribution
Hadid and Guo-Qiang, image by Jeffrey Debany

Zaha Hadid and Cai Guo-Qiang's project displays the British architect's flowing forms while Guo-Qiang contributes fire (via a vodka mixture poured along the ice shelves) in performances that speed up the melting of the ice, changing the piece's initial form.

These two examples show how each team member considered the structural capacity of ice and snow in its many forms, its construction, and its lifespan, though each in different ways.

Friday, March 19, 2004

"Kisses" Sweeter Than Vile

Yesterday, ARCHINECT posted news on Virgin Atlantic's new lounge at New York's JFK airport. Business class passengers will be able to relax in brightly upholstered lounge chairs while sipping their cocktails and gazing out at the runway. When nature calls the gentlemen can retire to the washroom and relieve themselves into a wide-open woman's mouth, though not literally, of course.

Titled "Kisses", the urinal is the design of Dutch company Bathroom Media, though at first glance I figured Keith Richards dashed it off on a napkin one night at the pub. In a New York Post article, the designer is quoted as saying, "this is one target men will never miss." Unfortunately, I can think of a handful of other "catchphrases" to promote this man-friendly design.

'Kisses' by Dutch designer Bathroom Mania
"Kisses", from the New York Post

Searching around the internet, responses to the design range from negative to appalled.

Personally, aside from the obvious sexism and gross symbolism present in the design, it just looks cheesy to me. From the bright, red lips to the slight raise of its top right lip and the exposed teeth, it makes me think of the 1980's and the predominance of bad taste in that decade. And is this the most appropriate design for a stand-alone urinal, even if its target audience watches reruns of Benny Hill and was reared on Page-Two Girls? British jokes aside, expression will always have its detractors, but in this case the designers seem to welcome them in the name of "fun", or at least in the exposure and press the design is giving the company...which makes this page guilty, too.

03.26.04 Update:

Zwichenzug posts a picture of a nun urinal here that almost puts the Virgin urinal to shame.

Tracing that image back to an earlier post at Boing Boing, it appears that Virgin is deciding not to install the urinals after all.

Oh, the Humanity

Eight semi-finalists were named yesterday in the design competition for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on a prominent site in downtown Winnepeg, referred to as The Forks. The international selection seems to favor architects whose designs respect both the site and historical context. The finalists are:

- Antoine Predock from the United States
- Charles Correa from India
- Dan Hanganu and The Arcop Group from Canada
- Mashabane Rose from South Africa
- Michael Maltzan from the United States
- Saucier + Perrotte from Canada
- Schmidt Hammer & Lassen from Denmark
- Schwartz Architects and EHDD Architecture from the United States

The competition site has all eight entries' design boards available in pdf format full size, yes full size. Since they take a while to download I only looked at a few.

Designs for the Museum for Human Rights
Top-Bot: Predock - Saucier + Perrotte - Correa

On its web page, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights describes itself as, "an incubator for change...a state-of-the-art centre for understanding the importance of respecting human rights...this Canadian institution will become a basis for nurturing tolerance and respect, and will stand as a beacon for those committed to upholding the rights of others."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

AutoCAD 2005 Rant

Earlier today I opened the new issue of Architecture magazine and only got as far as the two page spread on the inside cover. At first glance I thought it was an ad for some prescription drug like Provasic or another highly-advertised pill to improve our lives in some way, but it turned out to be an ad for the latest release of AutoCAD. Yes, AutoCAD 2005 is parodying those popular drug ads to...to...to do what? I'm not really sure. Architects and architecture firms don't purchase ACAD because of a funny or ironic advertising scheme, but because it's the industry standard software, or at least the most popular software for architects, engineers and other related professions, among other reasons like coordination and the fact they already use it.

Maybe autodesk is touting their newest release as the release that will solve your ills and give you lots of free time and make you feel a lot better. From the images of people clapping, jumping and having fun to text like, "you're going to be finishing tedious tasks much faster, so you can spend more time on the more rewarding aspects of your work...you'll probably be happier...more productive," that's the impression I get.

I guess I bring up their ad because I believe that with every piece of software or every update comes new problems, so productivity never really increases very much. Yes, architects can do a lot more with CAD than they could drawing and building models by hand - like realistic renderings and animations - but these things take time. Also, referring to the quote above, I wouldn't say that rendering isn't tedious like the tasks they're referring to, such as drawings wall partitions.

I don't want to ramble on too long about this because I'm tired and moreso haven't investigated the new features in release 2005, but am I the only person that thinks these things? That yearly updates on extremely expensive software are extreme? That increased productivity as a sales point is misleading? That prescription drugs aren't the best target for parody and irony?

But with the name of this and my other web page I really shouldn't talk.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Being Green II

Three pieces of news in today's ArchNewsNow put me on a little "Green" kick today:

John King covers the California Academy of Sciences' future home, particularly its green roof. Designed by Renzo Piano, and scheduled for completion in 2008, the 2-acre-plus project is being touted as, "probably the most challenging living structure that's [ever] been done."

The New York Times notes the environmental concerns being raised over the reconstruction projects at the World Trade Center site, including the memorial's water source.

And Greenbiz.com features a piece on a European consortium testing and developing construction materials that can absorb air pollution.

And any talk of Green today must acknowledge St. Patrick's Day and, yes, beer. The March 18 issue of Newcity Chicago brings good news for lovers of foamy brew: Smithwick's - a red-ale from Ireland, non-existent in the U.S. for thirty years due to ownership and market conditions - is now available in the States at places like Fado Irish Pub, just in time for the patron saint of Ireland's holiday.

Creamy head of Smithwick's
Mmmmm.....Beeeeer.

The delicious, creamy ale is (almost) the same beer I had in Italy last year that's also brewed by Smithwick's and known in the European market as Kilkenny, after the town where these beers have been brewed since 1710.

Being Green I

Added Sustainability as a new category to the Architectural Links at the right. Also added an eco-relevant link to the "other blogs of interest", Earth Architecture.

So check these out and let me know if you have additional links. I would be glad to add more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Times Square at 100

Sunday's New York Times ran an excerpt from James Traub's forthcoming book, The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square, on the upcoming (April 8th) 100th anniversary of Times Square. The online version (registration req'd) also features a brief slide-show history narrated by the author, taking us through the early years, the decline and the reinvention of Times Square.

View down into Times Square
Image from the New York Times

Like many people, Traub is torn between loving and hating the current situation in Time Square. While it is safe and full of life it is also full of "restaurants and shops [that] are the local sites of global retail and entertainment businesses...and headquarters for some of those very companies." Not to mention Disney's role in the reinvention of Time Square, what Traub refers to as, "the methodical corporate engineering of the fun experience."

As much as I agree with the author that big business has taken over much of Times Square, the location seems to be a reflection of the nation as a whole so its present state is understandable. The reciprocal inverse is also the case, with national news, MTV and other media broadcasting from the area and influencing the country via the imagery and energy of Times Square.

Monday, March 15, 2004

LAGA HQ

Lipson Alport Glass & Associates Headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois by Valerio DeWalt Train Associates, 2004

Marketing and branding firm Lipson Alport Glass & Associates renovated an existing one-story structure in Northbrook - a North Shore suburb twenty miles from downtown Chicago - into their headquarters. Chicago architect Valerio DeWalt Train Associates' design adds a two-story bar beside the old building, also adding a new studio and renovating the existing into studios and support facilities.


With nearby access to - and visibility from - the Edens Expressway, the building recalls one of the architect's most well-known buildings, the 3Com Headquarters in northwest-suburban Rolling Meadows which is situated at the elbow of Highway 290 and the Northwest Tollway. In a recent Chicago Tribune article by architecture critic Blair Kamin, designer Joe Valerio refers to these buildings as "rear-view mirror buildings", referring to the response of drivers as they see an unfamiliar-looking building on the side of the road. But the design in Northbrook exhibits a restraint that is missing in Rolling Meadows, possibly making the former a better building.


The most striking characteristic of the design is seen in the image at left, the 50-foot cantilever over the main entry and drop-off. Providing shelter and a memorable experience, the cantilever reverses expectations, perching a solid mass above a transparent, glass box instead of the opposite. Treating the whole upper floor as a truss, the effect is reminiscent of MVRDV's WoZoCo Housing in its favor of sculptural treatment of the mass over a structural or tectonic treatment, separating the firm from the Miesian tradition favored by some Chicago architects, but at the sake of finding an appropriate design solution to the client's wants and needs.


Blair Kamin's article also praises the interiors and the courtyard that's created by closing off the "U" of the existing building with the new mass. Artificial and natural light seem to mingle in the mixture of transparent and opaque workspaces throughout the project, apparent in the lobby image at left.
Growing up in Northbrook, I can say that few contemporary buildings exist that illicit any "rear-view mirror" looks by passersby. So it's refreshing to see architecture there that starts from the typical suburban bland and ends up with a unique design statement.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

A New Urbanist Glen

Earlier today, WTTW, the local PBS television station, broadcast Chicago's North Shore, a documentary covering the history, architecture and people of the city's well-known northern suburbs. One suburb covered that concerns me is Glenview, located about twenty miles NNW of downtown Chicago.

Growing up next door in Northbrook, as a child if I heard the word Glenview I thought of the Glenview Naval Air Base. Located just across Willow Road on the border of the two 'burbs, the base was a huge, over 1000-acre presence that one could only travel around except during the Chicago Air and Water Show when it would open its doors to the public. Then we were allowed to walk around parts of the base and get close to the jets and other planes and vehicles present. Moreso I enjoyed when my family would drive to Willow Road and park on the side of the road to see the planes leaving and returning from the show, the planes always wiling to put on an extra performance for the parked cars outside and the paying visitors inside.

Well, the Naval Air Base is gone and in its place is The Glen, a 1,121 acre mixed use district with over 3,000 residences, offices and retail space. Additionally it contains parks, a lake, prairie land, a golf course and a commuter train station. What is unique about the project is not its size and scale, nor the site's previous use (all that remains of the old base is the part of the control tower, now being used as a shopping center), but Glenveiw's decision to develop the land itself using the tenets of New Urbanism.

According to the Congress for New Urbanism, the design movement aims "to reform all aspects of real estate development...[supporting] regional planning for open space, appropriate architecture and planning, and the balanced development of jobs and housing...to reduce how long people spend in traffic, to increase the supply of affordable housing, and to rein in urban sprawl." Regardless of its good intentions, in many circles New Urbanism is seen as a white and white-collar movement that embraces traditional design over progressive contemporary architecture. But I don't want to argue for or against New Urbanism since personally I think the movement has many positive aspects but just as many shortcomings. Instead I would like to briefly analyze The Glen as an example of New Urbanist principles.

Aerial rendering of The Glen
Aerial rendering of The Glen

Firstly, the PBS special mentions that Glenview's choice to develop the land itself was driven by the desire to preserve open space. This is evident when traveling by train along the edge of The Glen, its lake, parks and some prairie land visible from the station. Its questionable location (the northwest corner near the railroad tracks and Willow Road overpass) fell to the masterplan designer, Skidmore Owings and Merrill. On their web site they indicate five basic principles for the masterplan (pdf link):

1. The creation of a town center
2. Walkable neighborhoods that surround and support the center
3. A connecting system of streets
4. Connected open spaces including the prairie,the golf course and a great park
5. A flexible plan that maintains a level of control and direction for future growth

Briefly addressing each principle:

1. The town center uses the site of the old control tower and is, not surprisingly, a retail center.
2. "Walkable neighborhoods" is not only a design issue but one that is dependent upon the residents and their habits, among other variables. SOM located garages in alleys and kept the front of the houses free of driveways, using porches to foster community and walkability, a choice that may or may not be successful since the residents still have the option of driving into their garages and going straight into their houses, failing to interact with their neighbors. Increased commuter train ridership would definitely help to create a walkable neighborhood.
3. Patriot Street is the major street that passes through The Glen from Willow on the north to Lake on the south, with curved, secondary and tertiary streets off of Patriot feeding primarily residential areas. This creates a hierarchy of streets but avoids the creation of through traffic (outside of Patriot) that might increase activity like gridded layouts tend to do.
4. I would hardly refer to the golf course as an open space since its limited access does not make it truly a public space, but the prairie, park and lake are great amenities for residents and non-residents for free outdoor enjoyment.
5. It's difficult to ascertain where the flexibility in the masterplan lies, but hopefully the open space that has been created will be maintained.

Of course, the success of the project cannot be fully judged until construction of all parts is complete, which is slated to be ca. 2010, and then that would be early to judge. For now it is (in my very cursory view) a beautifully flawed example of New Urbanist principles on a large scale within an existing (sub)urban fabric.

When I first heard about the closing of the Glenview Naval Air Base, I thought of the enormous potential to create something unique that would both preserve elements of the base and refer to its past in the new uses and designs. While the end product is far from what I imagined, I'll admit that it could have been much much worse, had the Village given in to developer's interests and motives. Instead they've created a response that bravely questions the typical suburban condition.

For informaton and perspectives on New Urbanism, try the CNU link above, New Urbanism.org and City Comforts, a blog by David Sucher, author of "City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village."

Friday, March 12, 2004

Will it still be called the Sears Tower?

As reported by Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune, New York-based MetLife is selling the Sears Tower to an unidentified buyer for $835 million, or approximately $240 per square foot.

View of Sears Tower during an air show, image from the Chicago Tribune
Sears Tower during an air show,
Photo from Chicago Tribune

Not surprisingly, since September 11, 2001, the building and its manager Trizec Properties (who MetLife took control of the building from last August) have had difficulty keeping tenants in the 110-story skyscraper, the tallest in the United States, designed by SOM and completed in 1976. According to Trizec's Tower web site, approximately 400,000+ s.f. of rentable space is available, or 11% vacant.

Around 1990 Sears moved its merchandise operations from the Sears Tower to a new suburban location in Hoffman Estates, about 35 miles from downtown Chicago. I remember the announcement of the move and about my only concern was, "Will it still be called the Sears Tower?" Of course it still is and probably will be for a while, regardless of who owns the building. Its undisputed status as tallest U.S. building and disputed status as tallest building in the world keep its instant name recognition above any marketing (the typical reason for naming a building after the owner) that might be attained by renaming the building.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Tidbits

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled the five finalist designs for the proposed 2012 Olympic Village, also located in Queens. Finalists are Henning Larsens Tegnestue A/S of Copenhagen, Denmark; Santa Monica, California's Morphosis; Rotterdam, The Netherlands' MVRDV; New York's Smith-Miller Hawkinson Architects and London, England's Zaha Hadid Architects. The NYC2012 web site features a slide show for each design, my at-first-glance favorites being MVRDV's angled, vertical spires and the vertically landscaped design of Henning Larsen. The winning design will be submitted along with New York City's proposal to the International Olympic Committee in November of this year.

And this week's Onion features a piece on urban planner and traffic-flow modulation specialist Bernard Rothstein of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as he is "stuck in traffic of his own design."

Book Review: A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa
MIT Press, 2000
Paperback, 333 pages




To present the last one thousand years of historical developments, De Landa separates his book into three overlapping categories: Economic, Biological and Linguistic. Each chapter is further broken down into three parts with a philosophical inquiry bookended by roughly chronological histories (1000-1700 and 1700-2000). The author focuses on the flow of "stuff" (i.e. matter, energy, money, information) and their respective emergence and effect upon the flows from whence they emerged. This abstract notion goes against the typical "cause-and-effect" histories and ways-of-thinking that predominates today. Indebted to Gilles Deleuze and Fernand Braudel, the book's conclusion uses the former's Body without Organs as a model for locating his own Western history. By seeing human history in the last one thousand years developing from natural processes (the sun, rocks and lava, wind, genes) and affecting these same processes, De Landa presents a novel way to think about ourselves and the world around us.


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Movin' to PA

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently published two pieces covering the preservation of a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Lisle, Illinois, last Friday and again yesterday.

After mounting an unsuccessful print campaign to disturb the renovation of Soldier Field by da Mayor and Boston firm Wood + Zapata, Kamin - this city's sole newspaper architecture critic - is back promoting a preservationist cause. Not that there's anything wrong with that in and of itself, but the double coverage of a minor Wright house being transported to Pennsylvania seems less a reason to rejoice than it appears.

As I mentioned the house is one of Wright's many minor works, a prefabricated house built in Lisle in 1957. Some Wright scholars contest that the architect's hand in many of these jobs may have been minimal, so saying that every design that came out of Wright's office is equal and deserves preservation does not make sense.

In my opinion the house does not deserve the attention, though the attention goes along with the intentions of the new owner, Johnstown, PA. The small town (pop. 23,906) will use the house as an educational center focusing on 20th century art and architecture. Although I admire the eventual use as beneficial to the public, the ultimate goal is tourism. Pennsylvania will soon be home to three FLLW houses within close proximity to each other, the most notable of the existing two being Fallingwater, a house perched over a waterfall that people all over the world come to see, which recently reopened after major structural repairs. Why not visit Johnstown and see that other house?

But what the preservation and move of this house signals is the power of celebrity, and the biggest celebrity in architecture has been dead for almost 35 years. Architecture has living celebrities like Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Santiago Calatrava, but none of them come close to Wright's name recognition or celebrity status. And it might be a while before another architect steps ahead of Wright in those factors, since the sheer drama of his life and his personal reputation appeal as much to people as his buildings. In other words, he was an all-around celebrity with lots of dirt to be dug up, keeping him on the front page. Good buildings don't get somebody on the front page.

Architects tend to have a love/hate relationship with Wright, me included. I love many of his designs and think he rightly deserves his status as one of the greatest architects, but I hate the way his life is being used by benefactors and preservationists and the lingering effects of his egomaniacal ways on the profession and its perception to the public.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The WTC Memorial Saga Continues

Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell's recent article brought a disturbing piece of news to my attention: a group of losing competitors (about 400 currently) in the WTC Memorial Competition, headed by Jeff Johns (a NYC transit authority employee), is going to file a lawsuit that alleges the jury chose a design that broke the competition guidelines. Called the World Trade Center Memorial Focus Group, they cite two problems that are mentioned in the article:

1. "The guidelines said the memorial competitors should work within the master plan for the whole World Trade Center, created by Daniel Libeskind. But in Libeskind's plan, the memorial site was to be located in an area sunk 30 feet below street level. The winner brought it up to street level."
2. "The guidelines said nobody was allowed to be a member of more than one competing team. But after being chosen as a finalist, Arad added to his team a well-known landscape architect, Peter Walker, who had previously submitted a losing entry of his own."

My response to those statements would be: 1. A lot of competitions are won by entries that break the rules in some way, so it is a common occurrence and making a jury (or in this case the LMDC since they wrote the guidelines) liable to stick to those guidelines could affect other competitions, and 2. Peter Walker was brought on to help Arad after the latter was named a finalist (in my opinion to improve upon the barren plaza that received criticism in the press), so Walker was no longer a competitor and any conflict seems nonexistent.

The article also mentions how some losing competitors feel the whole process was basically a charade to institute the design of one of the jurors, Maya Lin, because Arad's design closely matches both a memorial sketch done by Lin a year before the competition and the minimal aesthetic of Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That sounds ridiculous to me, especially since the jury was comprised of twelve other people, deliberating over anonymous designs for many months to determine the best of the 5,201 designs, so how one juror would control the process boggles me. Although this contention does raise questions (what if the LMDC wanted a Lin design but ran a competition just to save face?), but it's a subject based on speculation instead of fact.

Basically, I don't think any good can come from filing a lawsuit against the LMDC or the jury. It could affect other competitions and the willingness of organizations to hold competitions for built work, but it also might make the public perceive architects as whiny egomaniacs who aren't happy unless their design is chosen...though the public might already think that.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Winged Migration, Herzog & De Meuron Style

Last night I watched Winged Migration, a 2001 documentary by French actor Jacques Perrin that follows the flight of different birds over all seven continents in their semi-annual search for food and warmer climes. The film is an amazing visual feast that places the viewer alongside the birds during their north-south journeys.

Besides reminding me of a typically funny Simpsons moment (Colonel Leslie "Hap" Hapablap - voiced by R. Lee Ermey - as he intros the Springfield Air Show: "To fly! The dream of man and flightless bird alike,") the film reminded me of something I read in the RIBA Journal (free registration req'd) concerning a project in Barcelona by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron.

Film stills from 'Winged Migration' and a view of The Forum
Winged Migration - The Forum - Winged Migration

The Forum, sited at the intersection of Via Diagonal and the city's ring road near the coast, is a huge, triangular building lodged in the ground at one end and raised at the other to create a new public space underneath. The blue, sponge-like object is covered with water, which the architects hope "will attract migrating birds en route to North Africa," according to RIBA Journal.

This quote is very refreshing to me, showing a considerate desire on the part of the architects to not only place their building in as close a harmony as possible with its surroundings, but moreso to improve upon the site for other creatures, including our fine-feathered friends.

EMPAC

EMPAC in Troy, New York by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, 2004

Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is a $142 million, 203,000 s.f. project on the edge of the school's main campus overlooking Troy, New York. EMPAC's goal is to "enable artists, engineers and scientists to meet in a way that they respectfully challenge and change one another, while building on the distinct characters of their disciplines," according to director Johannes Goebel. Designed by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners (with local architect David Brody Bond), the unique program posed many challenges, including the combination of traditional and experimental performing art spaces, dealing with the dramatic slope of the site, and the acoustic quality and flexibility of the performance spaces.


Much of the traditional/experimental problem is dealt with via the program: a 1,200-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, two studios (3,500 s.f. and 2,500 s.f.) - as well as artist-in-residence suites, rehearsal and support spaces - help to demarcate the range and flexibility of performance spaces. Taking these requirements as a starting point, the architect created a sequence from the entrance on the north (concert hall) to the south (studios and theater), each contained within a unified mass that also keeps each space distinct. From the outside this mass gives the project its primary image, the hull-like, wood-clad object visible behind the large, transparent exterior wall, similar to Richard Rogers's Bordeaux Law Courts.


Dealing with the slope of the site came naturally from the location of the program spaces and the desire to bury these large volumes into the slope to bring down the mass of the design. For example in the image at left, the 70-foot fly space of the theater is concealed within the rectangular mass to the right of the protruding "hull". Also, by following the slope of the site, the entrance is limited to one-story in height, creating expectation as one traverses the atrium and in-between spaces towards the views of Troy and the Hudson River at the building's end.


Lastly, due to the presence of up to 24 spaces in the building that can be used simultaneously (in addition to the program spaces, the public spaces are all designed for performances), acoustical concerns were very high. Acoustical consultant Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago used independent foundations, resilient isolation, and the natural topography of the site to provide as much acoustic isolation as possible. As well, the concert hall will have suspended fabric panels less than 1mm thick that will reflect high-frequency sound but allow mid- and low-frequency sound to penetrate and add to the reverberation of the hall.
 
(Thanks to Jim K. for the heads up on this week's dose.)




Sunday, March 07, 2004

Would you like some wine Avec your sopressata?

It's not often that restaurants in Chicago use their interiors to draw a crowd like, say, New York City. So when I saw a picture of Avec, the new wine bar and restaurant by a chef from next door neighbor Blackbird on West Randolph Street, I couldn't resist going just to experience the space.

Cedar strips line the walls, the ceiling, the floor, and even the front door, its continuity broken only by the storefront, the deep-set windows overlooking the alley and a stainless steel counter running from the front door back to the kitchen and a wall of wine bottles. Oak wood chairs and tables reiterate the warmth of the small, cozy interior.

View of Avec's interior

Avec's focus is wine and small plates of Mediterranean-style tapas, the former chosen from a list of 150 bottles and available in 1/3 bottles instead of glasses, the latter specializing in homemade salamis and artisanal cheeses, among many other choices.

I definitely recommend Avec for its food and wine selection, though weeknights might be the best time to go for those averse to the noise and crowds of the weekends, a product of its popularity and small quarters.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Stone Poems

Last night, an opening reception was held at the I space gallery in Chicago for an exhibition of James P. Warfield's photographs, which focus on the relationship between architecture and landscape. Although I didn't attend, the exhibition is highly recommended by a friend who did, stating that the images are predominantly stone architecture, hence the show's title: "Stone Poems: Architecture and the Land". Warfield is the ACSA Distinguished Professor in Architecture Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ortahisar, Cappadocia, Turkey photograph by James P. Warfield
Ortahisar, Cappadocia, Turkey, James P. Warfield.

In a quote from the news bureau at the University, Warfield says the photographs “illustrate how some cultures around the world have, through time, established principles of design that honor nature and how some cultures have found a balance between what they take from the land and what they return to it.”

The show runs until March 27 at I space, 230 West Superior, where paintings by Marie de Sousa are also on display.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Local Girl Makes Good

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang (Studio-Gang Architects) is a contender in two rather diverse competitions this month: the Wired Rave Awards and The Hoboken September 11th Memorial.

Wired Magazine nominated five people - or groups - in each of fourteen categories, from Architect and Artist to Game Designer and Medical Scientist. Along with Jeanne Gang for her design of the Starlight Theater in Rockford, Illinois (which features an operable roof that opens to the stars in, appropriately, a star-shape) are superstar architects Norman Foster (Swiss Re Headquarters in London), Frank Gehry (Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles), Zaha Hadid (Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati) and Herzog & De Meuron (Prada Store in Tokyo). Aside from Gang's Theater, each project has received international recognition equal to the international recognition of the architect behind the design. Regardless of the winner, the fact that she was nominated is testimony to her skill and the appeal of the theater's design.

Nighttime view of Starlight Theater
Starlight Theater, Rockford, IL. Studio-Gang Architects.

Ms. Gang is a member of the interdisciplinary FLOW Group, one of four finalists for The Hoboken September 11th Memorial, to be located in Pier A Park on the Hoboken waterfront. To commemorate the over fifty victims from Hoboken in the events of September 11th, their design locates a kinetic sculpture in the water as a destination for visitors. The link to the Starlight Theater is undeniable and may indicate a direction of investigation for the young architect.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Surveys, What Are They Good For?

Mercer Human Resource Consulting, the world's largest consulting firm, released their Overall Quality of Life Survey on Monday. Based on almost forty criteria that include political, social, economic and environmental factors, personal safety and health, education, transport and recreation, Zurich, Switzerland is ranked first and Baghdad, Iraq is ranked last.

Here's the top 10 (last year's rank in parentheses; and FYI: the ties arise from the point system used in the the ratings):

1. Zurich, Switzerland (1)
2. Geneva, Switzerland (2)
3. Vancouver, Canada (2)
3. Vienna, Austria (2)
5. Auckland, New Zealand (5)
5. Bern, Switzerland (5)
5. Copenhagen, Denmark (5)
5. Sydney, Australia (5)
10. Amsterdam, The Netherlands (10)
10. Munich, Germany (10)


The absence of U.S. cities at the top of the list is attributed mainly to the tighter restrictions for entry into the country, an important factor since the list is compiled to help companies and governments place employees on international assignments. The highest U.S. cities are San Francisco and Honolulu (tied at 24th) with the lowest being Atlanta, ranked 66th. In between are New York City at 38th (with 100 points, the base index), Boston and Portland at 41st and Chicago at 49th, among others.

Here's the bottom 10:

206. Luanda, Angola (206)
207. Ndjamaena, Chad (208)
207. Nouakchott, Mauritania (206)
207. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (210)
207. Sanaa, Arabic Republic of Yemen (208)
211. Khartoum, Sudan (211)
211. Pointe Noire, Congo (212)
213. Brazzaville, Congo (215)
214. Bangui, Central African Republic (214)
215. Baghdad, Iraq (213)


It is obvious that recent events account for Baghdad's location at the bottom, and inadequate health and sanitation resources, and political and economic unrest on the African continent contribute to many of these cities locations on the list.

Although this list won't change the world, it points up the unsettling difference between wealthy and developing nations in terms of quality of life, something that irks me but is an unfortunate fact in today's world.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Calatrava the Cubist

In a move that's sure to overshadow Daniel Libeskind's presence in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, Santiago Calatrava released his design for a residential tower at 80 South Street in New York City. Coming just over a month after he unveiled his design for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the startling new design features twelve stacked cubes, each 45-feet high. The concept is based on sculptures that the architect/engineer/artist started over twenty years ago.

Rendering of 80 South Street
80 South Street, Santiago Calatrava.
Image from the New York Times.

The 835-foot tall tower is being developed by Frank J. Sciame who estimates the completion of the project in 2006 or 2007.

In today's New York Times (registration req'd), the paper's architecture critic Herbert Muschamp is quoted as saying, "Chicka-boom!" I'll agree with Michael Sorkin that we need a Herbert Muschamp, the most popular architecture critic in the country, but are lines like that his eccentricity or just him trying to appeal to the masses? Regardless, his focus on "starchitects", like Calatrava, has become the norm in his columns at the unfortunate expense of more important issues.

[Added 03.04: Check out Turning Torso, a residential tower by Calatrava under construction in Sweden. Thanks to Eric M.]

It's a Building Blitz!

Earlier today I came across a special feature on Architectural Record's web site, called "China's Building Blitz". As the country is spending "nearly 16 percent of its GDP" on construction and using over half of the world's production of concrete in the process, it's no wonder that China is big in architectural circles these days. Rem Koolhaas, architecture's urban champion and prognosticator, is embracing China's building boom, particularly fond of the instant urbanism as cities spring up in less than ten years, and having already put together a book on the subject.

On the up side, all this fuss has given many American and European firms an outlet for their designers, with innovative solutions coming from firms like Herzog & DeMeuron, stadium architect for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and Rem Koolhaas's OMA, who are doing multiple projects including the CCTV Headquarters, also in Beijing. As well, the construction boom is bringing attention to China's homeland talent, such as MADA s.p.a.m. and OPEN Architecture.

Rendering of CCTV Headquarters' design
CCTV Headquarters, OMA.

One downside might result from architects putting their proverbial eggs all in one basket and then a crash breaking all those eggs, as happened with the Korean market about five years ago.

In anticipation of the increasing demand for construction in China, Architectural Record's owner, McGraw Hill Construction, is holding the Global Construction Summit in Beijing in mid-April, indicating that "while the market potential is enormous [in China], the challenges are equally huge and the risks cannot be ignored."

View of Shanghai City Planning Model, 2020
Shanghai City Planning Model, 2020.

This topic is so big that it would require much research and a lengthy post to appropriately cover all aspects of China's role in current architectural practice alone. But what fascinates me is not the business potential but the questions that are not being asked (at least not widely), such as the livability of new urban areas, the westernization of the country, the urbanization of rural areas and the effect of all this upon a population of over one billion, among many other questions.

Primarily, I wanted to bring up this topic, so please post your comments if you have nay. I'm interested in what other people think on this subject outside of my naive views.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Local Boy Makes Good

Chicago architect John Ronan was announced last night as the winner of a design competition to design the Perth Amboy High School in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The 40-year-old architect beat out well-known architects Morphosis of Santa Monica, California and Peter Eisenman and Fox & Fowle of New York City; as well as fellow finalists Gabriel Field Architect of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Robertson + McAnulty w/UrbanLab of Chicago. Ronan's design was unanimously chosen as the winner with Peter Eisenman mentioned as second place.

Perspective rendering of winning design

The winning design superimposes three systems: the landscape of the site (Mat), horizontal building elements (Barscape) and vertical building elements (Towers). These subsequently create interior courtyards, flexible educational spaces, and separate communal spaces.

The 3,000-student high school is planned to open in 2006.

[Added 03.05: Lynn Becker's Repeat site features a piece on Ronan's victory in New Jersey.]

Monday, March 01, 2004

The High Line RFQ

In a breath of extremely fresh air, today the Friends of the High Line (FHL) released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) soliciting design teams for the master plan to convert the 1.5-mile elevated railroad on Manhattan's West Side into a public open space.

This announcement, made in conjunction with the New York City Economic Development Corporation, means that reclamation of the High Line is becoming a reality. Last year, FHL sponsored a design competition to generate ideas for the unused railroad's future, receiving over 700 entries from 36 countries.

View from top of High Line
Photo by J. Sternfield from FHL web site.

My interest in the High Line's future started when I visited Manhattan a few years ago and experienced the impact of the railway on Chelsea and other neighborhoods under the Line. To me its presence gives those places a distinct character that distinguishes them from other parts of Manhattan, while referring to its industrial past that is otherwise disappearing. Its use as a public promenade (or whatever the master plan eventually becomes) would provide a unique glimpse of these neighborhoods. Also I'm influenced by living in Chicago, where it is almost impossible to think of parts of the city without the elevated tracks, in use or not.

The deadline for the RFQ is April 1, 2004.

Happy Casimir Pulaski Day!

On Mondays I update my other web site, a weekly dose of architecture, so in lieu of trying to come up with something to write about for this page I've decided to provide a link to the new weekly dose and some other links to get your week started right. Enjoy!

Weekly dose: Mauritskade Apartments by Erick van Egeraat.

Other links:
Commune by the Great Wall A private collection of contemporary architecture designed by 12 Asian architects overlooking the Great Wall of China.

Spaces of Uncertainty An exhibition focusing on ill-defined spaces that are not officially or definitively occupied, spaces that are dynamic and unstable.

Manhattan Timeformations A project that uses computer models and interactive animations to depict the dynamic relationship between Manhattan's skyscrapers and other layers of urban information.

And if you want to know more about Casimir Pulaski Day, here's a link for more information on the Polish General who we celebrate by giving librarians the day off.