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Monday, March 08, 2010

Three Projects by SOM

These three projects accompany my review of SOM: Architecture of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, published by Monacelli Press. Photographs of St. Alban's School are by Robert Polidori.

The 100-year-old St. Alban's School in Washington, D.C. hired SOM to add 25,000 sf (2,300 sm) and renovate an additional 30,000 sf (2,800 sm) of its scenic campus on the grounds of the National Cathedral, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The architects were inspired by Olmsted's framing of D.C. landmarks and network of garden walkways ("pilgrim paths") and envisioned the building as a series of interior and exterior passages linking the low campus with the main entrance, a difference of 60 feet (18m).

Marriott Hall, as the new three-story building is known, is inserted between four buildings, linking itself with each. The primarily glass building is also clad in a blue stone that reiterates the older structures on campus. Like other SOM schools in the northeast, St. Alban's School is a creative and sensitive project by a firm known for much larger buildings. As the architects admit, the power of the design comes from the fact they eschewed "the typical campus architecture of enclosed quads in favor of interconnectivity with the landscape."

Under construction on Manhattan's West Side is SOM's 620,000 sf (57,600 sm) expansion of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the CUNY system. A cubic mass sits on 11th Avenue opposite the existing Haaren Hall on 10th Avenue; a cascading Commons links the two. Sitting across from McKim, Mead and White's Con Ed building, the glass box uses ceramic frit, colored fin of various depths, and large-scale openings across the facades to compete with the imposing edifice and give the school a strong 21st-century identity.

Recently breaking ground is the Digital Media City Landmark Tower in Seoul, South Korea. The 2,100-foot-tall (640-meter) building "ushers in a new era of thinking about super-tall tower design," in sustainable terms. The tower uses natural effects like stack effect and solar heat gain to help generate power, combined with solar panels and wind turbines. Other sustainable devices like radiant flooring and atrium gardens further reduce energy needs. Of course, like any skyscraper design, the form still comes to the fore, though in this case its gently curving and tapered profile can be seen as a result of sustainable principles.

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