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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Half Dose #10: New Milan Trade Fair Complex

A couple days ago, Milan's new Trade Fair opened in a massive (750,000 sm) new complex by Massimiliano Fuksas.

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An aerial view of the complex illustrates the simple plan: a central spine feeds long-span exhibition halls on either side. This spine is the project's most dramatic element, an undulating, glass-covered walkway at the scale of an airport concourse.

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Clearly Fuksas is embracing the computer technology that allows him to create these blobby surfaces, ones that read that much stronger by the adjacent boxy structures. Although reminiscent of Peter Cook and Colin Fournier's Kunsthaus Graz, structures like this will become more and more common as construction catches up with the architect's computer designs. Perhaps we'll see designs like this built in that largely bereft area between purely surface (Milan's elongated canopy) and institutional designs (Graz's attention-seeking museum). Is a blobby office or residential high-rise in the near future?

(via noticias arquitectura)

Links:
- Official page of M fuksas ARCH.
- New Milan Fair System, the English homepage of the new building.
- Floor Nature's page on the project with images.
- Images at Skyscraper City.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Great Idea

The third and last of Switzerland Tourism's Theme Routes, "Art and Architecture" guides the visitor to 26 towns cities around the country, "introducing places of interest from all regions, styles and eras." Previously were the successful "Gastronomy and Wine" and "Luxury and Design" routes.

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An interactive map highlights the cities and their buildings and artworks of interest. A brochure is to be released on their web site soon.

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Pictured: La Claustra

(via swissinfo, via ArchNewsNow)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

RU Feeling Lucky?

With the release of TENbyTEN's TENth issue, Luck, a plethora of activity is spinning around the issue, both physical and virtual.

The Physical
Editor in Chief Annette Ferrara will be speaking next Tuesday at the Graham Foundation. Like all their lectures nowadays, reservations are required for the free event. She "will speak about some of the more compelling [Chicago Furniture Now] competition entries and the role the magazine plays within the design community and in Chicago."

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The Virtual
A selection of articles from the Luck issue are now online, including:

Still Learning From Las Vegas
An interview with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown by Melissa Urcan

Winner's Circle
Top-tier design from Modern+Design+Function–Chicago Furniture Now competition

What is Welsh Architecture?

This question is posed by RIBA, both in their Journal this month and in exhibition going on now until April 9 at the RIBA Gallery in London.

Projects include:
National Assembly of Wales (pdf) by Richard Rogers
Wales Millennium Centre by Percy Thomas Partnership

and others by:

Dewi-Prys Thomas
Maxwell Fry
Alex Gordon
Future Systems
Foster and Partners
Wilkinson Eyre
Richard Murphy
Welsh architecture is a subject that interests me since my mother is from Barry, a small, seaside town near Cardiff, the Capital of Wales. RIBA seems to take the position that contemporary architecture is under-represented in Wales, though this is changing as these new projects take shape. That might be the case if my weekly page is any indication: only one project from Wales is featured, a Visitor's Center at Caerphilly Castle by Davies Sutton Architecture.

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Personally I think if Wales wants its own national identity expressed by architecture, it needs to look beyond the high-tech style embraced by England (London in particular) that is already found (with varying degrees of success) in projects like Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. A more appropriate aesthetic may lean towards heavier, masonry structures and organic responses to the local landscape, like the Visitor's Center above. Like the Welsh language itself, the built and natural landscape is unique but susceptible to powerful outside forces, so effort must be taken to both preserve its unique history and foster a unique cultural sensibility rooted in its place.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Book Review: Hear the Wind Sing

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
Kodansha, 1995
Paperback



Haruki Murakami's first book Hear the Wind Sing, published in 1979 (Alfred Birnbaum's English translation in 1987) exhibits many of his later trademarks, though on a much smaller scale, clocking in at 130 pages and fitting nicely in a coat pocket.The author's time spent in America comes across not only in direct references to American culture (mostly music) but in a peculiar universal placelessness during the story, broken only by the rare mention of Tokyo or a place in and around the city. This novel (or novella) sets up Murakami's atypical narrative techniques (jumping around in time, mainly) that would pervade later books to a greater extent. The most startling revelation - for somebody who's read later Murakami books before his first - is the immediate presence of wells. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a backyard well plays a prominent role in the main character's story; here a brief description of a sci-fi book by a fictional author called The Wells of Mars is present for no clear reason than perhaps to entice the reader to expect the unexpected, something Murakami has accomplished ever since.


Alaska Capitol Building

Alaska Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska by Morphosis

Thom Mayne of Morphosis is on quite a roll. Last year's completion of the Caltrans District 7 HQ drew rave reviews, UCLA's "L.A. Now" - led by Mayne - received the 2005 P/A Award, numerous commissions are under construction, and last week he was named the 28th recipient of the Pritzker Prize, the architectural profession's equivalent to the Nobel Prize. And earlier this month his design was chosen in a design competition for Alaska's Capitol Building in Juneau. Teaming with the local office mmense Architects, their design reinterprets the ubiquitous capitol dome in a contemporary manner.

The site for Alaska's State Capitol is a prominent location at a shoreline bend in the Gastineau Channel. The architects responded to this by considering the view from the Channel (image at left) and linking their building to a waterfront park via an enclosed footbridge. Working with the irregularly triangular site, they located parking furthest inland, covering it with the "Mall of Alaska", a paved outdoor plaza with a regular grid of trees. Moving towards the water, next is the dome (more detail on the next page), and two office bars wrap the dome on either side, converging near the tip of the site but bending to create a corner plaza, the "Public Forum." Besides providing the Mall and the Forum, a generous space is left over between the Capitol Building and a nearby hotel, though it doesn't appear to be a designed part of the entry. Working with Earthscape, the landscape architects, hopefully the design team will help make this outdoor space usable and enjoyable.

Most state capitols are modeled on the nation's Capitol Building, typically reiterating its impressive dome with symmetrical, neo-classically ornamented wings. Thom Mayne references the dome as the most important element for a Capitol, not by copying its form but by carrying the idea into a contemporary design. Like Norman Foster's Reichstag, Alaska's dome will be transparent to symbolize democracy, an inner dome visible inside that is etched with the words of the state's social contract (image at left). Given the lightweight nature of the dome's skin, a traditional cupola is not required, their function derived from heavy masonry domes that also allowed for sculptural ornamentation atop a building. The simple cap here preserves the relatively platonic silhouette of the dome's simple yet asymmetrical form, resembling an igloo as much as a Capitol.

The selection of Mayne and team's design has brought its fair share of controversy, even soliciting a counter-proposal based on 19th-century Russian civic buildings. What seems to be at stake is the appropriate expression for this civic structure, something both parties believe should be uniquely Alaskan that is also tied to the other 49 states and their capitols. We've seen how the latter is accomplished via the dome; the design boards also illustrate the derivation of the office bars from the state's distinctive glacier formations and striated geology. But is this something the public will understand (without explanation)? And is this an appropriate expression for a state capitol? Given the fact the state pursued an architectural competition, Alaska must be looking for a progressive image that - in the selection of Morphosis - relates to its fellow states but also separates it from what came before.






Saturday, March 26, 2005

Traditional vs. Progressive in Alaska

Over at City Comforts, Laurence Aurbach writes about the recent competition for the Alaskan State Capitol, won by Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne's Morphosis with local architect mmenseArchitects. He examines a counter-proposal by Marianne Cusato, "using the historic precedent of Russian civic buildings built in the 19th century."

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Cusato's State Capitol

Aurbach contends that Cusato's design is superior to the winning design for three reasons:
1. It creates and orders its surrounding spaces into accessible, functional parks and greens.
2. It provides a more legible point of reference in the city fabric.
3. The design conveys meaning.
Looking at the Capitol Building's site, Thom Mayne appears to be inviting criticism, saying "Now we say to Alaskans, 'these are some things we propose: speak to us.'" According to Aurbach they are speaking, with "dislike and discontent." Also, according to Aurbach, somebody like me "will object that a tradition-based design is 'not of our time,' and that "new materials and construction methods mean that only un-ornamented, machine-like designs with a high novelty factor can be authentic." Well, I believe that the way we build defines what "our time", so if we build traditionally that indicates take pride in history, for example, and the counter indicates that we are thinking ahead. At the moment, "our time" is a multitude of different styles and directions, all finding a place somewhere. The same applies to ornament, something that can be attributed to long-gone craftsman, replaced (unfortunately) by mass production and the building manufacturing industry.

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Morphosis's State Capitol

What seems to be at issue here is legibility: traditional design rooted in historical styles - that use columns, pediments, arches, etc - is understood by most, though contemporary design that lacks direct precedent lacks the ability to be understood by the same. So the argument goes and has been going on since Modern architecture took favor last century with architects, developers and cities. So I definitely won't be able to solve anything here, but I'd like to address Cusato's argument that accompanies her design.

She titles her letter "Alaska Deserves a Real Capitol Building, Not an Egg." Granted that the dome of the winning design has an egg-like form - a popular form for contemporary architects globally today - but this title only helps to diminish the design by associating it with an actual egg, much the way the THINK team's WTC runner-up design was described as a skeleton, effectively killing their chances of winning. Cusato continues to use this ammunition with phrases like, "[the design] is egg on the face of all Alaskans." Not very funny.

Basically, Ms. Cusato's argument is fool-proof because she states, "Alaska's capitol should be rewarded with a building no less grand than the other 49 that have stood the test of time in our country." Looking at the other 49, it's apparent that most are based on Washington D.C.'s Capitol Building, referencing its dome and neo-Classical language, so therefore Alaska would have to do the same to be properly rewarded.

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But if Alaska wanted to do what the mainland did already, why did they hold a competition? Competitions are notoriously geared towards finding contemporary solutions, those selecting traditional designs (see Michael Graves) creating as much negative controversy as this one apparently is. The design by Morphosis (to be featured on my weekly page Monday, so I won't go into too much detail here) responds admirably if awkwardly to the task. They are definitely trying to find a contemporary solution to the question of what a state capitol should look like, coming close with the dome (evident in the image above) but looking too much like an office building (which a Capitol is to a certain extent) and not civic enough in other parts.

So do we abandon the winning design in favor of a 19th century Russian civic structure? Or do we do as Mayne says and speak to him, in favor of modifying and improving the winning design? I would recommend the latter.

Update 04.07: The Anchorage Daily News picks up the story of "'Traditional' architects challenging winning Capitol design.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Nice Shot

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Part of a run of abstract images by photoblogger Tozzer of Modernist facades (click previous after link for more).

(via Gothamist)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

This Just In - Block 37 Update

For those of you following the wild ride that is Block 37, Crain's reports that "WBBM-TV/Channel 2 is expected to sign a lease 'within days' for a showcase television studio on the Loop site."

According to the article, " The company expects to break ground by the end of the year...A lease with Channel 2 — the project’s first — would be a shot in the arm for a development that has lost momentum in recent months...News that a signed lease is only days away would silence some skeptics who believe that Mills’ plan to develop Block 37 will fail just like others that preceded it."

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Image by Yanul

After years and years of hot air surrounding developments on this site, the more I hear about plan after plan of high-rise, multi-use BIG developments, I'm tempted to think that Chicago should just stop trying to get its money back. Why not relocate the ComEd station and build another world-class park that ties the Loop to Millennium Park and celebrates open space? Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but we can't expect developers to achieve greatness and find the "ideal" solution for the site via their money-driven thinking, something the city seems to want as they rebound from one developer to another.

I think the Mayor must realize that this void he's created isn't going to fill itself (with buildings, a designed park or other creative option) and as his time in City Hall ticks away, Block 37 might just become his (unwanted) legacy, over his greater accomplishments like Millennium Park.

Thanks to Karen for the link to the Crain's report.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Half Dose #9: Guthrie Theater

Doing a bit of work-related research earlier today I came across some images of Jean Nouvel's Guthrie Theater under construction, a project I'd seen a while ago only as a design, one that recalls Russian Constructivist projects of the early 20th century and contemporaries like Bolles + Wilson.

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About five minutes after looking at the construction images online, the new issue of Architecture arrived, showcasing the Guthrie for its exterior skin: insulated steel panels with blue paint and pixelated images screened on top.

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After the Guthrie Theater announced its plans for a new, relocated building, preservation groups stepped up to save the existing theater, one valued for its intimacy and acoustics but described by the owners as "cramped and separated." As planned, the existing building site would become the sculpture garden for the Walker Art Center, whose expansion by Herzog & De Meuron opens on April 17.

Links:
- Jean Nouvel's official page.
- Architectural Alliance, the local architect.
- Guthrie Theater's page on the expansion with construction images.
- Images that will be silk-screened to the exterior panels.
- Interview with Andrew Hartness , architect and 3d developer at Ateliers Jean Nouvel (with renderings and movies.)
- Save the Guthrie, a group dedicated to saving the existing Guthrie Theater.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Being Mayne

When I was in undergraduate architecture in the early- to mid-1990s, Morphosis was one of the most popular designers for "inspiration" for many reasons, but most notably for their presentation drawing and model techniques. The former tended to feature multiple layers of information (plans, sections, perspectives, photographs, other imagery) that illustrated the project's complexity and mood over the actual design; the latter were covered with a plaster-like coating that gave each model a mono or duotone look, nullifying any hierarchy in the model but also putting the focus on the form rather than materiality. We picked up on these techniques (usually to lesser degrees of success) realizing that each could help mask an otherwise weak design, or distract from poor craftsmanship, what have you, but mainly we looked to Morphosis because their stuff was so damn cool and we wanted our designs to be just as cool.

Their competition entry (below) for the Los Angeles Arts Park is a good example of their unique presentation techniques. The 2d presentation combines model photographs, a floor plan, a building section, and a carefully-composed though indistinguishable background (are those the bright lights of a concert? is that a burning cross?). It's difficult to ascertain what exactly is represented or what is going on, but the mood is unmistakably bleak and aggressive, perhaps a bit too much for an Arts Park, though it's unique enough that they won the competition. An aerial view of the model doesn't exactly help explain things, but built in sections the large scale model could be taken apart to reveal sections of the mainly underground spaces.

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This - and many projects like it - were a product of the Morphosis of Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi. Since they split in the early 90s, I've come to the over-simplified conclusion that Mayne was the theoretical, avant-garde partner and Rotondi was the tectonic, practical one. Since they've gone their separate ways, Rotondi (with RoTo Architects) has experimented with the construction process, sometimes designing on site, a far cry from the labored presentation artifacts of early Morphosis. Mayne, on the other hand, turned to the computer in a move away from the firm's early aesthetic and into a whole new layer of complexity. Folded planes and porous, exterior materials like perforated metal are the norm these days.

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The San Francisco Federal Building (above) is a good example of this later stage of Morphosis, the one befitting the Pritzker Prize. Currently under construction, this project is part of a string of large built works that started with the Diamond Ranch High School (and numerous school-related buildings) and have continued with the Hypo Alpe-Adria Center and last year's Caltrans District 7 HQ (the icing on the cake for the Pritzker jury, as is the firm's selection for the NYC2012 Olympic Village). Two other projects are also currently under construction, the University of Cincinnati Student Recreation Center and NOAA Satellite Operation Facility.

For many years Mayne was a "paper architect", paying the bills with lavishly illustrated books, lecturing and teaching around the country, and cheap interns. But like other of his contemporaries (particularly Hadid and Libeskind), Mayne is now racking up the commissions. And at 61, he is probably considered in his prime with many more years and great designs to come.

Is Morphosis as big an influence at universities now as ten to fifteen years ago? I can't really say for sure, but given Mayne's ability to design AND build aggressive, in-your-face buildings for a diverse range of clients (from schools to the Federal government), all the while creating super-sexy computer renderings, I would have to say yes.

Book Review: Celluloid Skyline

Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies by James Sanders




Billed as a "tale of two cities - both called 'New York'," James Sanders - a practicing architect and a co-writer of Ric Burns's New York: A Documentary Film - takes a look at the real and the mythic city through the medium of movies. The book begins at the beginning, when the movie camera was invented and New York City was its star in 19th century "actualities", scenes of daily life in the big city. Moving on to Hollywood's constructed reality, where the Big Apple was recreated and redefined in the eyes of expatriate writers and other creatives, the book abandons a chronological take in the second half, in favor of a typological and place-based analysis. Sanders examination of movie New York is extremely thorough and abundantly illustrated, be it film stills, production sketches, behind-the-scenes photos, and reference images of the real city. The author finds meaning in a diverse range of films, from obvious classics like Rear Window to popular entertainments like Splash. A thirteen-page filmography illustrates the wealth of features that use New York City as its setting and the time-intensive research the author undertook. The reader is that much better off for Sanders's perseverance and obvious love of film, apparent not only in the amazing book but the equally-impressive web page, a visually delightful and educational online incarnation.


Mirador

Mirador in Madrid, Spain by MVRDV

On the heels of a building boom and housing shortage in Spain, MVRDV was commissioned to design the Mirador, a 21-story, 156-unit apartment building with local architect Blanca Lleó. Departing from the drab, conventional housing surrounding Mirador's site, the architects created a distinctive silhouette by grouping nine blocks arranged around a communal outdoor void.

The articulation of these blocks is apparent in the exterior palette, equal parts stone, concrete and tile. These white, gray and black colors are offset bands of orange paint that are supposed to the building's circulation. The strips of orange give the building an extra kick in its otherwise colorless exterior, like the center opening legible from a distance. Furthermore each block provides its own type of unit plan, offering then at least nine types of apartments for tenants.

Like Machado and Silvetti's Harvard dormitory, the Mirador uses a multi-story truss to create its unique expression. Looking closely at the image at left, one can trace the diagonal bracing where windows have been omitted. Structural solutions like this are not new to MVRDV, who have used dramatic cantilevers for similar effect. Here, the scale is larger so therefore the visual impact is greater, scaled to the urban vista and intended to dwarf its surroundings.

Beyond the novel form and donut silhouette, the communal plaza is the design's greatest asset, a communal space with the potential for some dramatic picnics. Early images show an unfortunately barren surface, broken by the occasional sunken pit for relief from the wind. Tall glass barriers at the edge are provided for safety, but hopefully over time the residents will transform the plaza into a functional environment for communal activities. This reciprocal relationship (creating something for both the city and the residents) raises the design over the norm. It should be interesting to see what the Mirador spawns in the future as more housing is built around it.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

And the Winner Is...

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Thom Mayne of Morphosis

For more information, click here (PDF) or here (html).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Pritzker Countdown

According to the Pritzker Prize web page, the 2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate will be announced tomorrow morning. Discussion is a-brewing over the potential winner, with the following favorites:
Santiago Calatrava
Thom Mayne (Morphosis)
Peter Eisenman
Daniel Libeskind
Toyo Ito
Jean Nouvel
Richard Rogers
Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA)
Looking at the past winners (below), the prize tends to single out individuals (omitting Robert Venturi's wife and partner and only once giving the prize to two individuals, in 2001) that are male (again, omitting Robert Venturi's wife and partner and giving the first prize to a woman last year). Architects outside the U.S. have won the last thirteen prizes, pointing towards an American architect to be named and making Mayne the apparent favorite. But the Pritzker Prizes tend to be a bit unpredictable - though last year's choice had a "p.c." smell to it - so it's anybody's guess who will win.

Past winners:
1979 - Philip Johnson of the United States
1980 - Luis Barragán of Mexico
1981 - James Stirling of Great Britain
1982 - Kevin Roche of the United States
1983 - Ieoh Ming Pei of the United States
1984 - Richard Meier of the United States
1985 - Hans Hollein of Austria
1986 - Gottfried Boehm of Germany
1987 - Kenzo Tange of Japan
1988 - Gordon Bunshaft of the United States / Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil
1989 - Frank O. Gehry of the United States
1990 - Aldo Rossi of Italy
1991 - Robert Venturi of the United States
1992 - Alvaro Siza of Portugal
1993 - Fumihiko Maki of Japan
1994 - Christian de Portzamparc of France
1995 - Tadao Ando of Japan
1996 - Rafael Moneo of Spain
1997 - Sverre Fehn of Norway
1998 - Renzo Piano of Italy
1999 - Sir Norman Foster of the United Kingdom
2000 - Rem Koolhaas of The Netherlands
2001 - Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Switzerland
2002 - Glenn Murcutt of Australia
2003 - Jørn Utzon of Denmark
2004 - Zaha Hadid of the United Kingdom
But there are some glaring omissions from both the past winners list and the "betting list", what I guess would be my favorites (in alphabetical order):
Wiel Arets
Mario Botta
Nicholas Grimshaw
Steven Holl
Enric Miralles (posthumously)
Antoine Predock
Tod Williams + Billie Tsien
Peter Zumthor
Whatever tomorrow's anticipated announcement, there definitely isn't a shortage of worthy contenders.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What Does $3 Billion Buy These Days?

Apparently, a hell of a lot of caulk.

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Photo: Otto Pohl for The New York Times

(via Improvised Schema)

Mark Your (NYC) Calendars

Issue 7 ("Untitled Number Seven") of Praxis will be unveiled on March 31, 6-8pm at the Skyscraper Museum in New York (39 Battery Place). Admission is free, refreshments will be served, and journals will be on sale.

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The info:

Praxis 7, features recent projects that reconceptualize the space and discourse of the museum. The journal posits an expanded definition of curation as not only an organizational device for choosing and arranging works of art, but more broadly as a device for structuring a relationship between building and the works of art it houses. This issue focuses on projects that challenge the very definition of the museum as a static determinant structure, and instead situate the contemporary museum more broadly as a cultural institution.

EDITORS
Amanda Reeser Lawrence | Ashley Schafer

FEATURED ARCHITECTS & DESIGNERS
Sejima & Nishizawa | Renzo Piano | Diller + Scofidio+ Renfro | Jane Harrison and David Turnbull (XLA) | Thomas Struth | Natalie Jeremijenko | Mauricio Rocha | OpenOffice

FEATURED WRITERS
K Michael Hays | Nana Last | Michael Meredith | Aaron Betsky | Jeff Kipnis | Fredric Migayrou | Terry Riley | Joseph Rosa | Robert Irwin

It's a ...

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Thanks for sending me the pic, Jim.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Architecture on the Radio

Looks like Architecture Radio is getting some company, as internet radio and podcasting are gaining both popularity and ease of use/creation.

Archinect reports on Radio Bonfi, "a free student run radio station from the Architectural Association School of Architecture." The "station" uses Flash but has a friendly, lo-fi-looking interface.

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Radio Bonfi welcomes submissions from anybody, in an effort to "[explore] the commitment to a collective space of pleasure, provocation, and feeling alive...and to support the makers and breakers of the world." Tune in.

As well, LA's KCRW has a podcast of its Design and Architecture features. For those not familiar with podcasting (like me, I'll admit), it basically works like a blog feeder but instead of subscribing to a site and receiving post updates, mp3's are automatically downloaded to your CPU for your listening enjoyment at your leisure, via special software. Podcasting allows anybody with access to a computer to express a thought, a song, anything, aurally to the rest of the connected world, a liberating thought but, like blogging, one that requires some filtering. I'll try to post some links to worthwhile architecture-related, internet audio sites as I hear about them (and figure out this podcasting stuff).

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Half Dose #8: TAG McLaren HQ

The TAG McLaren Group wished to consolidate its operation around Woking, Surrey, England into one large complex with "design studios, laboratories, research and testing facilities, electronics development, machine shops and prototyping and production facilities for the Team McLaren Mercedes Formula One cars and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren."

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Norman Foster designed a environmentally sustainable building, a low bean-shaped structure that hugs a man-made lake used for the building's cooling system.

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According to Foster and Partners' page, "the building is organized around double-height six-meter wide linear 'streets', which form circulation routes and allow daylight into the interior of the building providing all employees with an awareness of the outside." Like Foster's other buildings, McLaren's Headquarter's is a sleek, well-detailed piece of architecture that is novel but also environmentally friendly.

Links:
- Foster and Partners, their homepage and their project page.
- McLaren, the client's official page.
- Mercedes Enthusiast, a scanned article on the Technology Center.
- Some images here, here and here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Ten Most Endangered

Last week the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois announced its 2005 list of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in the state. Four of the ten places are in and around Chicago, a special 11th spot given to Cook County Hospital for the ongoing struggle over its future.

Here's a few places of interest:

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River Forest Women's Club, River Forest
A Prairie-style building designed in 1913 by William Drummond, the chief draftsman of Frank Lloyd Wright. The distinctive green siding makes this house appear like a slightly off-kilter Prairie house, like Drummond wanted to go beyond his master's style but couldn't escape Wright's influence.

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Westgate Street, Oak Park
A new downtown master plan threatens a portion of Oak Park's beautifully-scaled, walkable downtown, a block from a Green Line station to the Loop. Oak Park has the downtown that most newer suburbs want, so why mess with it?

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Zook Home and Studio, Hinsdale
Read Blair Kamin singing the praises of lesser-known architect Harold Zook's home and studio.

Will the Council achieve the intended effect from this list? Perhaps, but more so if the list reaches as many people as possible, opening their eyes to the unknown joys around them.

Book Review: Sixteen Acres

Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero by Philip Nobel
Metropolitan Books, 2005
Hardcover, 304 pages



Philip Nobel's thorough account of the personal and political struggles to rebuild on the World Trade Center site offers many valuable insights into the sometimes overwhelming festivities that have transpired over the last three years. Being a commercial development with the added pressure of symbolizing a national tragedy is one of the book's approaches to the site. And contemporary architecture's inability to act as a suitable symbol to the public - compared with classical architecture - is an oft-mentioned "fact" throughout the book. Nobel paints a vivid picture of the conflicts among the various parties involved (Governor Pataki, Larry Silverstein, the LMDC, Daniel Libeskind, David Childs, etc), but more interesting are the personal motives driving each party - and impacting the outcome - in a project that will probably have a far-reaching impact beyond its core of New York real estate "values". The popular opinion of rebuilding the Twin Towers does not escape the author, who sympathizes with the well-meaning groups pushing this cause. If the Twin Towers were as beloved before September 11 as they have been since, this might be the obvious solution, but as things stand today an alternative solution is being pushed that will be scrutinized for years to come. And even though developers, politicians, ad hoc groups, and architects are involved in the process, the focus will be on the last, their solutions probably affecting the public's perception of architects and architecture, for better or worse.


Perspectives Charter School

Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, Illinois by Perkins + Will

Started in 1993 by Kim Day and Diana Shulla-Cose, two Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers, Perspectives Charter School is a public school with open admission that operates on a five year contract with CPS, last renewed in 2002. Perspectives takes the small-school format as its inspiration, limiting classes to 24 students in an effort to create a school with "a family-like atmosphere that students, parents, and faculty could call their own...where students felt safe...[and] where students were challenged."

Perspectives' new school is located on Chicago's near south side, on a triangular site at State and Archer, just north of Bertrand Goldberg's Raymond Hilliard Homes. The long, tapered shape of the site (like the tip of a pencil) is a potential liability but also an asset to the project. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will exploited the triangular shape by letting the building reach almost to its eastern tip, stopping the enclosed building short but extending the roof to the corner. Connected to this portion of the roof is a metal mesh trellis, the future home to ivy planted at its base.

The entrance is located on the western end of the building, adjacent to the parking lot and in the direction of the nearby "L" station. Outside of the eastern tip, the entry is the only area where the architect goes beyond the simple (and most likely inexpensive) exterior of horizontal ribbon windows set in corrugated metal siding, sitting on a roughly three foot brick base. The roof line from the northwest corner slopes up to cover some rooftop mechanical equipment where a portion of the corrugated siding is set perpendicular to the typical horizontal emphasis, leading the eye down as the wall wraps into the canopy. Obviously the architect is using the cheap materials to his advantage, here in a subtle manner. A separation in the west wall is filled partly with full-height glazing, similar to the eastern tip; this visual consistency connects the two ends, while also illustrating the linear circulation running through the building from the entrance to the special classroom at the far east.

The South Loop area where the school sits is undergoing a transformation as condominium developments and their effects expand south towards Cermak Avenue and McCormick Place, now in the throws of a massive expansion set to open in 2008. Edge condition could easily describe the area's past, with barriers to the south (Stevenson Expressway), east (Lake Shore Drive and McCormick Place), and west (Red Line and Chinatown) for many years containing the housing projects and their concomitant environs. But the presence of McCormick Place - and its importance in the city's international image - meant change was inevitable. How does Perspectives Charter School fit into the area's evolution? Physically it does it very well, resisting the mundane brick-and-stone neo-traditionalism of nearby condos in favor of a gritty neo-industrial aesthetic that in some ways mirrors the area's tough times.