Symbolic Design: The International Olympic Commission Gets a Fitting Home

Symbolic Design: The International Olympic Commission Gets a Fitting Home

Every two years, the world gives itself over to a strange, temporary fervor. United by the thrill of competition and the spec­tacle of international pageantry, we sud­denly become experts in obscure sports, aficionados on the finer points of uniforms, and devoted followers of human-interest stories about instantly minted heroes. For a few eventful weeks, the Olympics gives the world a single, glorious focal point. Behind all of this ceremony is a single organization: the International Olympics Committee.

Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, the roe is comprised of more than 500 professionals and an executive board that hails from more than a dozen countries. Previously scattered throughout multi­ple buildings-including an 18th-century chateau that still stands-the organiza­tion has now brought all of its operations under one roof, coinciding with its 125th anniversary. Located in Louis-Burget Park and perched near the shore of Lake Geneva, the recently-completed Olympic House is a $144 million, 237,000 square foot monument to the Olympic Games and its lofty goals.

With an organization as storied and sym­bol-oriented as the roe, every design decision on Olympic House would have to reflect its tenant’s mission. Brought to life by Copenhagen-based architecture firm 3XN, Olympic House is a sterling example of designing around an organization’s values instead of merely providing for its day-to-day needs. Core to the building’s form, layout, and construction are the roe’s values of flexibility, sustainability, and movement. Taken together, it’s a triumph of symbolic design.

The undulating glass form of the building appears differently from each angle, evoking an athlete in motion. The build­ing’s footprint fills up its constrained park site without dominating it and cozies up to its chateau predecessor without dwarfing it. It’s an impressive trick for such a contemporary structure, which could otherwise appear alien or garish in its context.

The five-story building seems committed to easing its transition with its natural surroundings through sloping green terraces that climb to the second story and lawns that encircle the site. Its form manages to be simultaneously grand and deferent. From above, the building appears pinched in the middle, softening what could be an otherwise-imposing structure and creating inviting angles and crea­ting as much natural light as possible for its inhabitants.

Inside, the office space is almost entirely open-plan, delivering on the Olympic value of flexibility and creating opportuni­ties for interaction and collaboration. The entire structure contains only 14 columns, allowing for endless reconfiguration with the aid of movable partitions throughout the space and future-proofing the space by allowing for continual adaptation around working styles.

As one might expect from the IOC, Olympic House is an impressively sustainable build­ing. It’s estimated to be Switzerland’s most sustainable mod rn Ii · ding, and with its LEED v4 Platinum certifi­cation, it’s also one of the world’s most rigorously-certified structures. On the roof stands an array of solar panels that recall .q the shape of a dove, delivering ten percent of the building’s required energy. Pipes carry water from the neighboring lake to heat and cool the building. And controls throughout the building allow workers to customize the temperature and lighting for their immediate surroundings.

The Olympic House is a potent reminder that buildings are not simply containers for organizations. At their best, they act as symbols, carrying out mission statements with their choices and subsequently encou­raging their inhabitants to live out certain values as they go about their work. As the world looks to the Olympic Games for examples of the best humanity can achieve, it’s only fitting that its building should do the same for design.

The IOC’s previous headquarters-a grand mansion in use since 1968-signaled a certain historic prestige but also a kind of austerity and exclusivity. Olympic House boldly declares a posture of openness, pro­gressive intent, and adaptability.

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THE NETWORK / SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 2019 – Amazing Buildings

Building Beyond the Bottle: The Rise of Cork

Building Beyond the Bottle: The Rise of Cork

For centuries, the bark of the cork oak was so synonymous with a single application that it lent its name to the product: the wine cork. Today, about sixty percent of all harvested cork is used to stop bottles, although its share in that market has been challenged by a burgeoning trend toward screw caps. The remaining forty percent of the cork industry is geared toward a wide range of other applications, from shoes to the cores of baseballs to insulation in NASA’s rockets. But for most of us, non-wine cork is still relegated to bulletin boards and the occasional floor tile.

Considering the myriad properties of the material, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t been adopted for yet more uses. Naturally, hydrophobic, lightweight, durable, and easily malleable, cork is an excellent insulator for both heat and acoustics, a capable fire retardant, and is resistant to mold. In recent years, designers and builders have begun to take note of cork’s possibilities, producing everything from impressive lighting fixtures to breathtaking modernist seating.

However, cork’s most impressive unconventional use may be in its use cladding entire buildings, where the material feels right at home. Cork facades have an organic and warm quality, finding harmony with both urban and natural surroundings. Interacting with the weather, cork also changes color over time, taking on a patina that can vary from plank to plank. Plus, its insulating properties help reduce climate control costs dramatically.

In Berlin, Rundzwei Architekten’s aptly-named Corkscrew House stands apart from its neighbors, a monolith of cork. Stark and geometric. its organic exterior is at once precise and soft-leaning far from the brutalist trappings of concrete. And, as one might hope, a grand spiral staircase in the center of the 3,200 square-foot house completes the allusion to its namesake.

The panels that clad Corkscrew House’s walls and roof were produced by heating and pressurizing waste cork granules from the wine industry-a process that requires no additional materials thanks to a naturally-present resin in the cork. The resulting slabs are durable, flexible, and easy to work with, allowing workers to use traditional woodworking tools.

Perhaps cork’s most attractive quality, though, is its unmatched sustainability. As the bark of Quercus suber trees, cork is harvested rather than felled, leaving live trees that will produce more cork every nine years for up to three hundred years. About half of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal, where its harvest has been well-regulated and revered for centuries. Cork is cut by hand from mature trees by skilled workers who are paid a living wage. Thanks to the cork forests’ highly-effective absorption of carbon dioxide, the cork industry is actually net-carbon-negative. One might make the argument that cork is the world’s most sustainable building material. Its only limiting factors are the time it takes to grow it and the climate required to cultivate its trees-limited to Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

In London, the aptly-named Studio Bark has taken cork construction to a new extreme with Cork Studio, a garden shed built entirely out of the material. Here the cork makes up not just the cladding but solid blocks used to form the structure. Describing the process, Studio Bark’s architect notes that cork’s qualities “eliminate the need for frames, linings, glues, tapes, breather membranes, and wet trades,” making the project particularly cost-effective, sustainable, and even biodegradable. Unlike many buildings, Cork Studio has an end-of-life plan, able to be tossed onto the compost heap once its usefulness has run its course.

Today, cork remains a relatively niche building material, limited mainly by its cost of transportation and perhaps a lack of imagination. However, if screw caps continue to make in-roads into the wine industry, we may be lucky enough to see more cork­clad buildings sprouting up around us. At once incredibly traditional and refreshingly innovative, it’s an age-old material with tons of life left in it.

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THE NETWORK / JULY – AUGUST 2019 – Amazing Buildings

Golden State, Gold Standard: California Redefines the Sporting Venue

Golden State, Gold Standard: California Redefines the Sporting Venue

At some point in our nation’s history, a ballpark was just a ballpark. Whether idiosyncratic urban jewels defined by their contexts and boundaries or massive suburban concrete shrines with plenty of parking, sporting venues were relatively simple affairs. You found some land, built a stadium or an arena, and then waited for an ecosystem—bars, restaurants, parking lots, and souvenir stores—to organically sprout around it. Owners were responsible for their enterprise, not necessarily their cities.

But today, a sports stadium often represents just one component of a multi-phase urban renewal scheme, serving as a prominent and exciting anchor for an ambitious mixed-use master plan. They come with pre-signed retail tenants and integrated transportation solutions. They can even be pitched as solutions to housing crises, promising to create not just venues but entire thriving neighborhoods. 

Perhaps nowhere is this trend more visible than California, where—if all goes to plan—two major (and privately funded) developments will create new homes for Los Angeles’s football teams and Oakland’s beloved baseball franchise—along with thousands of other homes for the cities’ residents.

Slated to complete its initial construction in 2020 in Inglewood, Los Angeles Stadium will have quite the legacy to follow. The Coliseum, its Art Moderne predecessor, looms large in sports history as the host of the first-ever Super Bowl and of two Olympic games. In its bid to solidify football’s return to Los Angeles, the new stadium is going big. When it’s completed, Los Angeles Stadium will be the country’s most expensive, totaling $4.9 billion in construction, development, and infrastructure improvements. When it’s complete, Los Angeles Stadium will regularly house 70,240 spectators and will be able to accommodate more than 100,000 for major events.

Neither an open-air stadium nor an enclosed dome, LA Stadium will be an open-air environment, crowned by a permeable metal canopy-style roof that lets in plenty of natural light and cooling Southern California breezes. In the middle of the stadium will hang a 70,000 square-foot, dual-sided screen made by Oculus, ensuring fans are able to see every second—and every angle—of the action. The dramatic teardrop-shaped form of the structure, designed by HKS Architects, feels ready to make a strong first impression both from the ground and the air, with millions of passengers landing annually at the neighboring Los Angeles International Airport. 

However, Los Angeles Stadium is just a part of a 300-acre complex that will also offer a 6,000 seat performing arts venue, a hotel, 2,500 residential units, publicly accessible parks, and a lake. Taken together, the complex will constitute an entire district unto itself—more than three times the size of Disneyland—and its many-phase development is scheduled to wrap up in time for the 2028 Olympics. 

However, while Los Angeles Stadium is a done deal, the Oakland A’s planned Howard Terminal stadium is still a moonshot, as the team is still attempting to acquire the land. Proposed to take up a section of Oakland’s bustling port waterfront, the stadium has run into opposition from the city’s maritime industrial community. But if the stadium succeeds, it could create a charming heart for the city’s rapidly developing downtown—along with thousands of residential units in a metropolitan era hurting for housing. 

In scale, Oakland’s stadium would be a far cry from the Los Angeles project. At 34,000 seats, it would be the smallest in the Major League—perhaps fitting for the Bay Area’s “other” baseball team. The intimate stadium would be surrounded by a continuous sloping rooftop park, open to both fans and to the Oakland community at large on non-game days. 

The most striking feature of the Howard Terminal development, though, would surely be its unique transportation system: an aerial gondola that would transport fans from nearby Jack London Square above the adjacent interstate to the stadium. Also included in the package would be anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 residential units, including a significant percentage of affordable housing. 

In an era of increased urbanization, it makes sense that sports complexes are also making a return to the cities. And if Oakland and Los Angeles’s efforts succeed, they could set a template for how we build stadiums in the future: informed by careful urban planning, creating housing, and even providing public green spaces. It’s high time that we put the “park” back in “ballpark.”

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MAY-JUNE 2019 – Amazing Buildings

Back on Track: Michigan Central Station Gets a Second Life

Back on Track: Michigan Central Station Gets a Second Life

When Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was dedicated in 1914, it became the tallest train station in the world at eighteen stories. The massive Beaux-Arts structure was designed by the same architects as New York’s Grand Central Terminal­ Warren & Wetmore and Reed and Stern-and was conceived as a kind of companion piece, ensuring that passengers would embark and arrive through similar grandeur.

At the height of its use, more than two hundred trains left the bustling Michigan Central every day for destinations throughout North America. The station’s centerpiece was its great waiting room, which was modeled after Roman baths. It boasted 55-foot tall vaulted and tiled ceilings with massive chandeliers and soaring Corinthian columns. The very height of magnificence, the station saw presidents, statesmen, and icons pass through its doors.

But as Detroit rose in prominence, Michigan Central Station became less and less useful, because the very cause of Detroit’s economic boom also spelled doom for its massive train station: the rise of the automobile. As the country moved toward air travel and focused on building a massive highway system, the grand age of train-travel began to decline.

Over the years, Michigan Central Station changed operators and owners as its patronage steadily waned. Gradually, the station’s amenities were downsized and eventually shuttered, creating an eerie effect for the few travelers passing through the giant building. Finally, in 1988 the last train left Michigan Central Station, plunging the building into decades of disuse. For decades, policymakers and entrepreneurs proposed uses for the building; it was alternately proposed as a police headquarters, a customs processing center, and a trucking hub. In 2009, it was confirmed for demolition by Detroit’s City Council and then saved by a lawsuit claiming its historic significance.

But mostly, the building decayed. It became a destination for vagrants, graffiti artists, urban explorers, even paintball enthusiasts. Looters snapped up the building’s decorative embellishments and scrappers stripped its copper wiring and brass fixtures. Michigan Central became a prominent symbol for the fall of once-mighty Detroit, an imposing marvel of broken-windows and an elegy for a lost mode of transportation.

However, in 2018 the building found an ironic savior: the Ford Motor Company. Paying $90 million for the site, the automaker plans to turn the station into the centerpiece of a new 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use campus, with room for 5,000 total workers (including 2,500 of Ford’s). When it is complete in 2022, the Ford’s workers will be focused on developing autonomous and electric cars and various “mobility solutions” (although there’s no word on whether they’ll be developing trains).

The four-year renovation effort will need to combat decades of weather damage, as decades of water and Detroit’s infamously harsh winters have taken their toll on the structure. At the heart of the project is the station’s famous waiting room. The vision is not to repurpose it but to restore it to its original grandeur, replacing broken plaster using 3D modeling technology and restoring gaps in the 21,000 square feet of the waiting room’s breathtaking Guastavino ceiling title.

Ultimately, the company hopes to establish a thriving corridor in Corktown (Detroit’s oldest neighborhood), acquiring a handful of other historic buildings in the area. The station’s concourse will contain shops and restaurants open to the public following a growing nationwide trend of repurposing historic structures for retail and hospitality applications.

As news of the restoration was announced, the Ford team received an anonymous confession about a particularly intriguing piece of architectural salvage: a massive clock that had once adorned the Station. The repentant thief carefully wrapped the clock and left it for pickup near an abandoned building, heartened by the knowledge that it would be returned to its home without any further damage-perhaps even to watch over crowds of busy people once again.

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THE NETWORK / MARCH – APRIL 2019 – Amazing Buildings

Wander the Sea: Norway’s Submarine Restaurant

Wander the Sea: Norway’s Submarine Restaurant

For decades, architectural tourism was about checking off the established icons: the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal. Those with more than a passing interest in design might make pilgrimages to Fallingwater, the Bradbury Building, or the Farnsworth House for their importance to the field. But in the age of Instagram, a new class of architectural attraction is emerging: buildings conceived to be so sensational—and photogenic—that they inspire expeditions to remote destinations.

Opening this spring, southern Norway’s Under restaurant falls squarely in this category by offering something that experience hunters, gourmands, and amateur photographers won’t be able to resist. Because while a restaurant on the water is nothing new, Under is a restaurant in the water.

Designed by the acclaimed Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta—known for their design for the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York—Under is a 110-foot long, 2,500-ton concrete structure that links land and sea. The monolithic mass was assembled on a barge, towed into position, and plunged into the North Atlantic using large containers of water as weights. Anchored into the seafloor securely at eighteen points, the restaurant’s form rises diagonally onto the shore like a breaching whale or a massive, rectangular periscope.

Diners at Under will traverse a glass walkway to the building and then descend a staircase past a mid-level champagne bar and down to the world’s largest underwater dining room. Clad in warm oak, the restaurant’s deepest chamber has space for 100 diners, who will enjoy a menu of ultra-local fare including mushrooms, berries, sea birds, shellfish, and sheep raised on the neighboring archipelago.

Five meters under the surface, Under ups the ante on farm-to-table cuisine by surrounding its diners with marine life (including some of its menu items). Visible wildlife will include lobsters, seals, spiny dogfish, and massive cod—all illuminated by discreet lights installed on the seabed. And Under will encourage extensive aquatic observation by offering leisurely meals that stretch to four hours.

While one might expect an underwater restaurant to seek placid seas, Under’s location in Lindesnes (Norway’s southernmost tip) promises the opposite of smooth sailing. Here, dramatic weather will be part of the experience.

With its three-foot-thick walls, Under is designed to withstand the extremely harsh North Sea weather and is slightly curved to better weather its waves. Diners can safely watch storm swells through Under’s massive (468 square foot) panoramic window thanks to the project’s extensive site analyses, weather data studies, and rigorous structural engineering. The effect will be dramatic, with stormy seas contrasting against the restaurant’s calm, dim interior.

Intended to become fully integrated with its environment, Under’s coarse concrete exterior will gradually become a mussel reef over time. The mussels will help cleanse the surrounding water and attract more wildlife. When the restaurant isn’t serving, the building will be used as a marine biology research facility to study fish behavior.

While Under hasn’t yet served a single meal, a reservation there is nearly impossible to secure—likely thanks to the extensive press the project has received. Pending the restaurant’s reception, Under could become an anchor for tourism in the area as adventurous diners seek companion activities to their marine adventure.

“We’ll attract tourists from all over the world. That is our goal,” says one of Under’s owners, Gaute Ubostad. “I hope and believe that this will be the start of a new age for the travel industry.” The restaurant may also be part of a new age for the architecture industry, as designers are dared to dream up small, high-interest buildings that attract visitors from the world over. Because while it’s not as grand as the Taj Mahal or established as Fallingwater, Under is sure to inspire thousands of heavily-Instagrammed pilgrimages.

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THE NETWORK / JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 – Amazing Buildings

Building Community Up: The Rise of the Vertical Village

Building Community Up: The Rise of the Vertical Village

Over the past fifty years, one global demographic trend has remained remarkably steady: increased urbanization. At the turn of the 20th century, only 15% of the planet’s people lived in cities. Today, that share is around 55%. And by 2050, we’ll see the total urban population rise to 68%, with much of the growth taking place in Asia and Africa.

While one might imagine that this kind of large-scale coming together might promote increased harmony, it’s entirely possible that we see the opposite. As we continue to leave traditional towns and villages behind, we’ve also lost many of their shared spaces and their sense of collective social cohesion. And while our buildings are often “mixed-use;’ the delineation between private and public space continues to be made more and more explicit.

Increasingly, planners and designers are acknowledging that high-density living doesn’t always guarantee meaningful interaction. Perhaps the clearest illustration of this contradiction is the modern high-rise, where residents live in a kind of private, vertical alienation. In these sky-high environments, we live on top of each other but hardly ever interact, save for polite nods in the elevator.

However, a number of recent projects are challenging our assumptions about how residents interact with tall buildings. The skyscraper, long-held as a symbol of status and architectural might, is being broken up in new ways. Architects thinking beyond the lobby to create numerous common areas, green spaces, and community amenities to create towering villages. By breaking up the vertical “grid” of tall buildings, designers are able to create spaces that are more community-minded and egalitarian.

In Southeast Asia, urban planners have adopted the idea of the traditional “kampong;’ or compound, for a hyper-modern (and land­scarce) world. Instead of exclusive roof decks and penthouses, the buildings offer rooftop community gardens, shops, and elderly housing. The result is an inter-generational community housed in a single complex.

One particularly enthusiastic proponent of the vertical village is German architect and urbanist Ole Scheeren, whose successes in Asia may help translate the concept for North American audiences. Scheeren’s 1,040-unit Interlace complex in Singapore was named Building of the Year at the 2015 World Architecture Festival and has garnered international attention.

Composed of 31 separate six-story structures, the Interlace rises to 24 stories at its highest point. While it has been compared to a mass of Jenga blocks, the placement of its structures is more method than madness, incorporating studies of the area’s sun, wind, and climate to aid with energy efficiency. Wind corridors and pools of water work together to create cooling breezes, and the Interlace’s courtyards are intentionally shaded from the sun.

While obviously massive, the complex feels permeable and inviting rather than daunting. Living spaces coexist with terraces that house swimming pools, tennis courts, roof gardens, and verdant courtyards. Taken together, the complex feels more like a sprawling resort than it does an apartment complex, with its emphasis on purpose-built shared spaces.

Soon, Scheeren’s work will cross the Pacific and aspire even higher in Vancouver, British Columbia. Plans for Barclay Village reveal a pair of towers made up of stacked and jutting glass volumes, occasionally broken up by lush green terraces. Again, Scheeren’s goal is to break up the homogenous height with an innovative variation. Here, residential layouts will include multi-floor units, creating house-like environments within the towers.

As urbanization shows no signs of slowing, it only makes sense to continue to scrutinize our own expectations of what building upward offers. Rather than simply stacking residences and offices on top of each other.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / DECEMBER 2018 – Amazing Buildings