Landmarks On Purpose:  The Vessel and The Lucky Knot

Landmarks On Purpose: The Vessel and The Lucky Knot

When future Architecture Textbooks are written, it seems as safe a bet as any that New York’s High Line project will mark an important turning point not just in the history of adaptive reuse but also in our popular engagement with urban design. It’s fair to call the elevated, 1.5-mile park a genuine phenomenon. It has driven Chelsea’s property values skyward, spurred a glut of real estate development, and inspired similar efforts in at least 19 other American cities.

The High Line also managed something exceedingly rare: it became an instant landmark, joining the pantheon of Gotham’s greats, alongside the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the New York Public Library. Like the slightly-more stately Brooklyn Bridge, it turns infrastructure into a tourist attraction. If you’ve spoken to any visitor to the city over the past few years, you’ve heard about their memorable jaunt to the west side of Manhattan to walk the High Line.

But can a landmark be planned ahead of time? Or does that kind of status require a kind of natural charisma or even luck? Is building a landmark like capturing lightning in a bottle? What elevates Chicago’s beloved Cloud Gate (or, if you prefer, The Bean) above every other art project languishing away in a public park? While it’d obviously be impossible to know for sure, we collected a valuable data point in our hypothetical study in March 2019 when New York’s Hudson Yards Redevelopment Authority opened a 16-story, a honeycomb-shaped monument called The Vessel.

Designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, The Vessel is part sculpture, part viewing platform, and part poster from the M.C. Escher gift shop. It rises above Hudson Yards’ plaza, widening like a cone, clad in resplendent copper and glass marvel of symmetry and geometry. Assem-bled from 75 giant modular pieces manufactured in Monfalcone, Italy, the Vessel feels expensive. And it was. The monument cost a reported $200 million. But in simplest terms, The Vessel is an intricately conceived, very shiny staircase to nowhere in particular. And while one can catch a view of the Hudson River from many of its 80 landings, The Vessel is its own self-justifying destination. One goes to the Vessel to marvel at its construction and snap Instagram photos of its 154 interlocking flights of stairs.

Funded by developer Related Companies, the Vessel sits at the High Line’s northern-most point, and it’s clear that the structure was meant to capitalize on both its neighbor’s traffic and its cultural ubiquity: “We said we want to design a 365-days-a-year Christmas tree,” Related CEO Jeff Blau said upon the Vessel’s opening, “so that every single person who comes here has to come to Hudson Yards.”

With a large Related shopping center sitting in the Vessel’s shadow, one can imagine precisely why one would want a landmark there. But the Vessel is more than just a mall advertisement. Taken together, Hudson Yards represents the most expensive private development in the history of American real estate with an overall price tag of $25 billion, with planned luxury residences, retail, and a state-of-the-art performing arts center. Accordingly, Related has touted the Vessel as “America’s Eiffel Tower,” and implied that the monument should last for “hundreds of years.”

The idea of creating an intentional land-mark is a flexible one, spanning from hypercapitalist developments in New York to large-scale civic projects in communist China. A few years ago, a project in Changsa, China embodied many of the same goals (and a similar affinity for stairs) as the Vessel.

Designed by Amsterdam’s NEXT Architects, the striking Lucky Knot bridge offers pedestrians multiple undulating paths across the Dragon King Harbor River. Playful in its sensibility, the Lucky Knot invites pedestrians to choose their own path across the arcing, bright-red strands of the bridge that resemble a Möbius ring. The bridge has become a popular backdrop for wedding photos and a tourist magnet—while also managing to serve a functional need. Like the Vessel, the Lucky Knot is an argument for a certain vision of the future.

It’s far too early to know whether the Vessel’s bid for landmark status has been successful. Reviews have been somewhere south of mixed, with many criticizing the clear commercial intentions of the project. However, one may note that early reviews for the Eiffel Tower weren’t kind either. It’s entirely possible that the next time you talk to a recent visitor to New York, they’ll tell you about their memorable climb to the top of the Vessel.

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THE NETWORK / JANUARY – FEBRUARY 2020 – Amazing Buildings

Designing Sun-First: Studio Gang’s Solar Carving

Designing Sun-First: Studio Gang’s Solar Carving

Traditionally, a building’s design is dictated by its purpose. Its footprint, facade, and layout are planned to house a certain kind of resident, accommodate a type of commerce, or even signify the values of the building’s owner. In best-case scenarios, considerations around a building’s immediate surroundings, the cultural context of its neighborhood, and its impact on the environment will also enter the equation. To most, these concerns and inquiries from the first principles of architecture.

However, Jeanne Gang—one of the world’s most prominent female architects and winner of the MacArthur “genius” fellow—is designing structures that address an even more fundamental concern: the influence of the sun. While simple orientation is nothing new—every real estate agent in the world knows about good light and ideal facing directions —Gang’s firm, Studio Gang, has developed a more in-depth approach to our interaction with natural light.

Gang’s philosophy, artistically termed “solar carving,” challenges designers to create wildly-angled structures that are exact about redirecting sunlight, optimizing for climate, and even minimizing unwanted shadows cast by the structure. The resulting projects are beautiful buildings that boast deferent, oddly-shaped silhouettes that resemble intricately-cut diamonds from up close and weathered stones from afar. Imagine if the sun had the same gradual eroding power as water and you start to get the idea.

At the heart of solar carving is a simple idea. A flat, vertical pane of glass isn’t optimized for either a building’s residents or its neighbors because at some point in the day it might generate an excess of glare and heat. Traditionally, we solve this problem through types of glass and interior window treatments. Solar carving, however, attempts to solve the problem with an obsessive eye for detail, some software, and a bit of clever astronomy. By carefully considering the sun’s path throughout the day, designers can “sculpt” an intricately considered, responsive facade that takes into account the building’s specific latitude and optimizes its surface. The effects vary from building to building but can range as far as helping to minimize adverse effects of seasonal differences.

In Chicago, for instance, where the weather can dictate much of resident’s day-to-day reality, Studio Gang’s Solstice on the Park project incorporates solar carving to maximize light in the winter and minimize heat gain in the summer. The twenty-six-story residential building is clad with windows angled inward at 72 degrees, creating a striking impression and essentially acting as “smart windows” by predicting seasonal light extremes.

However, it’s almost certainly Studio Gang’s newest solar carving project that will grab all of the attention. 40 Tenth Avenue is an office building on Manhattan’s west side with some high-profile considerations: the West Side Highway nearby and the buzzy High Line Park—the city’s hugely influential elevated adaptive reuse park—at its feet. For the High Line, a new tall building could spell disaster and darkness.

However, instead of being imposing, Tenth Avenue is different. The ten-story building appears tapered, using solar carving to reduce glare (sparing drivers on the highway), minimize birdstrike (the building is not far from the Hudson River, where migratory birds pass through), and optimize its relationship with the High Line. Making use of twelve types of glass, the varying windows are both handsome to look at and, one would imagine, incredible to look out of, offering an observation deck-style view of the city below.

40 Tenth’s diamond-shaped windows benefit both building tenants and park passersby, generously bathing the High Line in sunlight instead of dominating it in shadow. Over the course of a year, the design nearly triples the amount of sunlight the park would receive in comparison with a more conventional building.

In an era of increased density, when builders are crowding cities with ever-taller structures casting ever-longer shadows, solar carving may be a worthy addition to our design quiver. If current trends hold, the sun isn’t going away any time soon. We may as well plan around its predictable paths with the best tools we have.

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THE NETWORK / NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2019 – Amazing Buildings

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.”

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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