BUILDINGS CLAD IN STORIES: THE RISE OF STATEMENT FAÇADES

BUILDINGS CLAD IN STORIES: THE RISE OF STATEMENT FAÇADES

EVERY STRUCTURE TELLS A story. Sometimes, it’s the relatively straightforward story of its function: train terminals, grain silos, and sports arenas generally follow the contours of their purposes. Sometimes, a building’s story is bound to commemoration or dedication. The Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, and the Parthenon all pay tribute to gods and favored mortals. And sometimes, a building’s iconic design becomes the story—as is the case with the Sydney Opera House, the Chrysler Building, or the Eiffel Tower.

However, in each of these stories, there’s room for interpretation. The Eiffel Tower’s stark geometries were famously the subject of fierce aesthetic debate. One can find both enduring romance and troubling ostentation in the Taj Mahal. And as we saw in our last issue, a train terminal’s story can launch an entire movement to restore historic architecture.

But now, in an age of monumental gestures and tourist-courting designs, we may be seeing the rise of a new class of buildings. These structures tell stories that are more didactic than open-ended, with their stories printed right on their skin. While murals, mosaics, and frescos are nothing new, these two buildings come with their interpretations pre-loaded—as if serving as architectural press releases for their regions.

Northwest of Hong Kong lies the Chinese city of Guangzhou, a wealthy port that historically connected the Pearl River to the international traders. It was here that the Silk Road met the South China Sea, and today it’s surrounded by China’s most populous and developed metropolitan region. Like many Chinese cities, Guangzhou has seen a surge of construction in recent decades, including the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre.

Billowing like a silk scarf in the wind, the Grand Theatre would be notable enough for its rippled aluminum cladding, made up of thousands of triangular tiles. The nearly windowless crimson structure was purpose-built by Steven Chilton Architects for Franco Dragone, a theatrical impresario, and Cirque de Soleil alumnus with a flair for the flamboyant. The theatre houses a round amphitheater, rigged for acrobatics and containing a 9-meter-deep pool that can be raised or lowered for aquatic performances.

Perhaps most notably, however, is the Theatre’s embellished facade. The building’s bright red exterior boasts two layers of graphics. The subtler, darker background print recalls contemporary tattooing with its intricate, radiating line-work. Superimposed over this is a layer of golden illustrations that recall delicate embroidery and complete the effect of narrative tapestry. Based on a local myth, “100 Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix,” the building itself becomes a kind of allegory for art, patronage, and performance. The effect is like a picture book, as the building makes its case for Guangzhou as a hub for artistic endeavors.

Thousands of miles away from Guangzhou is another wealthy port city with a daring, donut-shaped cultural center: Dubai. In this case, it’s the audaciously named Museum of the Future, whose relatively vague mandate promises “a hopeful future for all” and pledges to be “a place of tolerance, inviting varied cultural, philosophical, social and spiritual outlooks.”

The $136 million project, led by Dubai’s Killa Design, contains four floors of exhibition space. Its 77-meter-tall metallic form looks like a stretched, asymmetrical ring—an opulent and shiny sculpture in the middle of the desert. Like its neighbor the Burj Khalifa, its goal is clear: to signify Dubai’s presence as a global beacon for trade and wealth and draw seven-star tourists to the lavish city.

Any reading of the Museum, however, is dominated by the building’s bold incorporation of Arabic calligraphy on its façade. The building is inscribed with excerpts from a poem written by the Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. At night, the script—which also serves as the structure’s windows—is illuminated from within. Ironically, despite their prominence, the designers have yet to specify what the quotations actually say or signify. Without a transcript, the fragments mainly serve as an elaborate signature of the country’s autocratic leader.

As with the Grand Theatre, the Museum of the Future made extensive use of digital modeling technologies. Both projects feel so thoroughly contemporary that one can’t imagine them without software’s role in their conception. In fact, many of the Museum’s components were 3D-printed to bring its precise rendered forms to life, and the project even leveraged a “digital growth algorithm” to manage its wildly complex logistics.

With both buildings, one also senses the designer planned a digital appreciation, too. Both buildings feel tailor-made for Instagram feeds and blog posts with their singular ideas and narrative hooks. It’s fitting, then, that their stories are prescribed, controlled, and brief. It’ll be fascinating to see whether there’s room for interpretation of their stories in the future, or whether they simply serve as very expensive essays.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / JULY – AUGUST 2021 – Amazing Buildings

NewCorp, Inc. Seventh Ward Revitalization Initiative: AP Tureaud Memorial Park Improvement GroundBreaking

NewCorp, Inc. Seventh Ward Revitalization Initiative: AP Tureaud Memorial Park Improvement GroundBreaking

Pictured from left to right, Brandon Adams, Landscape Architect, Perez, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Vaughn Fauria, President of NewCorp Inc., and Shelenn P. Jones, Sculptor

Perez is proud to participate in designing the renovation of the A.P. Tureaud Memorial located in the 7th Ward of New Orleans.

Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr. (1899-1972), a native New Orleanian, a Civil Rights fighter, who devoted his life fighting for justice, desegregation of schools, public transportation, and public accommodations. He was victorious in the landmark case argued before the U.S Supreme Court which removed tests requirements for blacks registering to vote.  A.P. Tureaud was known as Mr. NAACP because of his efforts and unceasing quest to rid the South of racial segregation.

The renovation of the memorial, designed by landscape architect Brandon Adams of Perez APC, is being made possible by NewCorp, Inc., a private non-profit 501(C)(3) CDFI. The project includes a large plaque honoring A.P. Tureaud, Sr., a low circular wall with plaques honoring fifteen other New Orleans area civil rights leaders, the refurbishment of the existing statue of Mr. Tureaud, new decorative pavement, new benches and new plantings including trees surround the memorial area. The project is estimated to be completed by the Fall of 2021.

The fifteen additional honorees represented on the plaque will be as follows from the original dedication ceremony in 1997:

Louis A. Martinet (1849-1917) – Louis A. Martinet was admitted to practice law in 1875. He subsequently studied medicine and practiced both medicine and law. Louis Martinet founded the New Orleans Crusader, a weekly newspaper used to combat the increasingly virulent racism of other New Orleans newspapers. A member of the Southern University faculty, he is particularly remembered for his legal support of Homer A. Plessy, calling for the American Citizens’ Equal Rights Committee to gather funds to test the constitutionality of the “separate but equal rule.”

Homer A. Plessy (1862-1925) – Homer Plessy worked as a shoemaker, laborer, clerk, and insurance agent. But he will ever be remembered for refusing to vacate a “Whites Only” seat on the East Louisiana Railway. He was charged with violating an 1890 Louisiana law requiring separate transportation accommodations by race and challenged his arrest: a became a plaintiff in the landmark case – Plessy v. Ferguson in which the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal.”

Professor Alvin H. Jones (1905-1951) – Professor Jones taught Economics at Southern University and Xavier University. He served as Executive Secretary of the Urban League and Vice President of the Orleans Parish Progressive Voters League. On January 5, 1950, Professor Jones led a group of African-Americans seeking to fill out voter registration applications in Opelousas, Louisiana. During this protest, he was brutally beaten by a mob of white men: and he later died as a result of a spinal injury sustained in that beating.

Arthur J. Chapital (1901-1972) – Arthur J. Chapital was educated in the New Orleans Public Schools and Straight College and worked for the U. S. Postal Service. For ten years he served as President of the NAACP. Throughout his life, Arthur Chapital was devoted to achieving equal rights for African-American people.

Oretha Castle Haley (1939-1987) – To bring down retail segregation, Oretha Castle Haley played a major role in the powerful demonstrations that the Consumers League of Greater New Orleans and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized against Canal Street and Dryades Street merchants. She served as the New Orleans Chapter and State President of CORE and aggressively entered the fight against police brutality and segregation of the City of New Orleans operated recreational facilities.

Judge J. Skelly Wright (1911-1988) – Judge J. Skelly Wright served as U. S. District Judge for the Eastern District where he heard many legal challenges to segregation. In various civil rights cases, Judge Wright ruled unconstitutional the segregation of public schools, Louisiana State University (LSU), and other universities. So too, he ruled unconstitutional a law banning sports events between African-Americans and Whites. In voter rights cases, he ruled favorably on legal actions taken to enfranchise African-Americans.

Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial (1929-1989) – Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial was the first African-American to graduate from LSU’s Law School. He entered his practice under the mentorship of A. P. Tureaud. Dutch Morial was the President of the NAACP and the national Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. He was actively and persuasively involved in many civil rights cases that broke down educational and public accommodation barriers to African-Americans. He was the first African-American elected to the Louisiana Legislature in the 20th century, and many firsts followed. Dutch Morial was the first African-American Juvenile Court Judge and State Court of Appeals Judge. Thereafter, he was elected New Orleans’ first African-American Mayor.

Earl J. Amedee, Sr. (1919-1990) – Earl Amedee’s successful challenge of the veteran and diploma privileges, used to admit Whites exclusively to the Louisiana Bar Association, paved the way for many African-Americans to be admitted to the Bar without examination. In 1950, he ran for Orleans Parish School Board and became the first African-American in the 20th century to run for public office. He was appointed the first African-American Assistant District Attorney for the Parish of Orleans. Attorney Amedee’s legal victories won many Louisiana African-Americans their first opportunity to register to vote. Earl Amedee reached out to provide free legal services to the poor and to all who faced violations of their basic rights.

Israel M. Augustine, Jr. (1924-1994) – Israel Augustine was the first President of the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society. He was a founder, member of the Board, and first General Counsel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Israel Augustine was the first African-American to become a State Criminal District Judge in modern Louisiana history. He also served as Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Israel Augustine worked tirelessly on the boards of the Urban League, the Louisiana Human Relations Committee, the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities, the Community Relations Council, and the Metropolitan Area Committee. He instituted the First Offender and Angola Awareness Programs and served on the Gethsemane Prison Ministry.

Alvin Bazile Jones (1922-1973) – Alvin Bazile Jones received his law degree from Southern University. He represented the Consumers League of New Orleans in their fight for fair treatment of African-Americans in retail employment. He was active in voter registration activities in Plaquemines Parish, which was known for trampling the basic rights of African-Americans. Alvin Jones fought continually against police brutality. He was appointed the first African-American Assistant City Attorney and Judge Ad Hoc in Traffic Court.

Clarence “Chink” Henry (1910-1974) – Clarence “Chink” Henry began work as a longshoreman at the age of 18. In 1954, “Chink” Henry was elected President of Longshoremen’s Local 1419. He fought unceasingly for his members on many fronts, including wages, safety laws, job discrimination, equal public accommodations, and voter registration. He was an organizer and member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Board of Directors, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reverend A. L. Davis, Jr. (1914-1978) – For many years, Abraham Lincoln Davis, Jr. served as President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance in New Orleans. In 1941, he organized the first march on the Registrar’s Office to end discrimination in voter registration. He was a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the Orleans Parish Progressive Voters League. Reverend Davis organized and led many local rallies and marches that protested the unequal treatment of African-Americans. He was appointed the first African-American New Orleans City Councilmember in the 20th century.

A. Marcel Trudeau (1927-1978) – Antoine Marcel “Mutt” Trudeau was appointed cooperating attorney to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He served as co-counsel on numerous civil rights cases and was active in voter registration drives in Plaquemines Parish. He was President of both the NAACP State Conference and the Urban League.

Ernest J. Wright (1909-1979) – In addition to his being a key organizer in the labor movement locally, Ernest Wright traveled throughout the South speaking at rallies and organizing African-Americans and Whites on the job. He founded the Peoples Defense League, the first organization to advocate widespread African-American electoral participation. Each Sunday, he spoke at Shakespeare Park (now A. L. Davis Park) on issues affecting African-American people, always insisting in his words that “A Voteless People Is A Hopeless People.”

Daniel E. Byrd (1910-1984) – Daniel Byrd served as the Executive Secretary of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP and the first President of the Louisiana State Conference of NAACP Branches. He worked with A. P. Tureaud on many civil rights cases suing successfully for equal accommodations of public facilities for African-Americans. He served as Field Secretary of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Inc.. In 1946, Daniel Byrd served on a team that investigated the “Blow Torch” lynching in Minden, Louisiana.

The A. P. Tureaud Civil Rights Memorial Park is dedicated to the memory of
Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Sr., and those he worked with and inspired. Like A. P. Tureaud, those who are honored and will be honored here stood in harm’s way during our continuing struggle for equal opportunity and justice. We shall not forget their courage nor our cause.

Correcting the RECORD: NEW YORK GETS A NEW GATEWAY

Correcting the RECORD: NEW YORK GETS A NEW GATEWAY

HISTORY IS NOT ALWAYS kind to great design. What seems like sure-footed progress in one era can often look more like series of missteps with additional hindsight and changing values. We’ve all seen renovations that only made things worse, robbing a property of its original charm, mistreating historical materials, or simply ruining the romance of a space.

However, what happened to New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963 stands alone as a crime against architecture. Its decapitation to make way for the new Madison Square Garden overhead—was so regrettable that it launched the historical preservation movement in the United States.

After more than five decades, New York is still reckoning with the legacy of the loss. However, in January 2021, the city partially healed an architectural wound with the opening of the Moynihan Train Hall. The result of a $1.6 billion conversion of a historic post office facility, the project finally returned a worthy threshold to one of the city’s busiest transit hubs through a little creative problem-solving and a commitment to civic grandeur.

Many young New Yorkers would be shocked to learn that Pennsylvania Station—a rundown and cramped punchline of a place with its low ceilings and confusing underground tunnels—once rivaled Grand Central Terminal in majesty. But when it was completed in 1910, Pennsylvania Station was an absolute marvel, spreading over two city blocks and flanked by dozens of elegant columns.

Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the Beaux-Arts icon, when it opened it was the largest indoor space in the city, rivaling St. Peter’s Basilica in scale. Modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, the station’s immense, light-filled main waiting room had a 150-foot ceiling, welcoming travelers to the city with a generous and impressive flourish.

However, as rail travel fell out of favor and the city’s priorities shifted, Pennsylvania Station gradually lost its luster. The building’s pink granite had taken on the grime of the city and haphazard maintenance left the building a shadow of its former self. By the 1950s, the Pennsylvania Railroad was seeking a buyer for the building’s air rights, citing upkeep costs for the massive complex.

But when the wrecking balls came in 1963, the citizens found themselves shocked by the station’s perfunctory destruction. When a New York Times photographer captured one of the building’s sculptures in a New Jersey landfill, regret came quickly. Within two years, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, which would save Grand Central Terminal and prevent the destruction of countless other historic buildings.

For decades, New Yorkers bemoaned Pennsylvania Station’s lost glory. But serendipitously, Pennsylvania Station wasn’t the only massive Beaux-Arts building in the neighborhood. McKim, Mead, and White had also designed the James A. Farley Building, which still stands on Eighth Avenue. Originally meant to adjoin and complement the station, the complex served as a mail-sorting hall with direct access to some of the tracks.

Throughout the 1990s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Senator from New York, began lobbying to repurpose a section of the Farley Building as a new train hall. In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo seized the reins of the project and deputized Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to perform the conversion. Despite the pandemic, the project came across the finish line early and under budget, opening on the first day of 2021

The result is breathtaking—an optimistic and audacious combination of historical splendor and smart modern design. With its ample public space, retail tenants, and handsome waiting areas with walnut benches, it’s sure to become a destination for Instagram tourists looking to capture the New York of tomorrow.

The train hall’s stunning glass ceiling boasts exposed steel trusses and four bulbous vault sections that jut dramatically into the sky. And in the heart of it all is a beautiful Art Deco clock, reminiscent of an era when we looked up for the time instead of squirreling for our phone in our pockets and purses.

While the Moynihan Train Hall isn’t a full replacement for Pennsylvania Station, it gestures in the right direction: ahead. Talks are already underway to connect the building with the High Line pedestrian park and a long-planned initiative promises to extend the regional Metro-North railway system to the west side of Manhattan.

While Pennsylvania Station will never match its former glory, it could still return to its former prominence as old ideas—like rail travel and prominent civic spaces—come back into style once again.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MAY – JUNE 2021 – Amazing Buildings

Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Gold Medal in Accessibility: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

For decades, Colorado Springs has been a city defined by its prominent institutions. Home to the United States Air Force Academy, the city has seen the proliferation and gradual downsizing of massive industries, including dozens of prominent defense contractors and some of the country’s largest high-tech manufacturers. But the city also has another identity altogether.

With a mild climate, mountainous terrain, and high altitude, Colorado Springs prides itself as an ideal training ground. Home to the Pikes Peak Marathon, a grueling trial run with nearly 8,000 feet of vertical climb, Colorado Springs is a place that rewards the hardy and the tough—which is perhaps why it’s become a headquarters to those seeking Olympic glory. 

Known as Olympic City, USA, Colorado Springs is home to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and 24 national federations for individual Olympic sports. The result is a city flourishing with sports therapists, fitness companies, and athletic administrators. And each year, approximately 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will make the pilgrimage to Colorado to condition, hone their skills, and grow stronger. 

For tourists drawn to Colorado Springs for its world-class hiking and natural beauty, an Olympic attraction is an easy sell. More than 140,000 visitors already flock to the Olympic Training Center each year, touring the extensive complex that can host up to 500 top-tier athletes and coaches at any given time. 

And so, Colorado Springs was also the natural fit to host a dedicated attraction that honors the efforts and accomplishments of Team USA: the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM).

Opened in July 2020, the complex was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also helmed the extensive, $450 million renovation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Compared to MoMA, USOPM is a far humbler affair at $91 million and 60,000 square feet. However, its influence could be just as monumental. 

Made up of two structures and an adjoining amphitheater-like plaza, the USOPM complex sits on the edge of Colorado Springs, ready to attract Olympic enthusiasts and architectural tourists alike. 

The main building’s elegant, origami-like shape is intended to evoke both nearby Pikes Peak and an athlete in motion. Clad in 9,000 entirely-unique reflective aluminum panels, the building feels simultaneously rounded and angular, the taut drape of the facade forming a kind of architectural spandex over four petal-like volumes. The building stretches upward like a runner in starting position, an abstract but recognizably athletic form. From above, the structure is modeled after a spinning discus-thrower. 

However, the most remarkable thing about the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum is its pioneering devotion to universal accessibility. Every effort has been made to accommodate visitors of all capabilities, ensuring total ADA compliance and developing the museum’s content in ways that reach all visitors. 

Exhibit cases take multiple viewing heights into account, ensuring those in wheelchairs get the full benefit of the displays. And guests are issued RFID-embedded lanyards that enable tailored engagement with interactive exhibits, prompting captions, descriptive audio, or translation where preferred. 

Crucially, though, the museum’s visitors take its journey together—no matter their abilities. Whereas many museums push accessibility features to the margins with afterthought ramps or hidden elevators, the USOPM has planned a common path open to all. Visitors share an elevator ride to the top floor and then descend continuously along a gradual, gentle ramp over its three stories and twelve galleries.

Due to the pandemic, the immediate future of the Olympics is uncertain, with the planned 2020 Tokyo Games pushed to 2021. Questions surround travel, attendance, and how the games themselves can adjust and accommodate the challenges we currently face.

Until we’re able to gather en masse again, the spirit of the Games, along with its icons: torches, medals, and uniforms, are on full display in Colorado Springs, where masked visitors can make their socially distanced way through the museum. In a perhaps-fitting twist, visitors’ RFID lanyards also make things safer in the time of Coronavirus. They enable the museum to monitor guest movement and prevent over-crowding—proof that thoughtful design isn’t merely a matter of altruism or generosity. It’s also our best way forward. 

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MARCH – APRIL 2021 – Amazing Buildings

Celebrating the Carver Theater

Celebrating the Carver Theater

The Carver Theater, named after George Washington Carver, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1950, this state-of-the-art theater for African-Americans in New Orleans hosted bands, shows, and community events. In its heyday, the Theater was a magnificent building serving as a cultural center bringing people together. The Carver was retired as a movie theater in 1980. The theater sustained heavy water damage during Hurricane Katrina, Yet, the building was completely renovated by Perez and opened in 2014 after the $8 million renovation. #weareperez celebrating #blackhistorymonth

TODAY

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Claiborne Avenue Civil Rights Memorial

Perez was on the design team for aesthetic and site/civil improvements (landscape, lighting, storm drainage) to a length of the 80-foot wide median along South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, extending for a one mile stretch from Napoleon Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. One day during the design phase, Landscape Architect Brandon Adams was standing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on MLK Boulevard and noticed the list of 9 other individuals that had lost their lives as a result of their involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.  At that time, Mr. Adams decided to propose at a community meeting that a design of a memorial for those nine leaders be included in the project. The final design included a curvilinear walkway, lined with Date Palm trees, leading from the existing Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to a new memorial structure dedicated to the nine Civil Rights advocates. The memorial designed by Brandon Adams of Perez contains text describing the life of each person and their contributions inscribed in precast concrete panels on the ground level under a concrete and steel structure. The project was completed in 2014. Thanks to the design team lead All South Consulting Engineers, LLC; New Orleans Department of Public Works; New Orleans Regional Planning Commission; US Army Corps of Engineers; and Landscape Architects Brandon Adams, Johanna Leibe, Charlotte Cox.

Gambit Article on the Memorial