Libraries As Architectural Gems

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

We occasionally hail architecture, and frequently hail libraries as essential to our shared humanity, and when we get the chance to hail both at the same time, the world seems in good order:

Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century. But it cost more than $40 million, took a decade and almost died.

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The canyon-like lobby entrance of Hunters Point Community Library. Winnie Au for The New York Times

Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.

Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?

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The library is full of nooks and corners, illuminated by big windows with sculptured walls covered in bamboo.Credit Winnie Au for The New York Times

Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. Continue reading

The Logic of the Weave

The bamboo dome “had even more useful structural properties than I had envisaged,” Ms. Martin said. “Deployability, nice structural stability and highly portable.”Credit Gabriela Portilho for The New York Times

Limits often lead to creative solutions. That’s exactly what is happening in Brazil. Alison Martin is pushing the limits of what can be built from weaving bamboo and is helping to create more natural cityscapes. She is surprising even the computer engineers with the strength and shapes of her material, all without the use of nuts and bolts. This is a new way of combining nature and architecture. Her work is also helping to solve some of the problems created by elevated highways. These highways block out the sun and create “a fracture in the urban environment”.

With designer and artist Alison Grace Martin, architects and engineers are embracing “the logic of the weave.”

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — On a Tuesday afternoon in early July, Alison Grace Martin, the British artist and weaver, joined a steady stream of Paulistanos along the elevated freeway that curves through downtown São Paulo. The two-mile “Minhocão” (named after a mythic “gigantic earthworm”) was closed to cars that day. The only traffic was on foot and bikes, skateboards and scooters. Picnickers lounged on the median sipping wine. Children ran after soccer balls. A retriever chased a coconut; a pit bull peed on a pile of bamboo.

The bamboo — freshly cut and split into strips about 20 feet long — had arrived with Ms. Martin and engineer James Solly, who were leading an urban design workshop, “High Line Paulista,” inspired loosely by Manhattan’s elevated greenway. Their students for the week had carried the strips, which would be put to use in an experimental dome construction, like a barn-raising, but with bamboo.

Plans have long been in the works to turn the Minhocão into a park. Since its opening in 1971, the freeway has been the subject of controversy: a concrete scar that bifurcated neighborhoods, smothering residents with noise and pollution.

“It ripped apart the urban fabric,” said Franklin Lee, from São Paulo, and director of the workshop with his partner Anne Save de Beaurecueil. (The workshop is part of the Architectural Association international visiting school program.) In January, after years of discourse and debate, the mayor, Bruno Covas, announced that the freeway would eventually be deactivated, finally making way for “Parque Minhocão.”

Continue reading

Mass Timber & Metrics Of Ecology

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Mjösa Tower, the world’s tallest wooden building, under construction in Brumunddal, Norway. ANTI HAMAR

Thanks to Yale e360 and especially to Jim Robbins, as always, for keeping us up to date on the most interesting new developments in our natural world and its built spaces:

As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Mass timber construction is on the rise, with advocates saying it could revolutionize the building industry and be part of a climate change solution. But some are questioning whether the logging and manufacturing required to produce the new material outweigh any benefits.

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Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon is the tallest building in the United States made with mass timber. COURTESY OF KAISER + PATH
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The eight-story Carbon 12 building in Portland, Oregon is the tallest commercial structure in the United States to be built from something called mass timber.

If the many fervent boosters of this new construction material are right, however, it is only one of the first mass timber buildings among many, the beginning of a construction revolution. “The design community in Portland is enthralled with the material,” said Emily Dawson, an architect at Kaiser + Path, the locally-based firm that designed Carbon 12.

The move to mass timber is even farther along in Europe. That’s because mass timber – large structural panels, posts, and beams glued under pressure or nailed together in layers, with the wood’s grain stacked perpendicular for extra strength – is not only prized as an innovative building material, superior to concrete and steel in many ways, it is also hoped it will come into its own as a significant part of a climate change solution. Continue reading

Green Building Techniques Inspired By Insects

The air conditioning system of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by termites’ nests. Credit David Brazier, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been quite some time since we posted about biomimicry. Thanks as always to JoAnna Klein for this illuminating story:

What Termites Can Teach Us About Cooling Our Buildings

“We think humans are the best designers, but this is not really true,” a researcher said.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate Centre holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door.

What’s Eastgate Centre’s secret? Termites.

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Three views of a termites’ nest, including from left, a photo of the nest, a tomography of the the nest’s interior and the networks of galleries and paths in it. Credit G. Theraulaz, CRCA, CBI, CNRS, Toulouse

In the 1990s, Mick Pearce, the building’s architect, took his inspiration from mounds built by fungus-farming termites he saw on a nature show. The insects created their own air conditioning systems that circulated hot and cool air between the mound and the outside.

As architects and builders seek new and improved ways to cool buildings without using more energy in a warming world, a study of another type of termite mound suggests that Mr. Pearce won’t be the last human to take design tips from these cockroach cousins. Continue reading

Buoyant Foundation’s Intriguing Architectural Innovation

This is the kind of story that displays the odd new reality of what can count for optimism–finding intriguing solutions for mankind’s self-inflicted catastrophes. From Anthropocene:

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Amphibious Architecture

Float when it floods

By Emily Anthes

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Amphibious structures are not static; they respond to floods like ships to a rising tide, floating on the water’s surface.

Last June, not long after a catastrophic thunderstorm swept through southern Ontario, bringing a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours, a group of 75 architects, engineers, and policymakers from 16 countries gathered in the city of Waterloo to discuss how humanity will cope with its waterlogged future. The timing of the conference was a fitting meteorological coincidence; in a world increasingly transformed by climate change, heavy rains and major floods are becoming more common, at least in some areas. In the summer of 2017 alone, Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain over Texas; a monster monsoon season damaged more than 800,000 homes in India; and flash floods and mudslides claimed at least 500 lives in Sierra Leone. In the past two decades, the world’s ten worst floods have done more than a 165 billion dollars’ worth of damage and driven more than a billion people from their homes. Continue reading

Matta-Clark, Urban Decay & Renaissance

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Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Day’s End” (Pier 52), 1975. Photograph Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

Renaissance is a word that sounds like it means something good. But not necessarily so. Sarah Cowan has this review of a show in the Bronx that sounds worthy of a visit:

The Future Did Not Have to Be Luxury Condos: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark

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Gordon Matta-Clark (pictured left, in 1975) folded urban decay into his art. Move ahead forty years and the city’s debris is from new development. Photograph by Harry Gruyaert. Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / ARS / David Zwirner

In the film “Day’s End,” the artist Gordon Matta-Clark rides a whale-size piece of corrugated metal as it is hoisted away from the wall from which he just cut it. He’s a young man, age thirty-two. The feat was filmed in the summer of 1975, in Chelsea’s abandoned Pier 52 building, where Matta-Clark attempted to make an “indoor park.” His silhouette, against the sunlight streaming in from his new view of the Hudson River, is heroic. Continue reading

Biomimetic Yarn-Bombing

Image © 2016 CHOI+SHINE

I’ve long been fascinated with urban space art installations in general, and fibre based pieces in particular. Somehow I missed hearing about the Singapore based i Light Marina Bay Light Art Festival in March, but I’m happy to have discovered it now.

The festival is an annual event, and this year’s theme of Biomimicry and Sustainability strike multiple chords. London/Seoul based architectural firm Choi+Shine created The Urchins for this site specific installation. 

This project is inspired by sea urchin shells, which are enclosed yet light weight, delicate and open.  Their textured and permeable surface interacting with light creates openness, while the pattern’s mathematical repetition brings visual rhythm and harmony.  Against light, the sea urchin natural form reveals one of the most spectacular patterns found in nature. Continue reading

Cornell’s Climate Friendly Construction

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A view of Manhattan from the roof of the Bridge building on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Photo VINCENT TULLO

When Cornell University competed in 2011 to develop an applied science and engineering campus in New York City, part of its pitch was that it would construct an academic building that would at least approach making as much energy as it used in a year, a concept known as net zero. It won. Then came the hard work of making that vision happen at the campus, known as Cornell Tech. Continue reading

Remembering Hurricane Earl

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Jill Magid: “Una carta siempre llega a su destino”. Los Archivos Barragán. MUAC, 2017.

Last year when I was first spending extended time at Chan Chich Lodge, I got to experience the reality of what had up to then been a cliche phrase–a force of nature. I had some minor experience with earthquakes, certainly other-worldy, and I have witnessed flooding and historic snowstorms. Nothing had ever exhilarated me for hours on end the way this hurricane did.

And what I chose to do during that experience has stuck with me as much as the hurricane itself. So I had to visit the website of the museum where this exhibit is hosted. And I had to read what happened after the end of that story:

…One premise of Magid’s work is that the ring is not and will never be for sale. It can be accepted only by Zanco and only in exchange for the archive… When addressing claims that she had disrespected Barragán’s legacy, she shook her head. “Not only do I love his work, but the questions around his archive—what is accessible and what is not—affect the way his legacy goes forward,” she said. Continue reading

Beyond Zen Architecture

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There is not a single right angle in the Hoshino Wedding Chapel’s cascading concrete arches and soaring interior of inlaid stone. CreditPhotograph by Mikael Olsson. Producer: HK Productions

Anyone who followed our design and development process, or who has been to the property we created on the beach in Kerala between 2012-2014, will understand why this architecture, from one of Japan’s masters, speaks to us:

Otherworldly Architecture in Japan’s Magical Mountainside

In the leafy hamlet of Karuizawa, distinctive design is the expression of the uninhibited self. Continue reading

Mobitecture, The Wonders Of Mobile Architecture

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The Starlight Room – Raniero Campigotto

Thanks to Phaidon for its always-interesting new books for coffee table-pondering:

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Adaptable, intelligently put together, responsive to local conditions and able and willing to travel almost anywhere with ease – but enough about you, we’re here to tell you about mobitecture. What’s mobitecture we hear you ask? Well it’s mobile architecture and Mobitecture is the name we’ve smartly bestowed on it in our latest book.

Mobitecture looks at 250 examples of mobile architecture from around the world that enable the almost universal dream of upping sticks, moving somewhere and changing the way your world looks. The structures in it  roll, inflate, unfold, flat-pack or pop-up, slide on sleds and float across water in a book that brings together a spectacular collection of structures in which to revel, live, work, pause – or just simply escape.  Continue reading

Remote Living, Well Done

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Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean michael clarke stuff / Wikipedia

Thanks to EcoWatch for keeping us posted on the greenish news from the bottom edge of the planet:

World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient World’s Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient 

The most remote village on Earth, located on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is about to get a 21st century upgrade thanks to an international design competition aimed at creating a more sustainable future for the farming and fishing community. Continue reading

Library Luxury of a Different Sort

The exterior of the Fort Washington library the year it opened, 1914. The top floor windows are for the apartment. (Photo: New York Public Library/Public Domain)

The beautiful Beaux-Arts design of many of the buildings in the New York Public Library system represent only one definition of luxury. The idea of children growing up playing and reading in the stacks at night produces the colorful imaginings of literature where children spend nights in museums, or ramble about in the “tippy-top floor of the Plaza Hotel”.

I’m sure most of us haven’t heard of the custodian apartments that used to grace New York City’s branch libraries, and I for one, am grateful to Atlas Obscura for sharing this curious history.

Inside the New York Public Library’s Last, Secret Apartments

There are just 13 left.

There used to be parties in the apartments on the top floors of New York City’s branch libraries. On other nights, when the libraries were closed, the kids who lived there might sit reading alone among the books or roll around on the wooden library carts—if they weren’t dusting the shelves or shoveling coal. Their hopscotch courts were on the roof. A cat might sneak down the stairs to investigate the library patrons.

When these libraries were built, about a century ago, they needed people to take care of them. Andrew Carnegie had given New York $5.2 million, worth well over $100 million today, to create a city-wide system of library branches, and these buildings, the Carnegie libraries, were heated by coal. Each had a custodian, who was tasked with keeping those fires burning and who lived in the library, often with his family. “The family mantra was: Don’t let that furnace go out,” one woman who grew up in a library told the New York Times. Continue reading

A Stay in History

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959. Credit Dave Chance Photography

Earlier this year when I wrote about the Art Institute of Chicago’s Airbnb listing of their reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Arles bedroom I thought that was the pinnacle of Airbnb cool.

Staying at a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright seems equally as fun but far more expansive then the 19th century artist’s exuberantly painted bedroom – taking in the view for starters.

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959, is one of Wright’s last commissioned works. It’s a hemicycle-shaped dwelling made of brick with a vast windowed living area overlooking a lake. Continue reading

Library Reading Room, Luxury, Legacy

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The Rose Reading Room is luxurious in the way that only certain shared spaces can be. Its grandeur attracts its visitors, and is in turn amplified by their presence: the true urban symbiosis. PHOTOGRAPH BY DREW ANGERER / GETTY

It was the room in the photo above where I sat, in the early 1990s, collecting some data for a research project that would eventually become my doctoral dissertation. I had been in that room once or twice in my youth, but as an adult on a specific mission (little did I know the data collected that day would help me develop ideas that we now call entrepreneurial conservation within La Paz Group) the room barely registered in my notice. Except as a very practical place to read some historical documents.

So I am delighted to see that room again after a long time. It looked great to me the last time I saw it. Now I can say wow for different reasons. The legacy of the room is protected, and perhaps renewed for another hundred years. If you click the image and go to a larger viewing with greater detail, you will understand why the word luxury fits in the title of this post on the New Yorker website.

It is not our practice to use the word luxury because it is so laden with old and often inappropriate (considering the ecological condition of the planet, considering advances in socio-economic development, and considering other modern sensibilities) meanings. So we appreciate when others take care in how they use it:

THE ROSE READING ROOM AND THE REAL MEANING OF “LUXURY” IN NEW YORK CITY

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To say that the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room, at the New York Public Library’s main building, on Fifth Avenue—the biggest room in the biggest public-library branch in the country’s biggest city—is an ornate piece of work is putting it mildly. Continue reading

Carbon-Calculated Menu Planning

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The menu from Studio Olafur Eliasson’s dinner for the Climate Museum’s Miranda Massie. Image courtesy of the artist’s Instagram

From the folks at Phaidon, news of a top artist’s contribution to the climate change conversation, in a manner we can kind of relate to:

Olafur Eliasson puts carbon on the menu

When Eliasson’s studio cooked a meal for NYC’s Climate Museum director it listed one additional ingredient.

The artist Olafur Eliasson is on the board of the Climate Museum, a US institution which endeavours to use the sciences, art, and design to inspire dialogue and innovation that address the challenges of climate change. The museum hasn’t been built, yet Eliasson has submitted a few concept sketches, picturing a globular structure that should, someday soon hopefully stand in New York City. Continue reading

2016 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies

With fewer than 90 days to go until the 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale we admittedly have biennales on our mind. We thank one of our 2012 design interns, Chi-Chi Lin, for bringing this one to our attention.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) is a campus wide organization that promotes collaboration and artistic experimentation to inspire innovative and challenging projects by students, faculty, departments and programs from all disciplines. The focus of the 2016 CCA Biennial 

is on the cultural production of empathyThe upcoming biennial will address the ways in which feeling is form and explore how the objects, buildings, clothing, machines, languages, and images we construct are shaped by our intentional or implicit emotional, interdependent relationship to others. Whether by framing a connection that already exists or by providing the condition for new connections, what we create can either merely extend our own personal desires, goals, and directives, or can alternatively function as a bridge between who I am and who you are so that aesthetic experiences are interdependent, collaboratively generated and inherently reciprocal. Continue reading

A Resort Of The Future

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We do not need to love everything everafter created by architects whose earlier work we have been in love with; but we at least take a look:

High Line architects create volcano-style resort

Diller Scofidio + Renfro beat Foster + Partners in a competition to design a new international resort in China

Could Hainan, China’s smallest and most southerly province, become a new international tourist destination? That’s certainly the Chinese government’s ambition, which hopes to draw in thousands of international leisure travellers to this island province, 800 miles southwest of Hong Kong, by 2020.

Hainan Airlines Group announced the winner of its competition to design a 250-hectare resort which will be built on an artificial island in Haikou Bay, just off the coast of Hainan’s capital, Haikou. Continue reading

Architectural Challenge

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Harvard Graduate School of Design PhD student, Lauren Friedrich’s thesis researched how architecture can facilitate physical well being and what that means for workplace design. Here she is seen in Gund Hall with her model of proposed Gund Hall renovations. Harvard University. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Because design is frequently part of the assignments we take responsibility for, we monitor our reading lists for interesting stories about architecture, about interior spaces, about how these impact our experiences; and here is a worthy pick. It reminds us of the creative crew we had with us in India a few years back:

Design for movement

Graduate thesis explores changing relationship between architecture and healthy living

By Christina Pazzanese, Harvard Staff Writer

At a basic level, architecture is like a shoe: a useful tool designed to protect the human body from harm caused by the natural elements.

Yet over time, we can become over-reliant on its comfort, losing our dexterity and our ability to withstand even the slightest discomforts. So what is meant to help us may, in fact, hinder us by making things too easy, removing all physical challenges and other stressors that are essential for optimal health.

It doesn’t have to be that way, says Lauren Friedrich, a 2016 graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). What if instead of disconnecting the human body from the man-made landscape, architectural design used creativity and reorientation to create spaces that challenged our physical skills and encouraged, rather than minimized, a range of movements that supported better health?

That’s the question Friedrich set out to explore in her master’s thesis, a project that takes a multidisciplinary approach incorporating insights from experts across Harvard in neuroscience, biomechanics, physical therapy, choreography, and ergonomics, and ideas from people who patronize public spaces. Her thesis also cleverly reimagines GSD’s Gund Hall as a flexible fun house full of passageways that encourage circulation and “resting nets.” The Gazette spoke with Friedrich about her novel research. Continue reading

The New Green Building Certification on the Block

 

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UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, the first BREEAM certified building. Source: idea.am

The two most recognized sustainable building certifications in the U.S., Energy Star and LEED, now have a new companion joining the movement within home territory. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), a 25-year-old sustainability evaluation method officiated by the U.K consultancy BRE, offers a practical and more affordable online self-assessment tool for building owners who want to elevate their commitment to sustainability. BRE is working in collaboration with BuildingWise to focus on evaluations for existing buildings and tackle the estimated 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. that are not being benchmarked using a “scientifically based” certification. Continue reading