Leaning Tower Of South Padre Island

National
Friday, December 11, 2009
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Metaphorically speaking, so much of the development that has happened over the last decade has been built on loose sandy soil. Here, however, is a literal example of this very disheartening state of affairs: The Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas—designed by the Brownsville-based Walker & Perez Associates—was to be a 31-story condo, promising startling views of the Gulf of Mexico and proximity to the most exclusive neighborhoods in the popular vacation destination. But after topping out last year construction was halted because one side of the building sank 14 or more inches into the underlying clay stratum. Major cracks appeared throughout the tower’s base, and now the structure is slated to be imploded this Sunday. The eloquent commentary on the above video gives voice to what we have all been thinking but afraid of saying while the myriad of architectural projects have been crumbling around our heads.

Wo Ist Mein Cabinentaxi?

International
Thursday, December 3, 2009
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The feature that I wrote for issue 20 is about personal rapid transit. PRT, as it is called, is a mass transportation concept that swaps high-capacity trains for small “pod cars.” These individualized vehicles run on dedicated tracks from origin to destination, bypassing all other stations along the way. Such a system is currently being installed at London’s Heathrow Airport and Foster + Partners is developing a PRT solution for its Masdar City project, but the idea has been around at least since the 1950s. In the late 60s and 70s several prototypes were developed and tested for possible urban application, but—aside from a semi-PRT system installed in Morgantown, West Virginia—none of them were ever realized. The one that came the closest was Cabinentaxi, which was to be rolled out in Hamburg, Germany. A recession in 1980 sank the project, but luckily they made this lovely film before falling into the dustbin of history. Enjoy.

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Engine Company 201

East
Friday, October 30, 2009
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Designed by RKT&B Architecture, the Engine Company 201 firehouse in Sunset Park Brooklyn was commissioned under the DDCs Design and Construction Excellence program. (Courtesy Albert Vecerka/Esto)

Designed by RKT&B Architecture, the Engine Company 201 firehouse was commissioned under the DDC's Design and Construction Excellence program. (Courtesy Albert Vecerka/Esto)

Last week, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) broke ground on a police station in Staten Island designed by Rafael Vinoly. This week, the agency announced the completion of another such project: a firehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Both projects were commissioned under the DDC’s Design and Construction Excellence program, which has raised the bar on design in public architecture. The firehouse—Engine Company 201—was designed by RKT&B Architecture, a local firm that has been around since the 1960s and has completed its fair share of  city work. The building’s red glazed brick and backlighted Maltese Cross telegraph its function to the neighborhood, while the glass apparatus doors—a first for a firehouse in the city—maintain a close connection with the community. Look after the jump for more pictures. Read More

Jailbreak

East
Friday, October 23, 2009
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Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Kelly, and DDC Commissioner Burney toss some dirt to commemorate the beginning of construction on the Rafael Vinoly-designed 121st Precinct Stationhouse in Staten Island.

Top brass breaks ground on the Rafael Vinoly-designed 121st Precinct Stationhouse in Staten Island.

City-funded architecture work is becoming scarce, if the DDC’s latest list of Design and Construction Excellence firms is any indicator, so it’s heartening when public projects promised during the boom times move into the construction phase. Today, Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Kelly, and DDC Commissioner Burney broke ground on the Rafael Vinoly-designed 121st Precinct Stationhouse, which was unveiled in last year. It will be the first police station built on Staten Island since 1962, and the first in the city to be built under the 2030 sustainable design initiative. The project is expected to earn a LEED Silver rating and to be completed in 2012. See a rendering after the jump. Read More

Terminal B

East
Friday, October 23, 2009
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The Port Authority has laid another brick in its ongoing modernization of Newark Airports Terminal B.

The Port Authority has laid another brick in it's modernization of Newark Airport's Terminal B.

Today, The Port Authority awarded a $59.8 million contract to a New Jersey construction company to complete the next phase of work in an ongoing project to modernize Newark Airport’s Terminal B. VRH Construction Corp. of Englewood got the job of installing new check-in counters, baggage handling systems, and airline offices for domestic departures in an old baggage claim area on the lower level. The Port Authority, whose architectural office conducted the design work, is spending $324.6 million in the overall project to enlarge the terminal to make way for an increase in passengers, and expects the modernizations to be completed in 2012.

Decathletes, Start Your Solar Panels

East
Thursday, October 8, 2009
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On press day, the student teams were still finishing up the installation of their solar houses.

On press day, the student teams were still finishing up the installation of their solar houses. (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Yesterday was press day at the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The student teams were still scrambling to finish up their installations when Team Archpaper arrived on the scene, but we still managed to talk our way into a hand full of the 20 solar houses that will go head-to-head in open competition. As in past years, the students will be go about the work of every day living—doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking—and will be judged based upon the energy efficiency, as well as architecture, engineering, comfort, and marketability of their houses. While each of the entries evoked aspects of their respective regions, they fell to either side of a line that ran between off-the-shelf affordability and high-tech über-design. Read More

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Solar Communications

International
Friday, September 18, 2009
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The photovoltaic tower can be affixed to existing cell phone towers to produce on-site electricity to power broadcasting equipment. (Courtesy MDAA)

The photovoltaic tower can be affixed to existing cell phone towers to produce on-site electricity to power broadcasting equipment. (Courtesy MDAA)

On the occasion of the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, architecture firm MDAA (Massimo d’Alessandro & Associati) of Rome designed a photovoltaic tower to power an existing cellular communications aerial. The installation brought to life an idea that has been paddled about quite a bit in recent years: equipping our existing infrastructure with energy-producing technology. After the G8 tower was erected, MDAA designed a more efficient version for Vodafone (the largest mobile network operator in the world). The new tower raises the design quality, lowers  the use of materials, and is capable of producing 15KWp, enough to run broadcasting equipment. Check out that design, as well as more on the G8 tower, after the jump. Read More

The Bayonne Question

East
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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The Bayonne Bridge is currently the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world.

The Bayonne Bridge is currently the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world.

The Port Authority has released a report conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which points out that the Bayonne Bridge will begin to impose more and more restrictions on commercial shipping. Designed by master bridge designer Othmar Ammann and architect Cass Gilbert and completed in 1931, the span was at the time the longest steel arch bridge in the world, supporting a road bed of more than 8,000 feet, 1,675 feet of which hang from the arch with no intermediary support. However, its 165-foot height will no longer cut the mustard with todays larger ships, more and more of which are expected to pass through the region with the completion of upgrades at the Panama Canal to be completed in 2015. The Corps determined that the roadway could either be jacked up to 215 feet high, or, alternately, that the bridge could be knocked down and replaced with a tunnel. The Port Authority has devoted $10 million to figure out which is the best solution.

Green Tremors

International
Monday, September 14, 2009
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The deep drilling involved in geothermal power production can induce earthquakes.

The deep drilling involved in geothermal power production can induce earthquakes.

Icarus. The Tower of Babel. We all know what can happen when humans reach too high. Well, apparently reaching too low can also have some negative side effects. In mid-August, a geothermal power plant under construction in Germany set off a trembler that registered at 2.7 on the Richter scale. A similar project in Basel, Switzerland, set off successive earthquakes in 2006 and 2007, one registering as high as 3.4. While some seismic activity has always resulted from geothermal installations, a new process which digs deeper and involves fracturing solid rock, rather than harvesting existing steam beds, both promises to increase power production and, evidently, earthquakes. The news is disheartening, considering that a report from the Department of Energy that came out earlier this year cast geothermal energy as real possibility for significantly reducing our reliance on fossil fuels in a relatively short time frame.

Imagined Infrastructure

National
Friday, September 4, 2009
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Urban Algae: Speculation and Optimization, Mining Existing Infrastructure for Lost Efficiencies

Urban Algae proposes a park on a floating pontoon between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook that would harvest CO2 emissions from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

cityLAB, an urban think-tank at UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design, has announced the six finalists of its WPA 2.0 competition. The competition, which stands for working public architecture, invited designers of all stripes to submit proposals for rebuilding our cities’ infrastructure as a sort of throwback to the Great Depression-era WPA. Juried by Stan Allen, Cecil Balmond, Elizabeth Diller, Walter Hood, Thom Mayne, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the top-six picks run the gamut from heading off an impending water crisis to creating a softer, gentler version of our infrastructure. One finalist, Urban Algae: Speculation and Optimization, Mining Existing Infrastructure for Lost Efficiencies, proposes to harvest CO2 emissions through photosynthesis. Submitted by PORT Architecture + Urbanism, the solution could be rolled out nationwide on coal-fired power plants and toll booths, but the designers also outlined a scheme for creating a public park on floating pontoons between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook, which would harvest emissions from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Read about the other finalists after the jump. Read More

Bayou Ball

National
Thursday, September 3, 2009
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Trahan clad the exterior of the museum in planks of sinker cypress, which comes from logs that have been submerged for years in the soft muddy bottoms of swamps and bayous. (Courtesy Trahan Architects)

Trahan clad the exterior of the museum in planks of sinker cypress, which comes from logs that have been submerged for years in the soft muddy bottoms of swamps and bayous. (Courtesy Trahan Architects)

Construction began last month in Natchitoches, Louisiana, on the Louisana State Sports Hall of Fame and Regional History Museum. “What do sports and regional history have in common?” you might ask. Trahan Architects certainly had to ponder this question when figuring out an elegant way to combine the disparate program elements under one roof. In the end they took inspiration from Louisiana’s geomorphology, basing their layout of interior spaces on “the fluid shapes of the braided corridors of river channels separated by interstitial masses of land.” See exactly what is meant by this in the images after the jump. Read More

Euro Bulb Ban Begins

International
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
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Environmentalists feel that banning incandescent light bulbs is a no brainer.

Environmentalists feel that banning incandescent light bulbs is a no brainer.

Europe’s ban on incandescent light bulbs went into effect today. A New York Times report filed yesterday from Brussels brought home the air of ambivalence that has accompanied the prohibition, relating tales of some Europeans jumping eagerly on the compact fluorescent (CFL) bandwagon, others racing out to stockpile the old bulbs before retailers run out, and still others wondering, “Why are we switching?” The european ban can be seen as a bellwether for a similar phasing out that will begin to take place here in the U.S. in 2012, which I wrote about in the editorial for our 2008 Lighting Issue. Just to recap, while there is no argument in terms of the energy savings that incandescent replacement technologies such as CFLs offer, they do come with their own problems: they cost more, come with embedded electronics, contain mercury, and, most important for designers, they do not render color as well. And, let’s not forget, in certain places incandescent light bulbs’ inefficiency is a boon.

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