On Friday I posted a video about the Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas, also known as the Leaning Tower of South Padre Island. It is, or was to be, a 31 story condo. Regrettably, after topping out one side of the foundation sank more than a foot into the sand, construction was halted, and on Sunday the structure was imploded. At 400 feet tall, it was the tallest concrete structure to ever be imploded, according to the demolition contractor, Controlled Demolition of Phoenix, Maryland. The above video, and many more like it on youtube, capture the magic moment.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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